US heron-family bird blown to Kerry by Storm Lorenzo

Least Bittern, 10th to make it across Atlantic, perished from forced migration to Ireland

A small American bird swept across the Atlantic by Storm Lorenzo died from exhaustion not long after making landfall in Kerry. The Least Bittern, a member of the heron family was found near Tralee by John O'Donoghue. Video: Andrew Reago/CC BY


A rarity of a small American bird being swept across the Atlantic by Storm Lorenzo before being discovered in a Co Kerry garden will be the envy of European birdwatchers for years to come, say experts.

The unexpected arrival on Irish shores of the Least Bittern earlier this week was tinged with sadness, however, when the bird died of exhaustion shortly afterwards.

Lorenzo delivered several US-based birds to Irish shores, but none as rare as the Bittern. It is only the 10th time one has been found on this side of the Atlantic.

The bird – a member of the heron family – was found in John O’Donoghue’s back garden near Tralee on Monday night. Unable to identify it, his neighbour, Anthony O’Connor, sent a photograph to Birdwatch Ireland.

“They really struck gold with this,” explained ornithologist Brian Burke, who differentiated it from the similar European Little Bittern with the help of rare bird expert Niall Keogh.

Find of a lifetime

Unsure at first, the experts requested follow-up pictures of the wingspan – which confirmed their suspicions and the find of a lifetime in the bird-watching world.

“At this time of the year you would get some American birds blown over,” explained Mr Burke. “They are usually migrating from the northern part of America to the southern part of America and something goes wrong when they are trying to navigate.”

In recent days, other confirmed sightings in Ireland have included a Baltimore Oriole, a Black and White Warbler, a Common Nighthawk and a handful of Red-Eyed Vireos.

Rerouted species

But the Least Bittern is an exception – a holy grail of hardcore birdwatchers who travel to western Irish islands every year in the hope of spotting rerouted American species.

“It would have flown over on its own. The journey was way too long for it,” said Mr Burke.

“When birds migrate, they burn off fat reserves. It would have run out so it would have then burned off muscle. It was never going to recover.”

It was placed in one of the men’s freezers to await collection by the Natural History Museum. While it has no monetary value, it is of considerable scientific merit and will be available to international researchers.

“There are lifelong birdwatchers who will never find a bird as rare in Ireland,” said Mr Burke.