Bird of the Week … Shorebird & Seabird Nests

While many shorebirds and seabirds nest on Deveaux Bank, we only have 4 possible nesters on North Beach. They are the Wilson’s Plover, the Least Tern, the Willet and a possible pair of American Oystercatcher. (The answers to Friday’s teaser are at the end of this article). Shorebird and seabird nesting is a fragile enterprise and success is fraught with peril since a nest is often nothing more than a shallow scrape in the sand. We have a designated nesting area on North Beach, but birds can’t read and often choose other areas and are subject to high tides and predators. 

The Wilson’s Plovers have been exhibiting courting behavior on our beach this spring. Males have been vocal and territorial with each other while courting females. They lay eggs in a small scrape in the sand and try to camouflage their nest. If you get near a bird that is vocal and feigning a broken wing, steer clear of the area. It means they have a nest nearby. 

Least Terns are the smallest of the SC terns and have a black-tipped yellow bill. They have a very funny courting behavior where a male brings a small fish to the female and she either accepts the fish of rejects it. We have photographed this many times on North Beach. They will actually “dive bomb” you if you get near a possible nest. Last year, there was evidence of Least Tern nesting on the “highway” part of the cut, but unfortunately SC DNR found evidence of coyote tracks near the possible nests. There have been several endeavors to actually make Least Tern nesting areas on coarse sand and pebble covered roofs or abandoned docks in Charleston to give them a safe environment for nesting. The results are promising. 

American Oystercatcher, North Beach, banded U5 and mate – Ed Konrad

A pair of American Oystercatchers (including our reliable banded U5) may also have had a nest on Seabrook. They are often seen together on our beach. Their nest is also a scrape in the sand, usually further back in the dunes. The use their feet to make a scrape and line it with shells, pebbles and wrack. It is often susceptible to high tides.

Willet, Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island – Ed Konrad

Several pairs of vocal Willets have also been observed on our beach which could indicate a nest. Willets nest back in the dunes and also on the ground. They have a piercing call and also use a broken wing display to draw attention away from their nest. 

On Deveaux Bank, the colonial nesters abound. Colonial nesting means nesting in large groups of the same species. Brown Pelicans, Black Skimmers, Royal Terns, Gull-billed Terns and Sandwich Terns all nest in large colonies. I have never personally observed these birds on nest, but Dana Beach’s book on Deveaux Bank has wonderful pictures of the spectacle of the large colonies of nesting birds. The Brown Pelican nesting colony is the largest on the Atlantic Coast. 

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If you see anything that you suspect as nesting activity, give the birds lots of room. Respect the posted nesting area. Keep your pets on a leash, and out of the “No Dogs Allowed” area completely, as well not allowing dogs to go above the high tide line in any area. Don’t force feeding birds near the water to fly and give them lots of room to feed. Don’t litter on the beach, nor feed the birds human food. If you see trash, pick it up. Birds can ingest or feed their chicks plastic items they mistake for food. 

Beach nesting coastal birds are among the most threatened of all migratory birds. Of the 51 species that breed in North America , 43%, or 22 species, are declining in population. Audubon South Carolina has a program called “Let ’em Rest, Let ’em Nest” – a way of co-existing with coastal birds.

Article Submitted by:  Aija Konrad
Photographs by:  Ed Konrad

Answers to Friday’s Teaser:

Bird of the Week … Who am I?

This Sunday, in our final article about bird nesting, we will discuss the Shorebirds and Seabirds that might nest on Seabrook Island.  Can you name any of the four most likely species?  Below are photos representing the nest of each of the four species.  If you’d like to guess, please leave us a comment!  And watch for the full article on Sunday.


Feeding Hummingbirds

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird – Bob Hider

Many of our Seabrook Island residents enjoy watching and feeding the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds that spend the summers on our island.  Making food for these incredible creatures is easy – just use these directions below!  

  1. Mix 1 part sugar with 4 parts water and bring to a boil to kill any bacteria or mold present.
  2. Cool and fill feeder.
  3. Extra sugar water may be stored in a refrigerator.
  4. No other products, including red dye, should ever be added.

It is suggested to place feeders in the shade and thoroughly clean and replace the food every 3-4 days. Do not use soap – but you may use a solution of 10% bleach and then rinse thoroughly.  It is important to clean every 3-4 days as soon as the temperature reaches into the 80s.

Thanks to Sheila Quigley & David Gardner for sharing this information.

