Red-footed falcon captivates birdwatchers

/ Source: The Associated Press

A red-footed falcon spotted for the first time in North America is enticing birdwatchers to Martha’s Vineyard.

The slate gray, juvenile male bird of prey is thousands of miles from its normal summer home in Eastern Europe and winter home in Africa.

“It’s the biggest birding news in the last 10 years,” said Vernon Laux, a Vineyard birdwatcher who helped identify the species. “It’s like having a Martian walking around.”

About 120 people rushed to Katama Airfield in Edgartown on Wednesday to catch a glimpse of the falcon. One observer was David Sibley, creator of an encyclopedic series on birds, who said he heard about the sighting Tuesday.

“I found out what the earliest ferry was and came right over,” said Sibley, who lives in Concord. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”

The final determination of the species will be made by the Massachusetts Avian Records Committee and the American Ornithological Union, according to Wayne R. Petersen, chairman of the state group. He said the bird is not banded and there appear to be no other signs of captivity.

Bob Prescott, director of the Massachusetts Audubon Society’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, predicted a lonely future for the bird.

“There’s no way it can get back to where it came from,” said Prescott. “It could become a resident of the island. It could migrate south, maybe end up in Argentina, in the Pampas.”