SC reports largest number of wintering orioles for sixth year in a row

The article below was written and distributed by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR). Click here to subscribe to updates from SCDNR.

An adult male and an immature Baltimore oriole look as if they’re talking about a sweet treat from a feeder in North Charleston. (Photo by David Ramage)

South Carolina’s 2020 Baltimore Oriole Winter Survey reported the largest number of orioles wintering in the United States for the sixth year in a row.

Those results were recorded during the sixth annual Baltimore Oriole Winter Survey, conducted by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) Feb. 14-17, 2020.

SCDNR’s survey was held in conjunction with the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). Tapping into this long standing citizen-science project allowed SCDNR to get a better picture of the status and distribution of this beautiful songbird wintering in the Palmetto State.

Survey participants in South Carolina submitted 88 reports and recorded 401 orioles. The number of reports was South Carolina’s highest number to date, and the number of orioles recorded was the third highest to date. The number of participants this year was South Carolina’s highest number to date, and 60% of those were new to the survey.

Weather this year was a little more seasonable than in recent years. A weather system moved through the state during the survey period, and likely caused oriole activity to increase at the feeders.

Participants counted and reported the largest number of orioles they could see at one time, on one, two, three or all four days of the survey period. When possible, the age and sex of the orioles were recorded as well. Participants were also encouraged to report the absence of orioles, when they have had them in past winters and the largest number they have seen at one time so far, during the winter months, (December, January and February). Reporting the absence of orioles is just as important to the survey as the number of orioles seen.

This year, orioles were reported from 14 of the 22 South Carolina counties that have been reported to date. Two counties, Anderson and Greenwood, had a report for the first time during the survey. Orioles ranged from the Midlands and throughout the coastal plain, from North Myrtle Beach to Hilton Head. Charleston County had the most reports and recorded the largest number of orioles, reporting 38% of the total number of orioles in the state. Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties were the top reporting counties for participants and orioles seen. This tri-county area made up 68% of the reports and 67% of orioles seen.

According to the GBBC and the SCDNR survey, a total of 302 reports and 976 orioles were recorded this year in the United States. South Carolina had the second largest number of reports in the United States and the largest number of orioles seen. Orioles were reported from New Hampshire to Florida and along the Gulf coast to Texas. There was also a report of an oriole in Newfoundland this year. Coastal states, from Virginia to Florida, had 95% of the total number of reports and 98% of the total orioles seen.

Baltimore orioles are neotropical migrants, normally wintering in South and Central America and migrating to North America to nest. During the last several decades, however, this species has begun wintering annually in the Southeast. Though scientists are not sure why these birds have begun overwintering in growing numbers, the birds respond well to the popularity of backyard bird feeding.

Orioles by nature have a “sweet tooth” and will eat nectar from flowers, wild fruits and insects. Their favorite bird-feeding food by far is grape jelly. Orange halves can be offered, but most orioles tend not to eat them much. People often put oranges out to attract the orioles to the feeding area. Other items orioles will eat are suet products (homemade, cakes, bark butter, logs, etc.), sugar water (they will drink from hummingbird or oriole nectar feeders), seed mixes (seem to prefer nut and fruit mixes), sliced grapes and mealworms (live or freeze-dried).

“We would like to thank everyone that participated in the survey,” said Lex Glover, wildlife technician with the SCDNR Bird Conservation Program. “Your time and efforts are greatly appreciated.”

Next year’s SCDNR Baltimore Oriole Winter Survey and Great Backyard Bird Count will be Feb. 12-15, 2021. If you have orioles frequenting your feeders during the winter months, (December, January and February), or know someone who does, SCDNR would like for you to participate in the survey. For more information on the Baltimore Oriole Winter Survey or to receive this year’s survey results, contact Lex Glover at GloverL@dnr.sc.gov.

Lex Glover, wildlife technician, SCDNR Bird Conservation Program

MORE INFORMATION 

“How Bird-Watching Prepared Me for Sheltering in Place”

A member of Seabrook Island Birders thought others might be interested in this great article on “How Bird-Watching Prepared Me for Sheltering in Place.”

