SIB “Bird of the Week” – Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-Bellied Woodpecker – Melanerpes carolinus
Length:  9.25″; Wingspan: 16″; Weight: 2.2 oz.

Red-bellied Woodpecker - Ed Konrad
Red-bellied Woodpecker – Ed Konrad

On Friday, we asked if you knew this bird sound – the Red-bellied Woodpecker.  This bird is our most conspicuous woodpecker heard around the island (although the downy is more numerous).  It’s most common call is a shrill, rolling kwirr or churr given by both sexes. You might also hear a gruff, coughing cha cha cha sounding through the woods, usually a contact call between mates, or a throaty growl exchanged when birds are close together.  We hear them frequently throughout Seabrook Island, but especially as we golf on both golf courses.

The Red-bellied Woodpecker is named for a small wash of reddish-orange feathers on the belly. Their back is narrowly barred black and white. It has a red forehead, cap and nape around pale cheeks. The female’s red is confined to the nape. Juveniles may lack red on the head. In flight there is a white rump with dark outer tail feathers. Their strikingly barred backs and gleaming red caps make them an unforgettable sight – just resist the temptation to call them Red-headed Woodpeckers, a somewhat rarer species that’s mostly black on the back with big white wing patches.

Omnivorous, Red-bellied Woodpeckers feed on insects, acorns, fruit seeds, and nuts. In the south they may favor oranges. They may also usurp sapsucker wells. They hoard nuts, fruit, and insects. They may occasionally feed on the ground. They will come to a feeder for suet and sunflower seeds.  A Red-bellied Woodpecker can stick out its tongue nearly 2 inches past the end of its beak. The tip is barbed and the bird’s spit is sticky, making it easier to snatch prey from deep crevices. Males have longer, wider-tipped tongues than females, possibly allowing a breeding pair to forage in slightly different places on their territory and maximize their use of available food.

Look for Red-bellied Woodpeckers hitching along branches and trunks of medium to large trees, picking at the bark surface more often than drilling into it. Like most woodpeckers, these birds have a characteristic undulating flight pattern.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers lay their eggs on the bed of wood chips left over after excavating their nest cavity. Nest holes are 8 to 12 inches deep, with a cylindrical living space of roughly 3.5 by 15 inches in dead trees (hardwoods or pines), dead limbs of live trees, and fence posts. The same pair may nest in the same tree year after year, but typically excavate a new cavity each year, often placing the new one beneath the previous year’s.

A group of woodpeckers have many collective nouns, including a “descent,” “drumming” and “gatling” of woodpeckers.

(See the range map following the photographs below.)

If you would like to learn more about this bird visit:

Submitted by Judy Morr & photos by Ed Konrad and from Cornell Lab of Ornithology

This blog post is part of a series SIB will publish on a regular basis to feature birds seen in the area, both migratory and permanent residents.  When possible we will use photographs taken by our members.    Please let us know if you have any special requests of birds you would like to learn more about.


Birding by Ear … Who am I???

As we talk with many SIB members, birding by ear can be one of the most challenging and frustrating areas for new birders.  Yet getting to know one bird’s call/song can be exciting to know the bird is nearby even if you can’t see it!

Sunday we will publish our weekly “Bird of the Week,” but we decided we wanted to give you a hint and possibly help you learn the call of one bird we all hear frequently around Seabrook Island.  So, do you know what bird makes this sound???  Leave us a comment if you know or want to make a guess – and watch for the full article on Sunday morning!

In the meantime, we hope you will enjoy this article published by Cornell Lab of Ornithology to provide ideas on how to better learn bird songs by “Listening Deeply.”

Learn Bird Songs by Listening Deeply: Q&A With Don Kroodsma

SIB “Bird of the Week” – Kites: Mississippi vs Swallow-tailed

Mississippi Kite – Ictinia mississippiensis
Length: 14″ Wingspan: 31″ Weight: 10 oz

Swallow-tailed Kite – Elanoides forficatus (endangered in South Carolina)
Length: 22″ Wingspan: 51″ Weight: 12 oz

Living at a beach community, I’m sure many people are accustomed to looking at kites in the sky along the beach – you know, the kind that Ben Franklin used.  But have you ever looked up to see either of these birds?

