Five New Firsts in Alberta Bird Sightings

19 January 2024

This glossy ibis was seen in Camrose County. IAN WALLIS
This glossy ibis was seen in Camrose County. IAN WALLIS


The Alberta Bird Record Committee (ABRC) is pleased to announce the publication of its Fourteenth Report (!

Established in 1994, the ABRC gathers and evaluates documentation of rare bird observations in Alberta. It classifies records, maintains the Official List of the Birds of Alberta (, and periodically publishes reports of observations it has recently adjudicated.

The Fourteenth Report lists 108 observations of rare birds in the province. Of these, all but 11 were accepted. Typically, when reports are not accepted, it is because the documentation is insufficient to rule out similar species. Fortunately, most documentation in recent years includes photographs, which usually leave little doubt concerning the identification. Regardless of whether or not an observation is accepted, we appreciate all those who take the time to submit documentation to the committee.

With this report, Alberta’s bird list grows to 438 species! Five provincial firsts have been added since the last report: chimney swift, bar-tailed godwit, glossy ibis, Eurasian tree sparrow, and orchard oriole.

The chimney swift, observed foraging at Calgary’s Carburn Park in May 2022, was first thought to be the very similar, and more likely, Vaux’s swift. However, closer scrutiny of excellent photos taken by observers revealed that it was in fact our province’s first documented record of the Vaux’s eastern counterpart, the chimney swift. Many aerial insectivores, including the chimney swift, are unfortunately in decline across our continent. Conservation efforts in eastern Canada are largely focusing on the maintenance and restoration of human-made structures (such as chimneys) that chimney swifts use for nesting and roosting.

The bar-tailed godwit is a large Eurasian shorebird that nests uncommonly in western Alaska but rarely turns up elsewhere in North America, especially inland. So it was very much a surprise when one was found at Tyrrell Lake, southeast of Lethbridge, one evening in May 2022.

After a couple of close calls, the ABRC has finally accepted its first record of glossy ibis in Alberta, a bird observed at Pakowki Lake in the province’s southeast, again in May 2022. (It was a good month for provincial firsts!) The second record, photographed near Camrose, followed very soon afterward. This dark ibis can appear very similar to our regularly occurring white-faced ibises, and the two species hybridize. It is expected that Alberta will see more glossy ibises and hybrids in the coming years as the species expands in range in western North America.

Eurasian tree sparrows were introduced to our continent in the late 19th century and established themselves in the American Midwest, where they can still be found today. It is likely that a bird photographed in a yard in Fort McMurray in November 2021 came from this population.

Smaller relatives of our common Baltimore orioles, orchard orioles breed in eastern North America, largely south of the Canadian border. However, their range extends well into Saskatchewan, so it’s rather curious that it took until June 2021 for Alberta to document its first, near Claresholm. The second record, also a first-year male bird, was found in Lethbridge the following year.

The ABRC has also made revisions to its Review List — the list of those species considered sufficiently rare to warrant adjudication ( The new list includes species for which the ABRC has fewer than 16 accepted records on file. Species that have recently passed the threshold and been removed from the Review List are brant, black scoter, sharp-tailed sandpiper, red phalarope, long-tailed jaeger, yellow-billed loon, snowy egret, western bluebird, and scarlet tanager. If you have observed a bird of a species on the Review List in Alberta that has not been adjudicated by the ABRC (or of a species that would be altogether new to the provincial list), we encourage you to submit documentation to Jocelyn Hudon at and/or through our online form at

David Scott has been an avid birder for more than fifteen years, the last nine of which he’s spent in southern Alberta where he works as a librarian at the University of Lethbridge. David currently serves on the Alberta Bird Record Committee and the board of Nature Lethbridge.