Rare bird attracting visitors to Jackson County

JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - A colorful visitor is attracting bird watchers to the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Their destination is a group of live oak trees down a secluded beach road in Jackson County.

That's where a rare bird has made its home for the winter.

Bird watchers or "birders" are very excited about this visitor. A "Painted Redstart" was spotted in an oak tree on East Belle Fontaine Road in early January.

Visitors have been flocking to that site ever since.

"Oh there he is! He just came down lower," said Marsha Kazal, as she pointed out the bird to a group of visitors.

The colorful song bird flittered among the live oaks.

"To me, it's amazing that these are his trees," said Kazal, who owns, "The Bird House" in Ocean Springs.

Kazal has visited the Painted Redstart nearly every day since it was first spotted in early January.

"I like best that he's birder friendly. I like best that people are coming from everywhere to the coast to see that we have great birds," Kazal explained.

This is only the second recorded sighting of this bird in Mississippi.

"It's called a Painted Redstart. It's part of that warbler group. They eat insects mostly and this one happens to be completely out of its range. It usually breeds in Mexico," said Dr. Mark Lasalle, with the Mississippi Coast Audubon Center.

The wayward warbler seems to enjoy attention. He rarely ventures far from this trio of oak trees.

"I just think for a small bird, he's so pretty," said Kazal.

Others agreed. He or she has entertained visitors from Canada, New England and the far West.

"Now, in a few minutes you'll see the yellow bellied sapsucker show up," Kazal predicted.

Right on cue, the sap sucker appeared. The holes he pecks produce sap, which traps insects which both birds eat.

There's plenty of mystery surrounding this visitor.

Did the warbler simply stray off course and wind up here in Mississippi? Or are there more Painted Redstarts than we know about here, but they've simply gone unnoticed.

Whatever the case, this little visitor is attracting lots of attention and tourists.

"Bird folks are coming from all over the place. But it's also a treat for us here in South Mississippi too, because it illustrates why this part of the country is so valuable as a draw for nature tourists or eco tourists," said Dr. Lasalle.

"I get such a kick out of him. I don't know what I'm going to do when he decides to go," said Kazal.

Both Dr. Mark Lasalle and Marsha Kazal are hopeful the "Painted Redstart" will get more people interested in the hobby of "birding".

A good place to start is the annual "Great Backyard Bird Count" later this month.

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