Mississippi Kite (left) & Swallow-tailed Kite (right) - Ed Konrad
Mississippi Kite (left) & Swallow-tailed Kite (right) – Ed Konrad

Both of these birds, the Mississippi and the Swallow-tailed Kites, can be seen on Seabrook Island and we (Flo & Nancy) have seen both within the past two weeks!  We’ve seen a Mississippi Kite pair flying over both Crooked Oaks and Ocean Winds golf courses on at least three occasions and we saw a pair of Swallow-tailed Kites flying over Bohicket Marina just a week ago!

The two species look quite different from each other and are quite unmistakable from other birds.  Swallow-tailed Kites are large but slender and buoyant raptors. They have long, narrow, pointed wings, slim bodies, and a very long, deeply forked tail. The bill is small and sharply hooked. Swallow-tailed Kites are a sharp contrast of bright-white head and underparts and gleaming black wings, back, and tail. From below, the wing linings are white and the flight feathers are black. Its most unique characteristic is the elongated, forked tail (hence its name).  This large raptor is built like a glider with huge wings and small streamlined bodies. They rarely flap their wings; instead soar effortlessly, changing course with minute adjustments of their distinctive forked tails.  The species is now listed as endangered in South Carolina.

Mississippi Kites are a slender and much smaller raptor with long, pointed wings. The tail is fairly long and square-tipped. The strongly hooked bill is small and delicate.  They are an inky mix of gray and black, lightening to pale gray-white on the head and in the secondaries of the wings. The wingtips and tail are black. Juveniles are streaky, with brownish chests and underwings, and banded tails. Though known for their graceful, acrobatic flight, Mississippi Kites also spend time foraging on the ground and in shallow water.

Both species of kite feed on the wing, snatching dragonflies and other insects out of the sky and eating them while still in flight. They may also feed on small amphibians such as frogs, large insects, crickets, small birds and small mammals including bats. Swallow-tailed kites inhabit mostly woodland & forested wetlands near nesting locations. Nests are built in trees, usually near water. Both male and female participate in building the nest. Sometimes a high-pitched chirp is emitted, though the birds mostly remain silent.  Mississippi Kites breed in scattered areas of the southern and central United States, using very different habitats depending on the region. East of the Mississippi River, they nest in mature, diverse, low-lying forest—especially tracts that are large and unbroken but have nearby open habitat, such as pasture, cropland, waterways, country roads, or small lakes. They nest in almost any tree species, as low as a few feet off the ground to more than 115 feet high.

Both kites are creatures of the air, spending most of their day aloft and rarely flapping their wings. They tend to circle fairly low over trees as they hunt for small animals in the branches. At times they soar very high in the sky, almost at the limits of vision.

Swallow-tailed Kites once nested in 21 States. By 1940 after a sudden decline the Kite’s range shrunk to 7 States, from South Carolina to Texas. The species nesting habits have made the swallow-tailed Kite difficult to study. Researchers must come to them and climb high in Loblolly pine to observe nests. Nesting adults and their young are subject to predation by Great Horned Owls. They migrate North in the Spring across the Gulf of Mexico and can be swept off course by storms. During migration they may form large flocks.  Read this fabulous article featured in the April/May 2016 issue of Nature Conservancy.

If you see kites – researchers want to know about it. You should always document your bird sightings in eBird.  In addition, The Center for Birds of Prey, located in Awendaw, SC manages & tracks log sightings of the Swallow-tailed Kite. Visit for more info. The website guides you through a series of questions about the location, number and activities of the bird or birds sighted.

A group of kites has many collective nouns, including a “brood,” “kettle,” “roost,” “stooping,” and a “string” of kites.

Look for both species of Kites in South Carolina during the spring and summer breeding months over swamps, marshes and large rivers. Besides Seabrook Island, Caw Caw Interpretive Center is a great location to view kites.  They nest high in the loblolly pines.

