SIB “Bird of the Week” – Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat – Geothlypis trichas
Length:  4.3–5.1”; Wingspan: 5.9 – 7.9″; Weight: 0.3–0.4 oz

Common Yellowthroat - Ed Konrad
Common Yellowthroat – Ed Konrad

The Common Yellowthroat is one of the most easy-to-spot warblers during spring and summer in Seabrook Island, and in much of North America. These songbirds dwell in open habitats such as marshes, wetland edges and brushy fields. The male’s “witchety-witchety-witchety” song is distinctive and easy to recognize. The male is also known for his black ‘bandit’ mask that contrasts to his showy bright, lemon-yellow throat and breast. The female Common Yellowthroat is, like her male counterpart, small and compact, and her coloring is mostly dull olive-gray overall. This bird has a very short neck and a small bill.

Common Yellowthroats spend much of their time flying low to the ground in dense thickets and fields, searching for insects and spiders. They favor small grasshoppers, dragonflies, mayflies, beetles, grubs, caterpillars, and other small bugs and also eat a few seeds. While they gather food mostly on foliage and through ground foraging, they occasionally make short flights to catch insects in mid-air.

Male Yellowthroats court females by flicking their wings and tail, following females closely and performing flight displays. In pairs, these birds prefer to nest low (less than 3’ up) on piles of briars, weeds, grasses or shrubs, or among cattails and bulrushes in the marsh setting. The nest is typically a bulky open cup shape, built by the female, and sometimes includes a partial roof of weeds, grass stems, dead leaves and bark that is attached to the rim of the nest. Common Yellowthroats usually produce 2 broods per year, and typically lay 3-6 eggs at a time. The eggs are creamy white with brown and black spots and are incubated by the female only for a period of 12 days. The male feeds the female on the nest during incubation and the young, once hatched, are fed by both parents. The young leave the nest after about 8-10 days.

The Common Yellowthroat winters throughout Central America, northwestern South America, extreme southern US and most of the Caribbean islands.

Certain subspecies of Common Yellowthroats are at risk of decline, largely from wetland degradation and conversion to agricultural and urban landscapes. Because they are insectivores and often live in wetlands, Common Yellowthroats are also susceptible to poor water quality and to pesticides and other pollutants. Cowbirds will occasionally ‘brood parasitize’ the Yellowthroat nest (lay their eggs in the host nest, forcing the parents to abandon the nest). Given these threats and risks, Yellowthroat populations seem to be holding steady rangewide across the United States.

Yellowthroats are naturally inquisitive birds and a little backyard investigation can often bring them out into the open for observation. Listen for their husky, low chuck coming from undergrowth. When you hear one calling, look low in the bushes and trees for a quick, small bird with olive wings and a yellow breast. Try making a ‘pishing’ sound. This often will draw the curious Yellowthroat out into the open to see who is making the sound, and you will be able to spot this small, pretty songbird!

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

Article submitted by: Lyn Magee
Photographs provided 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.

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Bird of the Week … Who am I???

As you may know, every Sunday we publish a weekly “Bird of the Week” blog.  Today we’d like to test your knowledge by asking if you can guess what bird you can hear on Seabrook Island that sounds like this.

Leave us a comment if you want to make a guess – and watch for the full article on Sunday morning!

 

Birds & Hurricanes

Birds have been dealing with hurricanes for millions of years and have developed a remarkable ability to survive. Whether it is a type of ESP (extra sensory perception) or not, birds process acute sensory perceptions and sensitivities to changes in air pressure, vibrations and low frequency sound waves that alert them to weather changes such as a coming hurricane. Sensing a storm, birds either hunker down and ride it out, or flee. In some instances, they move in the wrong direction getting trapped inside a hurricane’s eyewall. Here they are forced to move with the storm until it losses strength or they become exhausted and land to ride out the remainder of the storm.

A couple weeks prior to Hurricane Matthew I watched in amazement a Ruby-throated Hummingbird alternately sitting on a small tree branch and flying back and forth to its feeder in 20 to 25 MPH wind. Hummingbirds, as with other song and woodland birds have specially adapted toes that automatically tighten around their perch. This enables them to hold on to branches when they sleep and in high wind. Birds also have the ability to fluff their feathers adding additional protection from the rain and cold. Woodpeckers and other cavity nesting birds may ride out storms in their cavities. However, in the high winds and driving rain of a hurricane such adaptations and behavior may help but can’t explain how they survive. Two days after Hurricane Matthew visited Seabrook Island. the same or perhaps another Rudy-throated Hummingbird was waiting on the same branch watching me put the feeder back up. Had he hunkered down somewhere close-by or flown out of harm’s way?

Ruby-throated Hummingbird - C Moore
Ruby-throated Hummingbird – C Moore

One of the most written about instances concerning a birds encounter with a hurricane is the story of Machi, a Whimbrel. Fitted with a satellite tracking tag in 2009, Machi had been followed for two years while making seven 2,000 mile trips between her breeding grounds near Hudson Bay to her wintering grounds in the Caribbean Sea. She had traveled a total of over 27,000 miles. Prior to being shot by a Guadeloupe hunter in 2011, Machi on her last trip was tracked traveling hundreds of miles out of her normal migration route as she skirted Tropical Storm Irene.