Bird of the Week … Non-cavity Nesters

Last week we discussed cavity nesters; this week we’ll write about the great variety of birds that are common on Seabrook and make their nests in places other than cavities. The birds range in size from the tiny hummingbird to the Wild Turkey. There are really too many to cover in detail so we’ll focus on several that most of you know: the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Painted Bunting, Barn Swallow, American Crow and Wild Turkey.

First, the answers to the teaser – Where do I nest?

1= American Crow, 2=Painted Bunting, 3=Wild Turkey, 4=Barn Swallow, 5=Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Now for more details about these nesters.

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird makes its way up from its winter home in more southern climets to nest somewhere in the eastern half of the U.S including on Seabrook Island. The male fertilizes the egg but takes no part from then on. Usually, the female chooses a nesting site in any of a variety of shade trees in a mixed woodland near water. On average, she picks a location 10-20 feet high in the tree. She builds a tiny nest, 1-1¾” in diameter, and affixes it firmly to a twig or small branch using spider silk. The nest will probably be sheltered above by leafy branches but open from below. The female uses plant down, fibers and bud scales on the inside and covers the outside with greenish-gray lichens.   She then lays two eggs which she will incubate and care for. She may even have more than one nest at the same time.

The Painted Bunting’s nest will usually be in a bush, low tree, or tangle of vines, 3-6’ off the ground. However, it may also be as high as 19’ up in a mass of Spanish moss. Again, it’s the female that does most of the work, building, incubating and feeding. The nest is a shallow cup, carefully made of woven grasses, weed stems and leaves. She may have up to three broods a year. While she is incubating the eggs in one nest, she may start a second nest nearby. Once she is ready to lay her eggs in the second nest, the male will take over caring for the first nest.

Both the hummingbird and the bunting are solitary nesters. In contrast, the Barn Swallow often nests in colonies. The male and female work together, building the nest about 5” in diameter and incubating 4 to 5 eggs. They locate the nest under a bridge or wharf or in a barn or boat house. It is constructed of mud and straw and plastered to the structure then lined with feathers. The Barn Swallows produce one or two broods each season.

Then there is the American Crow.   The crow is not as choosy as many birds. It builds its nest in forests or parks, picking one of many kinds of trees, deciduous or coniferous. Because the nest is large, the crow usually places it in the crotch of the tree or near the trunk for support, anywhere from 10 to 75 feet from the ground. Both sexes work on the nest which is a large basket composed of sticks, twigs, bark and vines. It measures an average of 26” in diameter. The female then lays from 3 to 8 eggs (averaging 4 to 6) and both incubate and care for the chicks.

Finally, we have the Wild Turkey. As most of you have probably noticed, there are a lot of them on the island and, as you might guess, they do nest here. By nature, turkeys form harems, with one male and many females. The male services the females and they do the rest. They find a dry spot on the ground in a forested area and make a depression in the leaves for a nest. Each female has only one brood a season but lays 8-15 eggs which she then incubates and raises.

If you are interested in more information, there are books on the subject and, of course, information on the internet.

Article Submitted by:  Marcia Hider
Photographs by: Ed Konrad and others

Bird of the Week … Where do I nest?

What’s Where?

This week we will feature land birds that do NOT nest in cavities. The article will focus on the following birds:

Ruby Throated Hummingbird
Painted Bunting
Barn Swallow
American Crow
Wild Turkey

Using the picture below, can you guess which bird nests in which location, as indicated by the numbers 1 through 5? Leave us a comment and watch for the article this Sunday to see if you are correct!

Where do I nest?

Cavity Nesters on Seabrook Island

On Friday, we asked which species was different nesting type than the others among Red-headed Woodpeckers, Great Crested Flycatcher, Northern Cardinal, Eastern Bluebird or Eastern Screech-Owl.  If you are like me when I volunteered to write this blog, the only birds I knew that were cavity nesters were owls and woodpeckers.  The only species above that is NOT a cavity nester is the Northern Cardinal.  

What is a cavity nester?  Cavity nesting birds are ones that build nests, lay eggs and raise young inside sheltered chambers or cavities. The term cavity-nesting does not typically apply to completely constructed cavities, such as birds that weave elaborate, enclosed nests, but instead is reserved for birds that rely on nesting shelter from other sources and build their nests within that shelter.  Furthermore, those cavity nesters come in two types: Primary Cavity-Nesting Birds and Secondary Cavity-Nesting Birds.  