(See the range map following the photographs below.)

If you would like to learn more about these birds visit:

Notes from photographer Ed Konrad:  “These photos were taken at Skeen’s Farm, Glenville GA, which is an incredible place to see the Kites up close and in action. A very memorable photographic day. We see Kites at Caw Caw, and on the way to Seabrook in Allendale SC and at a cattle farm outside of Augusta. But not up close as at this farm.”

This blog post is part of a series SIB will publish on a regular basis to feature birds seen in the area, both migratory and permanent residents.  When possible we will use photographs taken by our members.    Please let us know if you have any special requests of birds you would like to learn more about.

Submitted by Nancy Brown with information from Janice Watson-Shada.
Photographs compliments of Ed Konrad


A Message from Dana Beach and the Coastal Conservation League

The miracle of the red knot. The drama of nature in the comfort of your home. Conservation in the cause of economic development.

We hope you enjoy the information below and take time to learn more about our special migrant bird the Red Knot, view the Pelicam of Crab Bank and read more about various initiatives to care for our Low Country home!

Coastal Conservation League


This was a big week for birds (especially small ones).  Deborah Cramer, whose beautifully titled Pulitzer prize winner, “The Narrow Edge:  A Tiny Bird, An Ancient Crab, and an Epic Journey,” celebrates the courageous — even miraculous — life of the red knot, spoke at the Library Society on Wednesday to a standing room only crowd.  Who would have guessed that there could be such enthusiasm for an obscure bird that appears in South Carolina only briefly in the spring and fall?

Like so much in nature these days, the story of the red knot is bittersweet.  In spite of its beauty, courage and endurance, the red knot is under pressure on all fronts.  Its primary food source, which fuels a (truly epic) 9,000 mile migration from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic, is the horseshoe crab egg — billions of them, to be specific.

Delaware Bay has been the historical refueling stop.  The red knot’s arrival there is perfectly timed with the annual egg laying of hundreds of thousands of horseshoe crabs. Fishermen in Virginia and Maryland have depleted the population of these crustaceans, “harvesting” (aka, “killing”) them for bait to catch eels and conchs.  Red knot populations have plummeted as a result — so much so that it was recently listed as a threatened species.

South Carolina, fortunately, banned the killing of horseshoe crabs for bait in the 1980s.  Ironically, the motivation was to make more of them available for pharmaceutical use.  (The crab is a true blue blood — a valuable commodity in the drug business —  in contrast to our beloved native Charlestonians, whose blood is the same color of red as someone from, say, Charlotte.)  This is ironic because taking the crab’s blood also causes mortality, only not as severely as using them for bait.

So the good news, for us, is that South Carolina has become more important to the red knot’s migration and survival.  Another interesting point, according to Deborah, is that rice fields are also increasingly valuable habitats.  With 70,000 acres remaining, the Lowcountry is, for the moment, well endowed with both rice fields and horseshoe crabs.

I urge you to read this op-ed by Deborah from the New York Times.  She presents with beauty and urgency the dire circumstances facing shorebirds.  We can’t ignore the perils we have created for these remarkable creatures. 

Another miracle of nature is the fact that a tiny sand bar in the middle of Charleston Harbor is the breeding ground for a large percentage of the pelicans, royal and Sandwich terns, and black skimmers that grace the Charleston area.  Crab Bank, at the mouth of Shem Creek, is now probably less than an acre in size, but its ecological value is almost incalculable.  All together, there are just five seabird colonies in the state — just a few hundred acres responsible for the survival of the birds most of us consider iconic and permanent parts of the Lowcountry ecosphere.

Now it is possible to observe a seabird rookery in action on your computer!  Last Friday the Conservation League officially launched our Pelicam, which provides continuous streaming video from Crab Bank.  In spite of the proliferation of eagle and owl cams, the Pelicam is the first and only seabird colony based webcam in the world.  Here is Channel 5’s coverage of the launch.