A tagged gannet approaching the southern shore of New Jersey as Hurricane Sandy made landfall there, made a sharp U-turn and headed back north toward Long Island and out to sea along the continental shelf where it waited out the storm. However not all birds go around a storm. In 2011 another tagged whimbrel, nicknamed Hope, was tracked flying through Tropical Storm Gert off the coast of Nova Scotia, entering at 7 MPH and emerging at nearly 90 MPH.

Shore and ocean-faring birds have been detected in recent years by polarization radar that were trapped in the center of a hurricane. Trying to fly away from the higher winds of such storms these birds enter the back edge and work their way to the calmer center. Here they become trapped, being forced to fly long distance without food or rest. Becoming exhausted, these birds are often forced to take refuge from the storm landing, particularly as the storm passes over a large lake or other water body, and ride-out the rest of the storm.

As Hurricane Hermine made landfall along Florida's Gulf coast, radar detected an interesting phenomenon: birds trapped flying inside the calm eye of Hermine. The red shaded area on the image to the right shows the birds swirling inside Hermine's eye just before landfall.
As Hurricane Hermine made landfall along Florida’s Gulf coast, radar detected an interesting phenomenon: birds trapped flying inside the calm eye of Hermine. The red shaded area on the image to the right shows the birds swirling inside Hermine’s eye just before landfall.

Called “hurricane birds”, these birds may be transported great distances. Coastal shore birds may be transported hundreds of miles inland and Caribbean Island species may flee to coastal areas of the United States. Birders frequently take advantage of this phenomena and search for new bird sighting following a hurricane. Many first area records occur at such times however unfortunately many of these translocated birds do not survive.

The most important impact of a hurricane on birds may be its impact on the environment. Flooding by a saltwater surge and/or freshwater flooding from accompanying rain may have dramatic short and long term impacts on vegetation. Beach erosion may destroy critical feeding and nesting areas of shore birds. Forest vegetation may be flattened and stripped of leaves making it uninhabitable to many birds. Fruits and berries, nuts, acorns, and other food sources may be lost. Many cavity dwelling birds such as woodpeckers and owls may lose nesting trees as they frequently snap off at the cavities.

In 1989, Hurricane Hugo resulted in the loss of nearly 60% of the remaining population of the endanger Red-cockaded woodpecker as a result of an estimated 90% of the trees with nesting cavities within the Francis Marion National Forest being flattened. The same storm resulted in the loss of 40% of all the known American eagle nests in South Carolina.

Hurricanes do kill birds and change the ecosystem, however, one animal’s loss is another’s gain and healthy populations do survive. Tree top dwelling birds may lose much of their habitat but those requiring lower, shrubby level vegetation such as the whip-poor-will will flourish. Fallen trees, branches and stripped leaves result in increased light and photosynthesis on the forest floor. As the fallen vegetation rots it fertilizes and simulates new growth creating important food sources. Fallen vegetation also creates millions of new nooks and crannies that will become home for many bird species and numerous other forest creatures.

Submitted by:  Charles Moore

 

SIB “Bird of the Week” – Turkey Vulture vs. Black Vulture

Turkey Vulture vs. Black Vulture  –  Cathartes aura and Coragyps atratus
Turkey Vulture – Length: 26″;   Wingspan:  67″;  Weight:  4.0 lb
Black Vulture – Length:   25″;   Wingspan:  59″;  Weight:  4.4 lb

No, those are NOT buzzards; they are vultures. We have no buzzards in North America but we do have two types of vultures: the Turkey Vulture and the Black Vulture, commonly referred to as TVs and Blacks. Both are very big, very dark, and very ugly (to some) when seen on the ground. They have no feathers on their heads and dangerous looking beaks. These features are important to their life style. As you probably know from seeing them around road kill, they are carrion eaters. Their sharp beaks enable them to rip apart a carcass and the featherless heads allow them to forage deeply inside a dead animal yet avoid getting residue on their heads – not pretty but most practical.

Close up, the most obvious difference between these two vultures is the color of their heads. The Turkey Vulture has a bright red head while the Black’s is dark gray. On the wing, the TV seems to be soaring unsteadily, tipping from side to side with its wings in a V-shape. It uses very few wing beats as it glides along and the “fingers” at the ends of its wings are distinctive. From beneath, the TV’s wings in flight appear to be two-toned with black on the top edge and gray on the bottom.

In contrast, the Black is stubbier in shape with a shorter tail and thicker wings. It tends to flap its wings more and has less of a V shape when gliding than the TV. A definite identifier for the Black are the white “windows” at the ends of its wings. Watch for them as the bird flies overhead.

It is more likely that a birder will see a vulture in the sky than on the ground. They ride the thermals to reach heights which allow them to see great distances. Both are very strong fliers, often flying near one another, using their keen eyesight to spot carrion. The TV also has exceptional sense of smell which gives it an advantage in locating carcasses. The Black makes up for its disadvantage by watching the Turkey Vulture and following it when it descends.