Chimney Rock, on the eastern spur of the Point Reyes headlands in California, is well known for the elephant seals that congregate there. One afternoon, while walking down the path overlooking them, I saw a woman looking through a spotting scope on a tripod, directed out toward the water. It turned out she was watching seabirds. She told me she started bird-watching as she got older because she was analytically minded, loved numbers and words, but struggled with visual memory and acuity and wanted to strengthen those faculties. Having similar proclivities, I listened closely. Eventually, she asked me if I wanted to look.

By Nicholas Cannariato, New York Times Magazine, April 22, 2020

Read more here

Look Hoo We Found!

Early in January, several diehard members of Seabrook Island Birders were able to find a pair of Great Horned Owls and their potential nest at the conservancy lot on Cat Tail Pond Road on Seabrook Island, SC.  In the past several months, the owls have been re-sighted by a number of people, both from the conservancy lot and from the golf course. Then in early April, Joleen Ardaiolo & Bev Stribling were thrilled to see an owlet peaking out from the nest as they did their weekly Eastern Bluebird Box monitoring on the golf course!

Even in the times of coronavirus and quarantines, it can be exciting to view the beautiful nature of Seabrook Island!

Virtual Lecture with David Sibley

Join a Virtual Lecture on Wednesday, April 29, 2020 at 7:00 pm

From the renowned author and illustrator of the bestselling Sibley’s Guide to Birds comes What It’s Like to Be a Bird: From Flying to Nesting, Eating to Singing–What Birds Are Doing, and Why. This is the bird book for birders and non–birders alike that will excite and inspire by providing a new and deeper understanding of what common birds are doing–and why.

“Can birds smell?” “Is this the same cardinal that was at my feeder last year?” “Do robins ‘hear’ worms?” In What It’s Like to Be a Bird, David Sibley answers the most frequently asked questions about the birds we see most often. This special, large-format volume is geared to non–birders and the bird-obsessed, covering more than two hundred species with more than 330 illustrations. Sibley’s exacting artwork and wide-ranging expertise bring observed behaviors vividly to life. And while the text is aimed at adults–including fascinating research on the ways birds have adapted to environmental changes–it is nontechnical, making it perfect for parents and grandparents to share with young children, who will delight in David Sibley’s big, full-color illustrations.

To view the lecture, purchase a ticket for $40 + tax. The link to view the virtual lecture will be emailed to ticket holders on the afternoon of April 29th. The lecture will be available for two weeks. A copy of What It’s Like to Be a Bird will be mailed to your home from Mystery Lovers Bookshop. (This book is also available through Amazon as a hardcover or Kindle.)

What Bird Makes this Sound?

Each spring, Seabrook Island Birders receive many requests for us to identify the bird that makes this sound. Even if you have never seen this bird, chances are if you live or spend time in the spring on Seabrook Island, you have heard him after dusk and before sunrise! The bird we are hearing is the Chuck-will’s-widow, a “cousin” to another in the Nightjar family, the Eastern Whip-poor-will who makes this sound.

Below is a blog we have “recycled” from April 2, 2017, so you can learn more about the Chuck-will’s widow and the migration of these fascinating birds.

And remember, just email us or “Ask SIB” if you have questions about birds you are hearing or seeing!


Published April 2, 2017

On Friday, we asked if you could identify a bird by its song.  It was first reported on Seabrook Island early last Thursday morning by George Haskins.  The answer:  the Chuck-will’s-widow.  This bird winters as far south as Colombia, Venezuela and the Caribbean and breeds in pine, oak-hickory, and other forests of the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic states. They tend to live in more open areas than the similar Whip-poor-will, which are not common here on Seabrook Island.

Chuck-will’s-widow – Flo Foley

Scientist continue to learn much about the migration of birds, especially with the advancement of technology such as using radar, acoustic, electronic and optical technologies. Spring migration starts as early as January and continues into June.  Birds generally take off shortly after sunset, some flying all night and landing just before dawn the next morning.  Others will fly nonstop for 60-100 hours as they flyover oceans and continents. Some nights there could be hundreds of millions of birds flying over North America.