I won’t elaborate on the excitement… the therapeutic, almost hypnotic enjoyment… of contemplating these wonderful, serene, pugilistic, gentle animals.  Take a look for yourself:

Finally, in case anyone thinks of conservationists as just tree-hugging nature lovers, Sammy Fretwell, with the State, reports that conservation groups have collaborated with business interests throughout the state to advance economic development projects.  Recent examples on the coast include the mitigation plans for Volvo’s new plant and Boeing’s expansion, and for the harbor deepening project, all developed and implemented with participation and leadership from local conservation organizations.  This underscores the almost blindingly obvious point that economic development without the conservation of nature would produce a world that few people would actually want to live in.

Have a wonderful week and enjoy the Pelicam!

Dana Beach


SIB Members Flock to Jenkins Point

Eighteen people joined Flo Foley and Nancy Brown on a two-hour birding adventure along Jenkins Point on Saturday May 14th.  This included three new members along with their parents from NYC.  Five of the participants met us on bikes and the rest car-pooled to the street.

It was a beautiful day to view the many birds (and a few alligators) found at the side of the road, along the ponds and in the marsh.  Below is the complete list of the 31 bird species we either saw or heard along the one-mile stretch of the Jenkins Point neighborhood.  Thanks to Adam Holtzschue for taking the photos of this flock of SIB members!

Please be sure to visit our website and sign-up for our blog postings.  We have nine spaces available on another walk scheduled for this Thursday May 19th at Camp St. Christopher with the Director of Education, David Gardner – you can register for that event here.

Double-crested Cormorant  1
Brown Pelican  3
Great Blue Heron  1
Great Egret  27
Snowy Egret  1
Green Heron  7
Turkey Vulture  2
Osprey  2
Black-bellied Plover  1
Semipalmated Plover  2
Willet  1
Whimbrel  2
Laughing Gull  4
Mourning Dove  2
Red-bellied Woodpecker  1
Downy Woodpecker  1
Great Crested Flycatcher  2
Blue Jay  1
American Crow  5
Fish Crow  1
Barn Swallow  3
Carolina Chickadee  4
Tufted Titmouse  1
Carolina Wren  1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  1
Eastern Bluebird  3
Pine Warbler  1
Northern Cardinal  4
Painted Bunting  1     heard
Red-winged Blackbird  2
Boat-tailed Grackle  6


SIB “Bird of the Week” – Wilson’s Plover

Wilson’s PloverCharadrius wilsonia
Length: 7.75”; Wingspan: 19”; Weight: 2.1 oz.

Another plover? Seabrook Islanders have heard a great deal about the Piping Plover but there are several other plovers that also appear on our beaches: the Black-bellied, the Semipalmated and the Wilson’s.

The Black-bellied is considerably different from the other three and is here predominantly in the winter. The others are smaller birds and they resemble one another so much that they are sometimes difficult to tell apart. As with many birds, they change color slightly seasonally and gain or lose breeding plumage which just adds to the confusion.

This week we are focusing on the Wilson’s Plover. Named for an early ornithologist, Alexander Wilson1 this bird is the largest of the three at between 6-8”. Note its bigger, thicker beak relative to the two other plovers. Additionally, its breast band is wider. When it stands on the beach, it often assumes a more upright position – although not always.

Seabrook Island Plover Comparison: Piping vs Semipalmated vs Wilson's
Seabrook Island Plover Comparison: Piping vs Semipalmated vs Wilson’s

While most of the Piping and Semipalmated Plovers are on our beaches in the winter and migrate north to nest and raise their young, the Wilson’s is here in the spring and summer and nests here on North Beach. It lays its eggs on the beach.   As you can see from the pictures below, the eggs are right in the open yet so well camouflaged that they are barely detectable. Can you even find them in the first picture? They are more obvious in the second close-up picture, taken at a different angle. It’s clear why the eggs can be so easily stepped on by beach goers. Fortunately, these birds often choose nesting areas away from the immediate shoreline, areas where people are less likely to walk. When aroused off of its nest, the bird will call with a sharp, liquid quit or queet to warn intruders.

