(Media release from Georgia Highlands College):

Is it a tropical? Is it a couch’s? That’s the big question on every bird enthusiast’s mind who has visited Paris Lake at Georgia Highlands College in September to catch a rare glimpse at a Kingbird.

According to a message sent out by Mark McShane to the Georgia Birders Online, Matthew Middleton of Rome first spotted the Kingbird on September 8 on Paris Lake. The bird has since been sighted multiple times over multiple days by avid bird-watchers.

Despite countless pictures, no one yet has been able to determine if the Kingbird is a Tropical Kingbird or a Couch’s Kingbird. 

If it’s a Tropical Kingbird, it would be the second recorded in the state. If it’s a Couch’s Kingbird, it would be the very first time the bird has ever been recorded in Georgia.

All it comes down to now is hearing the bird “vocalize” to help birders differentiate between the two kinds of Kingbirds.

“The two species are so similar in appearance that the best way to definitively tell one from the other is to hear it call,” Brandy Rogers said. She serves as Chair for the Division of Biological Sciences at GHC. “Unfortunately, since this bird is so far out of range, it doesn’t have anyone to call to, and so is very quiet. Although quite a number of birders have visited to see the Kingbird, no one has been able to capture a recording of it making any sound at all.”

Rogers stated this is a rare and special sight in Georgia regardless of which type of Kingbird has arrived at Paris Lake.

“Our state is well outside of either bird’s native range, which means it is likely lost. Since migration is genetically programmed in these birds, it’s possible that it was ‘misprogrammed’ and headed northeast when it should have been migrating south to Mexico or Central America,” she said. “Tropical Kingbirds barely get into Texas in the summer breeding season, and are sometimes spotted along the very edge of the west coast and the gulf coast, but one showing up here is an anomaly.”

Rogers added that the same scenario is possible if the bird happens to be a Couch’s Kingbird. “This one is more likely a young bird dispersing to find its own territory that happened to wander outside of its range,” she said.

Rogers said the we may not know exactly the reason the bird chose Rome or Paris Lake, but that plenty of recognizable food, like the pokeberries on Paris Lake, and the bird’s preference for open areas with plenty of perches may have contributed to the decision to take a secondary home in September. 

Additionally, she added, in Belize the birds are considered city birds, so it’s also likely the bird thinks Rome “is just the right kind of city to settle in.”

Paris Lake and the walking trail around the lake can be found at GHC’s Rome location. Click here for directions and details. Click here for a map of the site.