Citizen Scientists like all of us are a great resource for migration information as we document bird sightings using the Audubon/Cornell Lab of Ornithology website: eBird.org.  This data is also available for anyone to view.  This link will open the eBird page to view the historical bird observations for all species by month for Charleston county.  For example, the Chuck-will’s-widow is shown below to arrive in April and is gone by the end of September.

Chuck-will’s-widow historical frequency sightings by month for Charleston County, SC from eBird.org

You can also drill down to view a map of locations where a bird has been documented, like the Chuck-will’s-widow map below.  Notice the red bubble was a sighting of a Chuck-will’s-widow documented by Aija Konrad on 3/31 near the tennis courts.

Chuck-will’s-widow map of sightings on Seabrook & Kiawah Island, SC from eBird.org

Another great website to learn more about bird migration, including a forecast each week for four geographic regions in the country, is Birdcast.info, a site created by Cornell.  Below is their forecast for the Chuck-will’s-widow for the Gulf Coast and Southeast and it looks like they are right on time!

Migrant Species

Chuck-will’s-widow

 

Begin
Arriving

3/29

Rapid Influx

4/10

Peak

4/24

Rapid
Departure

6/25

Last Departure

After Jun 30

Throughout April we will continue to share information related to bird migration including which birds are packing their bags to head north, which birds are arriving to breed and those who are just passing through and utilizing our island for rest and refueling.

In the meantime, check out this great article, Birdist Rule #70: Get Prepared for Spring Migration, by Nicholas Lund on the Audubon website.

Article submitted by:  Nancy Brown

Take a Look at the “Bird Library”

We hope you enjoy this article and livestream of a special library! Thanks to Joleen Ardaiolo for sharing this story from Time.com.

Livestream of the Belmont Library for Birds

Take a Moment to Dip Into the Miniature World of This Library For Bird

While many libraries across the country have closed due to coronavirus, there’s one library that’s staying open — and its flocks of visitors are overjoyed about it.

The Belmont Library for Birds, located in Charlottesville, VA., has open hours all day for all avian friends and even a few squirrels and a livestream for human companions who are responsibly practicing social distancing.

Time.com
(To see the full article click above)

Watch “SIB’s Movie Matinees” from the Comfort of your Home

In light of our new life of social distancing, Seabrook Island Birders wants to share some of our previously shown “SIB Movie Matinees” which you can watch from the comfort of your home. The first two films were shown last month, as the Red Knots began arriving for the annual visit to Seabrook Island.

The first, “Crash: A Tale of Two Species,” premiered on PBS Nature in 2008. It is the story of the fabric of life, and how every species is interconnected – each one important, no matter how big or small. At its center is the humble horseshoe crab, a creature which has remained virtually unchanged for 350 million years. Its annual spring spawning produces millions of eggs that are the lifeline for a tiny bird called the Red Knot, which migrates 10,000 miles from South America to the Arctic each year. Scientific and medical communities have discovered that the crab also provides an indispensable testing agent for drugs and vaccines, as well as resources for human optics and burn treatment. But horseshoe crab numbers are plummeting from their new use as bait for the fishing industry, dropping by two-thirds or more since 1990. And the precious pyramid depending on this age-old creature is about to come crashing down. To view the hour-long program, click play below:

PBS Nature: Crash: A Tale of Two Species

The second video “Birds of May”, filmed in May 2016 on the beaches of the Delaware Bay, is filmmaker Jared Flesher’s ode to the natural spectacle of the Red Knot’s annual visit. It’s also an examination of potential new threats to Red Knot survival. Not everyone is sure that expanded oyster farming and Red Knots can happily coexist. Against the scenic backdrop of the bay, Flesher interviews both oyster farmers and the shorebird biologists who fear that an oyster farming boom here could push the rufa Red Knot closer to extinction. To view the 27 minute film, click below:

Birds of May

Spring on Seabrook Island

Have you noticed it has been a little noisy outside lately? No, I don’t mean from your neighbor blowing the Live Oak leaves off his driveway. From the moment it begins to brighten in the morning until the sun sets the birds are singing and loudly calling to one another. What you are hearing are mostly male birds attempting to attract a mate and claim their territory. This is also an announcement that pretty soon we will have a new crop of baby birds on our island. 