  • Primary Cavity-Nesting Birds: These birds excavate their own holes, such as woodpeckers that drill out chambers in suitable trees or ground-nesting species that may dig out burrows in riverbanks. The labor to create a new cavity may take several days or weeks, depending on the birds’ nesting needs.
  • Secondary Cavity-Nesting Birds: These species take advantage of natural or abandoned cavities, or in some cases will usurp them from other birds through aggressive intrusion. They may make minor adjustments to the cavity, such as adding or removing nesting material or changing the entrance, but do not do substantial modifications.

In addition to these different types of nests, there are various cavities that different species will use.  The size, shape and placement of cavities varies depending on the bird species and their individual nesting needs.  

Types of chambers birds may use include:

  • Holes excavated in dead or decaying trees, stumps, logs, or poles
  • Burrows in soft, vertical riverbanks, dirt mounds, dunes or similar banks
  • Rock niches or crevices, either in natural cliffs or stone walls and structures
  • Exposed pipes, chimneys or similar artificial cavities
  • Supplemental nesting boxes and bird houses

Some birds use a bare, empty chamber, while others line the floor or interior of the chamber with grass, twigs, wood chips, feathers, fur or other materials, even creating an entire nest within the chamber.

Now that we have a better understanding of the basics, let’s go in to some of more common, specific species.

Red-headed Woodpecker – Ed Konrad

The Red-headed Woodpecker is a good example of a Primary Cavity-Nesting bird.  Red-headed woodpeckers most commonly excavate holes in the trunks of dead trees. Holes are excavated from 24 to 65 feet above the ground and the 1.8-inch diameter entrance hole often faces south or west. These woodpeckers may excavate new holes each year, or use old nest sites.  When the Eagles had their nest on the top of the dead pine on Ocean Winds, I was surprised when a Red-headed Woodpecker popped out of the trunk of that same tree.  When the Birders had a Learning Together on Crooked Oaks in early May, we were treated to this beautiful bird looking out from a tree near the green of the 10th hole.  Its mate was flying to the hole, apparently bringing food for possible babies in the cavity.

Tufted Titmouse pair nesting in a tree cavity.

The Tufted Titmouse nest site is in hole in tree, either natural cavity or old woodpecker hole.  It is a Secondary Cavity-Nester as it does not excavate its own nest hole.   It will also use nest boxes. Nest (probably built by female) has foundation of grass, moss, leaves, bark strips, lined with soft materials, especially animal hair. Birds may pluck hair from live woodchuck, dog, or other animal, even from humans. In fact, we’ve seen a video of a Tufted Titmouse doing this to one of our Seabrook Island neighbors!!!

Great-crested Flycatcher in Nesting Cavity – Charley Moore

Great Crested Flycatchers use natural cavities or excavations made by other species. Nests are found in a variety of tree species anywhere from 3 to 70 feet above the ground (mostly below 20 feet). They build a bulky nest, and therefore prefer deep cavities. Before constructing a nest, they will generally fill a deep cavity with trash to a level of 12 to 18 inches from the top. They are well known for their habit of including a snake skin in the nest or dangling it from the cavity opening.  As the Seabrook Island Birders were on a Learning Together at the fourth tee of Crooked Oaks, we saw the Great Crested Flycatcher bring nesting material to his cavity and then looking out as if to say “I’m doing well in my fixer-upper.”

Eastern Screech-owl Cavity – David Gardner

In late April, David Gardner reported an Eastern Screech-Owl had taken over the nesting cavity used last year by a Great Crested Flycatcher.  This cavity is in a tree next to the benches the children use to look at the Camp St. Christopher bird feeders.  Obviously the nearby activity did not deter the Screech-Owl from becoming a Secondary Cavity-Nester in this cavity. Eastern Screech-Owls build no nest. The female lays her eggs on whatever debris is at the bottom of her nesting cavity, be it wood-chips, twigs, or the cast-off feathers and droppings from a previous year’s nest. Settling in, she makes a body-shaped depression where her eggs lie.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow – Kiawah Island SC – Ed Konrad

A Northern Rough-Winged Swallow was recently seen excavating a hole in the steep cliffs along Bohicket Creek.  Audubon reports this species’ nest site is “usually in burrow in vertical dirt bank; may be bank along running stream, or road cut or similar bank miles from water. Birds may dig the tunnel themselves, 1-6′ long, or may use an old burrow of Bank Swallow, Belted Kingfisher, or ground squirrel. Sometimes you will find them in other kinds of cavities, such as drainpipe, culvert, crevice in bridge support, hole in side of building. It is a bulky nest at the end of a burrow made of twigs, weeds, bark fibers, lined with finer grasses, occasionally with fresh horse manure added.”  Northern Rough-Winged Swallows are frequently seen flying near the “dryer vents” on the south side of the Island House.  No nesting activity, however, has been observed.

