A great egret has landed in Rankin Inlet.
The rare fowl soared into the Kivalliq community last month – thrilling eagle-eyed bird watcher Bernice Sandy who spent days on the hunt before finally snapping a few images of the feathered fellow in the wetland behind the Rankin Inlet Healing Facility.
“My husband showed me that somebody posted a picture of it on their Facebook timeline. Once I saw that I thought ‘oh, cool, I want to go find it,’” said Sandy. “For two days I went looking for it and couldn’t find it, and then I finally saw it on October 17.”
Sandy shared photos of the bird online where many people commented on the images, “it’s something new to the community,” she said.
Though common enough in southern Canada, Eric Reed, a waterfowl biologist in Yellowknife, said the birds are seldom seen in the North.
“Sightings are very rare,” he said. “But also, there’s not a very high density of human population across the North, so a lot of incidents may go undetected.”
In fact, Reed said the last recorded sighting of the species in Nunavut, that he was aware of, was in 2019 on Akimiski Island in James Bay.
A great egret was also seen in 2017 near Inuvik and sightings have also occurred in Alaska and Hawaii “so they can definitely fly long distances,” said Reed.
After their spring breeding season, egrets become extraordinary travellers as they fly great distances, explore new areas “and show up in places where you don’t necessarily expect them,” said Reed.
Sometimes they’ll settle in new areas if the conditions are right “so who knows? Maybe we will see egrets more regularly in the North.”
Or, it could be “just a little blip,” he added. “Just the one sighting of the bird, to me, is not sufficient to see that there’s an actual expansion of the range.
“It’s a very interesting sighting and it’s way out of its range, but only time will tell whether this remains a rare occurrence or if they go up in the future,” he continued.
Reed said he could only speculate as to why the bird travelled all the way to Rankin but suspects it was following food sources, such as sticklebacks and other small fish.
“Maybe following a river system, moving up and finding food and keeping going,” he said.
Egrets normally migrate to wintering areas in the U.S. when the weather turns colder and food gets scarce and Reed said the bird should do that before freeze-up.
“It’s a bit of a gamble for the bird to be that far north,” he said. “But if it’s in good shape, if it’s eating enough, if it’s in good condition, we can expect it to leave any day now because as soon as those ponds start freezing-over access to food is going to be a lot more limited.”