Nesting Birds of Seabrook Island – Part II: Non-cavity Nesters

Spring is in the air and the birds are busy building nests and raising their young. The post below was originally distributed three years ago, but with the upcoming Virtual Evening Event:  Nesting Birds featuring staff from Audubon South Carolina, we thought it would be fun to share this article with our members again!  And if you are interested, please register for our program. It is scheduled for Wednesday June 3, 2020 starting at 6:30 pm using Zoom.


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

Nesting Birds on Seabrook Island – Part I: Cavity Nesters

Spring is in the air and the birds are busy building nests and raising their young. The post below was originally distributed three years ago, but with the upcoming Virtual Evening Event:  Nesting Birds featuring staff from Audubon South Carolina, we thought it would be fun to share this article with our members again!  And if you are interested, please register for our program. It is scheduled for Wednesday June 3, 2020 starting at 6:30 pm using Zoom.


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

Join SIB for VIRTUAL Movie Matinee: Animal Homes: The Nest

Last week we had nine Seabrook Island Birder members sign up to attend our first virtual movie matinee.  We have another planned for this Tuesday afternoon on a topic we will be featuring over the next several weeks:  The Nest! Register to join us from any location with a computer, tablet or phone to join this hour long program.

We will send you a link to allow you secure access the morning of the event. We will open each event with introductions, watch the hour long show together, and finish with a short discussion to get your feedback and answer questions.

Sign up by clicking here and then plan to get comfy in your favorite chair with snacks and beverages of your choice to enjoy our gathering! And we hope you will also register to join SIB’s first Virtual Evening Program on June 3 at 6:30 pm, featuring Audubon South Carolina as they discuss the nesting habits of birds specific to Seabrook Island!

Tuesday May 19, 2:30 – 4:00 pm
Animal Homes: The Nest: Bird nests come in all shapes and sizes, crafted from a diversity of materials, including fur, grasses, leaves, mosses, sticks and twigs, bones, wool, mud and spider silk. Quite a few contain man-made materials — twine, bits of wire, even plastic bags. Each is a work of art, built with just a beak! All over the world, birds in the wild arrive at diverse nesting grounds to collect, compete for, reject, steal and begin to build with carefully selected materials, crafting homes for the task of protecting their eggs and raising their young.

Visit St. Christopher This Week!

St. Christopher Camp and Conference Center will open its campus to Seabrookers daily from 9 am to 5 pm May 18-23. Turn onto St. Christopher Lane from the camp sign at 2810 Seabrook Island Road, and the gate is straight ahead.

St. Christopher welcomes walkers, walkers with leashed pets, bicyclists, and cars. Visitors may drive through or park in a designated area to explore the grounds.

“We are not normally able to extend this open invitation because there are children all around,” said the Rev. Lawrence, executive director of St. Christopher. “But since the pandemic hit, we have had neither students nor campers in our midst. So this is the perfect time.”

Camp staff will ask for photo identification and request an optional donation. St. Christopher is a nonprofit ministry of the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina and has been affected deeply by COVID-19 restrictions.

“Please come and explore,” Lawrence said. “We may be a part of your neighborhood that you haven’t seen yet. Or if you’ve been before, please come take another look. We hope to see you soon.”

For more information about St. Christopher’s, click here.

-Submitted by The Rev. Bob Lawrence

Kiawah Conservancy Podcast: Shorebirds

Shorebirds need space! Learn how disturbances affect shorebird survival and what the Kiawah Island Shorebird Stewardship volunteer program is doing to help Kiawah’s shorebirds. This first Learning with Lee Episode features guest Bette Popillo, Kiawah Island Shorebird Stewardship program coordinator and member of Seabrook Island Birders (SIB).

To view additional podcasts and documentaries produced by the Kiawah Conservancy, click here.

A Fish, Two Birds, and a wait for it … a Surprise Ending

Thanks to Seabrook Island Birder members Charles and Cat Russo for sharing this video they filmed and commentated from their backyard on Seabrook Island, SC.

It’s a bird vs bird video that has a surprise ending.  Don’t miss the action starting at about 6 minutes into the video. It ends well for all, except the poor fish.

Submitted by Charles Russo

Global Big Day – Marathon Birding

Nine locations, 93 species, 2,082 individual birds, 11 hours and 20,000+ steps are the numbers I reported for my marathon day of birding.  Bob Mercer and I spent the long day doing social distancing while birding.  Six others joined us at varying locations to participate in the fun.  Let me tell you more about my day.