There seem to be more Blacks than Turkey Vultures. In fact, the reverse is true in the U.S. but the very social nature of the Blacks means we see them in groups while the TV flies and may even eat alone.   One on one, the Black will lose out against the bigger TV. However, if both are at a carcass, a flock of Blacks can take over from the singular TV.

Neither the TV nor the Black actually builds a nest. They use hollowed trees or stumps, thickets, caves and even abandoned buildings to have their young. Once found, a pair may reuse the sight for several years.

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

Article submitted by:  Marcia Hider
Photographs provided by: Charley Moore & Misc

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.

Bird of the Week … Who am I???

As you may know, every Sunday we publish a weekly “Bird of the Week” blog.  Today we’d like to test your knowledge by asking the following questions:

A group of these birds feeding is a WAKE
A group in flight is a KETTLE
A group resting in trees is a COMMITTEE, VOLT or VENUE.

What are they??

Leave us a comment if you want to make a guess – and watch for the full article on Sunday morning!

 

SIB’s Backyard Birding was a Fun Break from Clean-up Duties!

The back deck of Carole King's home was the perfect place to bird - Judy Morr
The back deck of Carole King’s home was the perfect place to bird – Judy Morr
A big thank you to Carole King for hosting our monthly SIB Backyard Birding on her back deck Saturday October 15.  We had 13 SIB members who took a break from their clean-up work following Hurricane Matthew.   What a beautiful location to watch for traditional backyard birds, shorebirds and seabirds with views of marsh, river, beach and ocean!  Carole provided coffee, tea and snacks and Donna Lawrence brought muffins.
Brown Pelicans at the end of the dock - Marnie Ellis
Brown Pelicans at the end of the dock – Marnie Ellis
When we arrived, the Brown Pelicans were the most noticeable sitting at the end of two of the docks.  Near the home we saw the typical passerines like Northern Cardinals and Northern Mockingbird, but many of us were excited to see the Brown Thrasher and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.  We determined the small bird that would hop along Carole’s dock and then fly up into the Live Oak was a Palm Warbler.
Using the scope we could see the 22 American Oystercatchers across on North Beach - Marnie Ellis
Using the scope we could see the 22 American Oystercatchers across on North Beach – Marnie Ellis
In the distance, using the scope, we were able to identify a large group of American Oystercatchers, Willets, more than 100 White Ibis and even two Marbled Godwits.  Using our binoculars, we could see hundreds of Tree Swallows flying over the end of Kiawah Island as well as over the river and beach on the Seabrook side.
SIB members enjoying the diversity of birds - Judy Morr
SIB members enjoying the diversity of birds – Judy Morr
Overall, we had a spectacular morning and I think we would all agree we are jealous of Carole for her backyard birding paradise.  Below is the full list of birds we saw during the morning along with photos taken by Marnie and Judy.

If you are interested to join Judy Morr next Saturday, she’ll be taking a SIB group to the Center for Birds of Prey to volunteer as they count migrating Hawks.  For more information and to sign up click here.

Double-crested Cormorant  12
Brown Pelican  37
Great Blue Heron  3
Great Egret  6
Snowy Egret  5
Little Blue Heron  1
Tricolored Heron  1
White Ibis  103
Osprey  4
Clapper Rail  1
American Oystercatcher  22     
Marbled Godwit  2
Willet  12
Laughing Gull  3
Royal Tern  3
Black Skimmer  1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  1
Belted Kingfisher  1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  1
American Crow  13
Fish Crow  1
Tree Swallow  122
Carolina Chickadee  1
Tufted Titmouse  3
Carolina Wren  1
Brown Thrasher  1
Northern Mockingbird  1
Palm Warbler  1
Northern Cardinal  5
Boat-tailed Grackle  1
A gorgeous day to bird on Seabrook Island - Marnie Ellis
A gorgeous day to bird on Seabrook Island – Marnie Ellis

Test Your Knowledge of Passerines – The Answers

We began our “Bird of the Week” series in March and we hope you have been able to learn a few things about our feathered friends.  This week we hope you enjoyed a little quiz to test your knowledge.  Below is a list of passerines which we have already profiled – oops – along with one we haven’t profiled yet!  (A passerine is a type of bird most notable by the arrangement of their toes, three pointing forward and one back, which facilitates perching. They are sometimes known as perching birds or, less accurately, as songbirds.)

How’d you do on the photos?  And the songs/calls?  Check out the answers below and read our previously published blogs on nine of the species.

Bird Species Photo Song
1 American Goldfinch  G  S8
2 Yellow-Rumped Warbler  E  S6
3 Northern Parula  J  S1
4 Painted Bunting  F  S7
5 Ruby-throated Hummingbird  I  S4
6 Carolina Wren  D  S10
7 Eastern Bluebird  C  S9
8 Gray Catbird  B  S3
9 Northern Cardinal (not yet profiled)  H  S2
10 American Redstart  A  S5