The rock wren that arrived in Ogunquit on Nov. 27 marked only the second time the species had been seen and identified in Maine. The first was in 2013. Doug Hitchcox photo

It’s been an unusual year for birding in Maine. Most years there is at least one state record, the confirmed sighting of a bird never viewed in Maine before. As of late last week, there has been none so far this year.

However, a rare bird has arrived in Maine in the past few weeks, to the delight of birders.

A rock wren, a bird typically found in western parts of North America, arrived in Ogunquit on Nov. 27. It’s only the second time the wayward species has been recorded in Maine. Rock wrens typically migrate to the southern United States or Mexico for the winter.

By Friday, more than 150 people who had seen the rock wren had posted their success on the eBird website run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

“And not everyone records the birds they see on eBird, so many more likely saw it,” said Maine Audubon Naturalist Doug Hitchcox, who went to view the bird twice.

“It is the first time any birders in Maine have had the chance to chase one to add to their list. So the excitement level around this bird is high. It’s hanging around, and is easy to find. It’s not a first state record – but it might as well be because it’s so cool. It’s a super cooperative bird. If you were near it, it practically came right up to you.”

A rock wren is a pale gray bird with a long tail standing a few inches tall that is common throughout western North America. It summers in the mountains out West, foraging on the ground for insects.

The rock wren typically summers in western North America and winters in the South and Mexico. Doug Hitchcox photo

The first time the species was ever seen in Maine was in October 2013, but it was seen on only one day by a pair of birders from Virginia. The bird spotted and photographed by Diana Onacki on Nov. 27 became the second confirmed sighting of the species in Maine, according to Hitchcox, a member of the Maine Rare Birds Committee that approves rare-bird sightings.

Having a rarity seen in Maine for the second time is not uncommon. Each year there usually are one to three “second state records.” In fact, most years there is at least one state-record bird. Not since 2004 has there been a year without one, Hitchcox said. Meanwhile, both 2017 and 2018 each had five state-record birds. 

And yet, for the stir the rock wren in Ogunquit created last week, observers might have thought it was a truly rare event.

“This rock wren offered one of the best opportunities at close range. I had more time with it than any that I saw in Arizona or Mexico,” said Hitchcox, who saw the species on eight other occasions outside Maine.

The wayward rock wren has drawn more than 100 birders to Ogunquit. Doug Hitchcox photo

Elizabeth Creamer, who drove from Windham to see it, said the rock wren hopped within a few feet of her camera as it hunted for bugs. 

“I thought, what are the chances that I’ll see it? Probably pretty slim. It’s very exciting when you do and get photographs,” Creamer said. “It’s sort of a little gift nature gives you when you take the time to find it.”

On several days, it was seen hopping and bobbing along a high-traffic path. At 9 a.m. Friday, a small group of birders watched as it was “showing off,” Hitchcox said.

“I got there at 9 a.m. on Monday and it was really funny,” said Dan Prima, who lives outside Manchester, New Hampshire. “I was standing at the end of the rocks and, all of a sudden, I saw this flash of motion out of the corner of my eye, and the bird was almost literally at my feet. That bird approaches you. It was incredible.”

Ironically, on Nov. 27 when Onacki was having lunch at a Perkins Cove restaurant, the casual birder thought the wren outside made a sweet photo. So she snapped a few shots through the window, and then forgot about it.

Then later that evening when she posted them on Facebook asking expert birders if it was a house wren, the birding community erupted.

“I posted it on the Maine Birds site, and it blew up. Everyone was saying, ‘That’s a rare bird,’” Onacki said.

Andrew Aldrich of North Berwick, a birder of almost 50 years, said the excitement caused by this rock wren is a testament to how much birding has evolved – the fact a casual birder found the rare bird, without even knowing it, and then other casual birders wanted to see it. 

Every fall, migrating birds fly off course and end up in Maine, sometimes because a hurricane in the South carries them here. It’s unknown exactly why they leave their home range, Hitchcox said. And it’s unknown how long the rock wren will stay here.

“It will survive if it can keep finding food,” Hitchcox added. “One way to look at it is natural selection. If it can’t survive, then it shouldn’t, so its offspring don’t fly this way.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.