Some friends went on a trip to the Canary Islands earlier this month. They are from Hong Kong and keen birders. On February 8th, during a short walk around “Parque de la Luz”, in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, they were surprised by something unexpected: Red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus). Not one, but two and possibly three individuals.
This is an American species, and there seems to be no previous records of it in Spain. If we look at Europe, there is a recent sighting from Orkney, Scotland, in 2017, so natural vagrancy can’t be ruled out entirely. Red-winged blackbird is one of the most common birds in North-America, mostly resident, but northern populations migrate down to Central America. In any case, birds turning up naturally this side of the Atlantic should be considered very unlikely.
We know that there are at least two individuals in the area –both males–, and possibly three, so it is not impossible that there could be more. Besides, females are brown and quite different, so if there was a one around, it could have been easily overlooked.
In this case, there are some factors that lead to think that they are either escaped or ship-assisted: the park is just next to an important harbour, and the area is situated in the middle of a densely populated town.
But the fact remains, there are 2, possibly more, Red-winged blackbirds in that area, and this is interesting for a number of reasons.
First of all, this is apparently the first time that the species has been recorded in Spain.
Secondly, non-native species are introduced constantly in many parts of the world, either intentionally or not, and some of them are able to adapt and establish thriving populations, sometimes from just a few individuals. So keeping an eye on this type of records and see how they evolve is important. It should be pointed out, though, that the island Gran Canaria doesn’t seem to hold proper breeding habitat for the species.
The purpose of this article is to report of this sighting and encourage other birders that visit the island to check out the site and see if they continue to be there in the future, as well as try to gather more information about the number of birds, their behaviour, etc.
LM Cheung, Daniel Roca (2019). Red-winged blackbird in the Canary Islands, http://cataloniabirding.com/red-winged-blackbird-canary-islands