High water at the Slough – Nancy Brown

We started the day at 6:30 with a visit to Camp St. Christopher.  We were granted permission to bird in this closed facility.  (Our individual donations to the Camp were appreciated!)  Bob was able to identify the numerous birds we heard in the dawn chorus.  The day started with Painted Buntings and Summer Tanagers.  46 species were seen on our 2.7 mile walk.  (Mark Andrews admitted he didn’t realize such long trails could be hidden in the relatively small gem.)  At the slough (with very high water) we saw a flock of Cedar Waxwings that had yet to go north.  Near there, we also heard a Yellow-billed Cuckoo and two Black-throated Blue Warblers.  This was also the only location we reported a White-eyed Vireo, a Red-eyed Vireo or Eastern Kingbird.

Chilly morning birding North Beach – Nancy Brown

Our second location of the day was the always interesting North Beach.  The wind was chilly and brutal but we saw 45 species and almost 3 miles.  One Piping Plover, American Oystercatchers (including the infamous U5), a small number of Red Knots, Wilson Plovers, Black-bellied Plovers and Least Terns were seen.  In greater abundance were Semipalmated Plovers (700), Semipalmated Sandpipers (75), Dunlins (125), Sanderlings (100), and Royal Terns (75).  Of course, Brown Pelicans and Laughing Gulls were there as well.  On the return walk from the spit, a Savannah Sparrow was seen running along the dune.

Rookery – too many nests to count – Jackie Brooks

The last stop of the morning probably had the greatest concentration of birds.  We stopped to see the rookery on the golf course lagoon that backs to houses on The Haulover.  We had to guess at the numbers of birds as they were everywhere.  Some Great Egrets had penthouse nests on tops of palms.  Wood Storks were still constructing their nests.  Great Egrets and Snowy egrets were feeding their young.  Even Cattle Egret were in residence at this commune as were several pairs of Anhinga.  A total of 15 species were seen in this brief stop.

Orchard Oriole – Jackie Brooks

The afternoon started with a walk around Palmetto Lake.  A mature male Orchard Oriole, a female Orchard Oriole and a first-year male all gave us good views to get a good comparison of the varying plumage.  In one hour and about three quarters of a mile, 30 species were seen.

Mississippi Kite – Jackie Brooks

First seen at this location then seen again later in the day were Northern Rough-winged Swallows and a beautiful Mississippi Kite.   When a European Starling crossed our path, we could eliminate the Horse Pasture from our scheduled itinerary and make up for lost time.

The Maintenance Area was next on our stop.  The 29 species were all seen in less than .2 mile and a half hour.  By this time, our legs appreciated this.  Highlights were three Mississippi Kites circling along with two Red-shouldered Hawks.  A mama Killdeer was there with her chicks.

An elegant Black-necked Stilt was seen.  25 Least Sandpipers were near at hand.  When planning our day, this was the location we hoped to see the Spotted Sandpiper.  There were four here but we also saw them bobbing their tails at three other locations.

Green Heron – Jackie Brooks

Jenkins Point resulted in 33 species over 1.4 mile.  Although seen in five locations, the 10 Green Heron seen here were the peak.  One was building a nest and another posed nicely for a photo.  There were no species seen only at this location but 13 Black-crowned Night Herons were another highlight.  All participants admired but stayed clear of the numerous “baby” alligators.  It was agreed, those were probably either one or two years old.

Nesting Eurasian Collared-Dove – Nancy Brown

Nancy Brown joined Bob and I for our last stop at Bohicket Marina.  The Eurasian Collared-Dove was the goal for this stop.  It was an easy find since one is nesting on Nancy and Flo’s porch.  Other unique finds within the 21 species seen were Chimney Swifts and Black Skimmers (missed at North Beach).

After I was home and enjoying that glass of wine, I was able to add to my day’s list with a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, a Wild Turkey, and a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak.  As night settled in, I heard the Chuck-will’s-Wwidow as my 93rd species of the day.

“Expected” but not seen were Eastern Towhee, White-breasted Nuthatch (Friday’s sighting didn’t count), any owls, and Black-and-white Warbler.  With these notable misses, I may have to try again next year with a  goal of 100 species.

Submitted by: Judy Morr

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