Wildlife fans 'sleep in cars' to glimpse rare bird

The bright blue Indigo Bunting spotted in a residential garden
The bird is said to have been spotted in the UK just a handful of times [Steven Lomas]

Bird lovers flocked to a residential street in the hope of spotting an indigo bunting as it made a rare UK appearance.

A sighting of the vibrantly blue bird inspired scores of people to descend upon a South Tyneside village over the weekend.

People reportedly slept in cars to catch a glimpse of the brightly coloured male, with some reports suggesting it could be the first time the bird had been seen on UK mainland.

Enterprising Scouts raised more than £100 by selling refreshments to the visitors to Whitburn, near Sunderland.

Among the "twitchers" who paid a visit to the village was Steven Lomas, who recently took up birdwatching.

"It's a beautiful bird and as soon as I heard it was on my doorstep, it seemed stupid not to go," he said.

"It was a struggle to find it as it's quite small, but when it appeared, I could feel the excitement go around those who were there.

"It was lovely to see it on the feeders and to hear people speculating about why it was there. Did it get free from an aviary? Did it get lost?

"The mystery of it was quite intriguing."

A crowd of men with cameras surround a residential garden
At least 100 people are said to have travelled to the quiet village in the hope of seeing the bird [Andrea Blunt]

Peter Bell, a trustee of Durham Wildlife Trust and a keen birder, was responsible for word getting out about the rare sighting.

He spotted it on a feeder in his garden on Saturday afternoon.

By the end of the day, about 100 people had traipsed in and out of his home in the hope of spotting the colourful visitor.

Mr Bell said: "The bird's plumage indicates that it is in its first summer, in other words still a young, inexperienced bird - that makes it far more likely that it is wild, rather than an escapee from captivity.

"It is also in pristine condition, and unringed, lending further support to the idea that it is wild.

"It is likely that it came across with other North American birds last autumn, in the aftermath of a hurricane, and is now migrating back north in the wrong continent."

Be prepared

The bird also paid a visit to the garden of Scout leader Andrea Blunt, who was surprised to see her usually quiet street become the centre of attention for visitors from across the country.

"Some had travelled from as far as Bristol and Glastonbury, and some slept in their cars," she said.

She added the birdwatchers had been grateful to be offered refreshments by young Scouts.

The birders donated £367 to local wildlife charities while in the village.

Whitburn's colourful visitor was confirmed by several birdwatchers as an indigo bunting, a sparrow-sized, seed-eating songbird.

During breeding season, the male is a bright azure blue with an indigo head.

Usually ranging from southern Canada to northern Florida during breeding season and from southern Florida to northern South America over winter, the bird migrates at night and can navigate by the stars.

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