Let the nesting begin!

Not all songbirds nest at the same time or in the same type of nest. 

“Resident” birds are birds that live in the same area year-round. Nests found early in the spring tend to belong to non-migratory birds. Some of our “resident” birds are the Carolina Wren, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Eastern Bluebird, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Northern Cardinal, and House Finch. These birds might begin nesting as early as the beginning of March. Examples of birds that migrate to our area and nest later are the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Prothonotary Warbler, Northern Parula, Summer Tanager, Painted Bunting, and Great-crested Flycatcher. 

Nest building is sometimes, but not always, a joint effort as it is with the Carolina Wren. Typically the female does most if not all of the construction with very little help from the male. Nest building can take anywhere from two days to two weeks depending on if birds are working on the nest together and if there is excavating involved. 

Nest materials vary by species. Nests may be beautifully constructed of moss and grasses lined with hair and feathers like that of a Carolina Chickadee or a bulky mass of twigs and leaves like that of the Carolina Wren. Nest construction is not random. Materials used and nest types and shapes are very specific to the bird species. Some birds may even weave in snake skin or spider silk. Our tiniest nesting bird, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, uses spider silk to hold her tiny nest together. So leaving the spider webs in your yard may be encouraging Ruby-throated Hummingbirds to nest close by. 

Location of the nests are specific to the species as well. As many of you know, a Carolina Wren will nest almost anywhere. You might have fought the battle of removing a wren’s nesting materials from a hanging basket of flowers. Or, maybe you’ve had to wait to fire up your grill until the baby wrens have fledged the nest that is under the grill’s cover? Some of the small warblers build their nests high in Spanish moss hanging from the trees and the Northern Mockingbird and Brown Thrasher build nests deep in low shrubs. Many birds are cavity dwellers like woodpeckers, Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmouse, and Eastern Bluebirds. These birds might excavate their own cavity while others look for already established cavities. Birdhouses were not always available for nesting, but obviously birds have adapted nicely to these lush accommodations. Oh, and keep an eye on your paper box. That is prime real estate for the cavity nesters.  

Finally, there is the bird who doesn’t bother to build a nest at all. The Brown-headed Cowbird will lay her egg in another bird’s nest and leave it for that unsuspecting host to incubate and raise. Sadly, if a smaller parent bird is trying to feed her chicks, the larger cowbird chick will get most of the food, perhaps leaving some of the smaller chicks to die from starvation. 

Incubation time for time for those beautiful little eggs of songbirds are similar, but who does the incubating?

One to two days after the nest is built, the songbird will lay her eggs. Most birds will lay one egg per day, but different species of birds lay different numbers of eggs. A clutch is the number of eggs laid in a single nesting session that are incubated together. The clutch size of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird is 1 – 3 eggs. For the overachieving Carolina Chickadee the clutch size is 3 – 10 eggs. The Eastern Bluebird will have 2 -7, and the Mourning Dove only lays 2 eggs. 

The parent bird will not start to incubate the eggs until they are all laid. The female is the only incubator for most songbirds, but the male is often not without duties. He might feed the female or stand watch from a nearby perch. He might also be very active in feeding the babies once they hatch. 

The length of incubation also varies, but generally coincides with the size of the bird. The eggs of a larger bird, like the Blue Jay, will take a bit longer for incubation than a small bird. Generally speaking, though, most of of our backyard songbirds will take around two weeks to incubate their young. 

Once hatched, baby birds have names for the different stages of their life before becoming independent of their parents. 

Hatchling: This is a baby bird that has very recently hatched (hence the name).  It is, at most, a few days old and completely dependent on a parent for food and care. The hatchling hasn’t yet opened its eyes and is bald and pink except for a few downy wisps. 

Nestling: This is a baby bird that is still in the nest and is usually between the age of 3 and 13 days. It is a tiny bit more capable of taking care of itself than a hatchling, but is still very dependent on its parent for survival. The nestling has opened its eyes and has a few feathers, but still has naked spots with pin feathers coming in. 

