A bird hanging out along the Current River near Doniphan right now must be wondering where it is. Birders have identified the gray and white bird as a brown booby. And their habitat is nowhere near here.
Steve Paes is a forester for the Missouri Department of Conservation. He said he’s not a bird expert, though he enjoys birding, but this is what experts have told him.
"Its native range, where you normally would find it, are tropical islands in the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. It has never been seen in Missouri before. This one is the first one, and that is what has a lot of the birders excited," said Paes. "I was told if you went to the Florida Keys, you'd have a slight chance of seeing one, so that's how far out of place it is."
So, why is it in southern Missouri?
"A few weeks ago, a hurricane hit the Texas coast. Did it get carried with that and that brought it inland and it's been wandering around looking for ocean ever since? You know, it's all pure conjecture. We just know that that does happen with hurricanes," he said.
No matter how it got here, it’s creating quite a stir. Birders are coming from all over to try to catch a glimpse of the brown booby that’s spending time along the Current River.
Paes said it all started Saturday when someone posted a picture on Facebook, "basically saying, 'look at this weird little bird I've seen. Anyone know what it is?' And someone replied, 'a brown booby,'" said Paes.
The Missouri Birding Society sent a group down to look for it, according to Paes, but they didn’t see it. He started talking to folks on the river, asking if they’d spotted the bird. Finally, his daughter talked to someone who had.
"That then gave me a starting point as to where to look instead of, you know, 'what do I do? Do I go 20 miles upstream, five miles down, whatever?' So, we had a starting point," he said.
He headed out on the river with a friend and expert birder, his daughter and son-in-law.
"And we were lucky enough to find it, and that sort of pinpointed where it was at," he said. "We put that word out, and that has been bringing birders in from around the state to come look at it."
Wednesday morning, Paes said there were already four boatloads of people ready to head out on the river to try to see the brown booby. Paes is serving as the go-between for birders and those with boats willing to take them out.
The area the bird has been spotted is about a mile downstream from MDC’s T.L. Wright access.
"There is a dead tree on the east bank of the river, leans out over the river. He's been sitting on a dead limb on that everytime I've seen him," said Paes. "Other folks that have seen him have been maybe a half mile down."
Even native wildlife are curious about the unusual visitor.
"Yesterday, a bald eagle flew over him, and the eagle checked him out pretty seriously, and as we watched we thought, 'oh my goodness. Is this going to end right now?' he said. "You know, eagles are predators for ducks and geese, and this thing is smaller than a goose, and it probably has no fright of an eagle. It probably doesn't know what it is."
Fortunately, Paes says the eagle flew on and left the brown booby alone.
The bird has been eating fish and appears to be healthy. MDC’s state ornithologist, Sarah Kendrick, believes it’s a second-year bird based on plumage in photos and videos she’s seen. Birders believe it will eventually leave. But while it’s here, the brown booby will continue to create a lot of excitement among those in the birding community.