Because of its larger, stronger beak, the Wilson’s Plover tends to search for and devour larger creatures than the smaller plovers. Typically, it will run a few steps forward, pause, then run again, probing the ground in search of something edible. It likes crustaceans, worms and insects as well as small mollusks.

The oldest recorded Wilson’s Plover was at least six years old according to it’s banding history. It was a male that was recaptured in South Carolina and then released.

The Wilson’s Plover population, like that of many shore birds, is declining. This is not surprising considering the vulnerability of its nests. It is in the highest category of the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List which includes those birds that are at risk of becoming endangered or threatened in North America.  As you walk along North Beach just past the dog “off-leash” area, you will notice new signage has been placed to ensure the nesting areas for both the Wilson’s Plover and the Least Terns are protected.

New signs posted on North Beach protecting nesting areas of Least Terns and Wilson's Plovers.
New signs posted on North Beach protecting nesting areas of Least Terns and Wilson’s Plovers.

1 Wilson had several other birds named in his honor. These include Wilson’s Snipe, Wilson’s Warbler, Wilson’s Phalarope, and Wilson’s Bird-of-paradise. The snipe and warbler may be seen in SC, the phalarope is rare and the bird-of-paradise is an Indonesian endemic.

(See the range map following the photographs below.)

If you would like to learn more about this bird visit:

Submitted by Marcia Hider
Photographs by Ed Konrad & File Photos

This blog post is part of a series SIB will publish on a regular basis to feature birds seen in the area, both migratory and permanent residents.  When possible we will use photographs taken by our members.    Please let us know if you have any special requests of birds you would like to learn more about.


SIB “Bird of the Week” – Least Tern

Least Tern – Sternula antillarum
Length:  9″; Wingspan: 20″; Weight: 1.5 oz.

Courtship of Least Terns - Ed Konrad
Courtship of Least Terns – Ed Konrad

The Least Tern arrives to Seabrook Island in mid-April each year.  It is the smallest tern in North America.  Look for a small, graceful tern with a black cap, white forehead, and yellow bill. Their legs are yellow.  Like most other terns, they plunge dive for small fish.

As of this year, we are so lucky to have these birds return to Seabrook Island to nest.  You will find them nesting and flying in the dune areas above high tide on North Beach in the area of the new inlet cut.  This area was marked off with signs and rope by DNR during the first week of May.  Extra high tides along with disturbances by humans and dogs may cause considerable loss of nests, eggs, and young in this species.  Least Terns are now listed as threatened in South Carolina.

Least Terns are vocal and defend their nest areas by flying at intruders (please avoid their nesting areas during the breeding season if you find a colony).  They “chitter” constantly as they feed, when they take flight and if disturbed.  It is a metallic sharp call that sounds like this.

They are monogamous and breed at 2-years old,  generally having one brood (sometimes 2).  Least Terns nest on open beaches or river margins, usually near water. They may also nest on flat roofs. The nest is a shallow scrape in the sand, usually unlined, and is built by the female.  They lay 1-3 eggs which both sexes incubate for 20-22 days.  In very hot weather, adults may wet their belly feathers and cool the eggs.  Young leave the nest a few days after hatching and hide nearby.  Both parents care for the chicks.  They can fly after 19-20 days or so but remain with their parents for 2-3 months. Please check-out the great photos and captions of Least Tern courtship below.

After breeding, adults and young frequently rest on the beach together (the young are darker with faint barring on the back) and may mingle with Black Terns in the later summer.

A group of least terns are collectively known as a “straightness” of terns.

Besides North Beach, you may also see these beautiful and graceful birds near the ponds of the golf club, at Bohicket Marina and at various other ponds on Seabrook Island.

(See the range map following the photographs below.)

If you would like to learn more about this bird visit:

(Source: Carl Helmes,; edited by Nancy Brown; photographs by Ed Konrad)

This blog post is part of a series SIB will publish on a regular basis to feature birds seen in the area, both migratory and permanent residents.  When possible we will use photographs taken by our members.    Please let us know if you have any special requests of birds you would like to learn more about.