Fledgling: This is a baby bird that is ready to leave the nest. It can hop, flutter, and walk with little problem. When the baby bird leaves it will stay close by to its family for a few days as it practices flying and foraging for food. The parent might continue to feed the chick and intervene if there is a threat to its baby. The fledgling has most of its adult feathers, but they may be a little stubby on the tail and wings and a bit dull in color. 

Once the young birds have left the nest, you might still see the parent feeding the fledgling. If you have feeders watch for two birds of the same species feeding together. The fledgling will flutter its wings and open its mouth and the parent will feed it a bit of suet or a seed. The fledgling is naturally the bird being fed, but to visually distinguish between the parent and the baby, note the fledgling’s bill. It will often look larger and more brightly colored than the adult’s. Also, as with any youth, it will have a bit of a rumpled look.

The end of spring doesn’t necessarily mean the end of nesting season as some songbirds, like the Eastern Bluebird, might raise more than one brood per season.

So start listening for the plaintive begging calls of our new crop of baby songbirds. You will know that the parent has arrived with a morsel when the cries get louder and even a little frantic. It’s a beautiful thing to hear. 

If you want more detailed information about nesting and details about specific birds, check out nestwatch.org. Also, to find out what to do if you see a baby bird out of its nest, read the SIB blog post called To Rescue or Not To Rescue Baby Birds.

Red Knots Love and Need Our Islands

According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the population of Red Knots that visit the eastern United States, the subspecies Rufa, declined by 75% between 1980 and 2000. It is estimated that only 45,000 of these birds are alive. A recent study by volunteers from the Seabrook Island Birders in coordination with Aaron Given, Kiawah Island’s Assistant Wildlife Biologist, on March 26, 2020, discovered that the birds on the two islands could represent 10% off all living Red Knot within the subspecies Rufa.

Red Knot-North Beach – Ed Konrad

Since the Red Knots can be found all along the Kiawah Island and Seabrook Island beaches, those studying these birds wonder how many birds can be found at one time. Estimates averaged about 2,000 Red Knots in late March. There was ample concern that the numbers were not accurate due to double counting birds that moved from location to location. 

With low tide at 4:16 PM, a survey time of 1:30 PM to 2:30 PM was chosen. At that time, six Seabrook Island Birders stood at strategic locations along Seabrook Island beaches with Aaron Given covering Kiawah Island with a truck, could census the entirety of Kiawah Island within an hour’s window. The team members stationed from north to south, the Seabrook Island Birders Team include: Bob Mercer, Mark Andrews, George Haskings, Nini Wolitarsky, Joleen Ardaiolo, and Judy Morr. They each counted the number of birds seen between 1:30 and 2:30 PM.

At the designated time, the conditions for observation proved excellent—winds 15 MPH from the east and a clear sky with the sun at the observers backs. Without a doubt, luck prevailed! At the start time of the study, a huge flock of birds fed on the south point of Beachcombers Park. Aaron counted 3,200 birds. At the exact same time, a flock of 950 birds fed on the mud flat half way between Beach Access #1 and the tip of North Beach. Another smaller flock of 250 birds strolled along the beach near Access Point #3. About 15 minutes after he left to check the rest of Kiawah Island, a couple of people on bicycles deliberately drove right into the flock on Kiawah Island, scattering the birds. 

Red Knots flying at Seabrook Island – Ed Konrad

The study conducted created a snapshot of the number of Red Knot within the two communities between 1:30 and 2:00 when the birds were frightened away. The study documents 4,400 Red Knots feeding on our beaches. 

If these birds are to survive into the future, they need protected areas stretching from their southernmost wintering grounds in Tierra del Fuego on the Southern tip of South America up to the islands between Greenland, the North Pole and the northern reaches of the Hudson Bay. 

This study underscores the importance of these two islands in South Carolina for Red Knots. An effort will be made to conduct similar studies throughout the Red Knot migration period which ends by late-May, when the Red Knots have all left for the breeding grounds in the frigid north.

Remember … Give them space! Let them Rest!

Article written by: Bob Mercer
Photographs by: Ed Konrad