Yes, the Eastern Bluebird is also a Cavity-Nester.  This is a good example of a bird that often uses supplemental nesting boxes and bird houses. Eastern bluebird nesting sites (snags) are often eliminated because of their unsightliness or interference with cultivation. When available, eastern bluebirds nest in old woodpecker holes, hollows of decayed trees, and crevices of rocks.  They will readily take to hollows in wooden fence posts or correctly sized and placed nest boxes.   On Seabrook Island, we have 4 Bluebird trails that have over 75 boxes that are monitored and cleaned as needed.  Bluebirds are very tolerant of the monitoring activity and their nests can be identified prior to the eggs being laid by their construction being primarily of grass and pine straw within the box. A Carolina Chickadee using the same box would build a nest of moss, pine needles and pieces of bark then line with fur, dryer lint or some other soft material.

Carolina Wren – Ed Konrad

Finally the Carolina Wren may or may not be a Cavity-Nester.  Carolina Wrens are quite universal in their choice of nesting sites. These wrens prefer nesting sites that are fairly well enclosed, but they are not totally dependent upon cavities. They are well adapted to habitat conditions provided by man, but also nest in the woods where they prefer tangles and brushy undergrowth. Nests have been found in natural cavities, mailboxes, newspaper cylinders, old hornet nests, and bird houses.

Now that I have a better understanding of the diverse nature of cavity nests, I expect to find nests I’ve never noticed in the past including for species not mentioned above.

Article submitted by:  Judy Morr
Photographs submitted by:  Various – see credit on individual photos

Bird of the Week … Who am I?

Nesting birds on Seabrook Island vary in where they raise their young. Some roost in rookeries, some build nests on branches, others have rookeries where friends build nests together and some lay their eggs in cavities. Which of the five following birds is NOT a Cavity-Nester?  Leave your answer in the comments and watch for Sunday’s Blog to see if you are correct!

Red-headed Woodpecker – Patricia Schaefer

Red-headed Woodpeckers





Great-crested Flycatcher – Ed Konrad

Great Crested Flycatcher






Northern Cardinal – Charles Moore

Northern Cardinal







Eastern Bluebird – Ed Konrad

Eastern Bluebird







Eastern Screech Owl – Bear Island WMA SC – Ed Konrad

Eastern Screech-Owl


SIB Member Profile – Carl & Dori Helms

Dori & Carl Helms at their home at Creek Watch on Seabrook Island, SC

Carl and Dori Helms are both natives of Pennsylvania, but their footprints are everywhere.  Carl’s birding experience started as a teenager in Boy Scouts and summer camps.  His degrees from Colorado and Harvard are in Zoology and Biology and much of his academic research was in ornithology. Carl is a professional birder. He knows birds from neb (beak) to tail and amazed me with his ear for bird calls when we first started birding together numerous years ago. He has banded birds in New England, Pennsylvania and Georgia as well as having observed and photographed them on several continents. His professorial career includes professor positions at Bucknell, University of Georgia and Clemson.  He retired in 1998.

Dori’s interest in bird’s was fostered by a father who was determined that his daughter would be knowledgeable about nature and the wildlife around her.  Her academic studies began at Bucknell and, after graduating, she taught high school biology. She earned her subsequent doctorate in Zoology at the University of Georgia. Her teaching career at Clemson included becoming Chair of the Biology Program, followed by being designated as Associate Dean of the College of Sciences. In 2001 she was appointed Provost, a position from which she retired in 2013.  Dori and Carl were married in 1970, have two children and one grandchild.

Their Seabrook Island experience began in 1994 with the purchase of a Creek Watch Villa.  The view across Cap’n Sams Creek, with an expansive marsh, the crab dock, and out to the ocean beyond, was perfect for these birders. Carl has a long association with elements of the Island’s Environmental Committee and initiated the Birds of Seabrook portion of the SIPOA website. When carrying his scope for his walks on North Beach became burdensome, Carl reconfigured a simple golf pull cart, with a tube of PVC pipe in which to slide the scope and tripod.  Since moving from Lake Hartwell and becoming local residents (Creek Watch and Bishop Gadsden), both Carl and Dori have become members of the Seabrook Island Birders. Dori currently serves as Program Chair. Carl’s physical condition now restricts his opportunity to bird in the field to using a scooter or golf cart, but this has not affected his enthusiasm for watching birds from his deck or helping others to better enjoy our feathered friends. Dori’s retirement includes being on several Boards, including the Board of Trustees at South Carolina State University.

