The hooded crane, a very rare Asian bird, has been spotted in Tennessee.
The bird, which is rarely spotted even in China and Japan, “took a wrong turn,” according to Melinda Welton, a bird migration researcher. That is how it could have ended up in southeast Tennessee, attracting birdwatchers from across the country and Russia.
The bird has made itself at home, having been spotted with its closest relatives: a group of sandhill cranes. The birds all remain at the Hiwassee Refuge in southeast Tennesee.
The Tennessean reported the bird was first sighted on Dec. 14.
“The only other seen in North America was last April in Idaho,” said Welton, who is also conservation chair for the Tennessee Ornithological Society. “It might be the same one.”
Visitors have flocked to Tennessee to get a look at the rare bird, which typically spends its winters in Japan and rests in China or Russia, but is never seen in the United States.
"People are coming in from all over the country to see this bird," Welton told Reuters. “He has had more than 700 people come and visit from all over the country to see this bird. People have come from 26 states and from two countries, including Russia.”
Welton also said that it was improbable that the bird escaped from captivity, since there are no immediate signs of bondage such as bands or any other markings. She said it was probably a happy freak occurrence that brought the Asian bird to Tennessee.
Since the early 1990s, the eastern population of sandhill cranes has stopped at the Hiwassee refuge while migrating south.
The Tennessean reports that the bird attracted over 920 visits from 32 states since its first sighting Dec. 14. Several experts say they are still unsure how the rare crane ended up in Tennessee.
The bald eagle and the whooping crane can also be seen at the Hiwassee refuge.