Submitted by George Haskins

Colonial Nesters on and near Seabrook Island

On Friday, we asked which birds nest in “rookeries” here on Seabrook Island.  We got quite a few responses of Great Egret, which is correct!  Another person said Least Terns. They do nest in colonies, but in 2016 they didn’t nest on Seabrook as a result of predators.  And then of course there is the Blue Footed Booby – yes, they are colonial nesters but never seen on Seabrook!  LOL

So, what is colonial nesting?  This term describes bird species that nest and breed in close proximity as a group.  It can vary from just a few breeding pairs to hundreds or thousands of pairs!  A colony can be a single species or several bird species in a single colony.  As some of our residents can attest, these colonies can be quite loud and very active with courting adults, begging chicks and the comings and goings of birds.

It is estimated that 10% of the world’s bird species are considered colonial nesters.  There are several benefits for these birds:

  • Safety in numbers
  • Sharing of duties, including parental, gathering food, etc
  • Easier to find a replacement mate
  • Increased chance of chick survival

There are some downsides to colonial nesting as well:

  • Availability of food sources
  • More predators may be attracted to site
  • Disease can spread quickly
  • Natural disasters

Common colonial nesters found in South Carolina include herons, egrets, cormorants, swallows and several types of seabirds and shorebirds (these will be addressed in a future article).  Most of the egrets and herons form colonies with several species.  In most cases, the nests are built by both the male and female. In general, 3-5 eggs are laid with an incubation from 20-30 days depending on species.  The chicks are able to fly and leave the nests in as little as 4 weeks and some up to 7 weeks.

As most people know, the Great Egret and Snowy Egret colonies are the most obvious and can be seen easily on Jenkins Point and the pond off of the 4th hole of Ocean Winds. Great Egrets generally build their nests from 10-40′ above the water. Snowy Egrets build their nests 5-10′ above the water.

Green Herons can be found nesting in several locations, including around Palmetto Lake behind the Lake House, along Jenkins Point and on several of the canals and ponds throughout the island. They tend to nest as isolated pairs or in small groups, but not normally in large colonies.  Their nests are 5-30′ above water and the young are flying as early as 23 days.

The Black-crowned Night-heron and the Yellow-crowned Night-heron are both quite secretive and little is known about their breeding and rearing of young.  In fact, we are sure they do nest here on Seabrook Island as we have frequently seen their young, but the exact locations are not know.  They do nest in isolated pairs or small colonies.

Three additional colonial nesting herons raise their young here in SC, but we have not seen any of their colonies on Seabrook Island.  A great place to view their nests (along with many other species) is at Magnolia Plantation.  It is worth the drive to view the magnificent rookery they have which includes both egrets along with Anhingas and others!  The Great Blue Heron builds its nest 20-60′ above ground/water, the Little Blue Heron’s nest is 5-30′ above ground/water and the Tri-colored Heron is only 2-10′ above ground/water.

The White and Glossy Ibis are also colonial nesters and we’ve heard the Glossy nests in a secretive spot somewhere on Jenkins point.

The closely related Double-crested Cormorant and the Anhinga are also colonial nesters.  The first often nests near water on a cliff edge or in trees.  The latter near quiet sheltered water.  David Gardner reports that he frequently has an isolated pair of Anhinga nesting near the slough on St. Christopher.

Finally, two of the most unusual and spectacular wading birds, the Wood Stork and the Roseate Spoonbill, are also colonial nesters. Although we have no known colonies of these birds on Seabrook Island, a rookery with Wood Storks is only a 35 minute trip to Dungannon WMA.  It is rumored a pair of Roseate Spoonbills have nested in past seasons at Bear Island in the Ace Basin.

If you get a few minutes, take time to visit one of our rookeries to view the nesting birds and their young. It’s just another reason we love living here in paradise!

Article Submitted by:  Nancy Brown
Photographs by:  Ed Konrad

Bird of the Week … Who am I?

During April, our articles focused on the migration of birds.  For May, we will focus on the nesting birds on Seabrook Island.

Today’s question is … What birds nest in “rookeries” here on Seabrook Island and where can you see them? Leave a comment below and watch for the article on Sunday.

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