Bird of the Week … Northern Mockingbird

Thomas Jefferson with his Mockingbird Dick.

Did you know our 3rd President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, had a pet Northern Mockingbird named “Dick.” He actually had several Mockingbirds at various times, but Dick was the only one he mentioned by name in his diary and apparently was his favorite. Jefferson often left the cage open in the White House and allowed him free range of his office (now the State Dining Room). Dick would perch on Jefferson’s couch or shoulder and sing or take a piece of food from Jefferson’s lips. When Jefferson played his violin, Dick would pour out his songs.

Northern Mockingbirds

Northern Mockingbird – Ed Konrad

Although maybe not the prettiest of all birds, Northern Mockingbirds certainly make up for looks with their beautiful extended repertoire of songs. These birds sing endlessly, and can learn up to 200 different songs. Both the male and female sing and can mimic many other bird calls, other animals and even mechanical sounds. There is a mockingbird near my house and he sounds exactly like a Red-tailed Hawk. Many of us have been fooled by these comical birds as they imitate Blue Jays, Orioles, Killdeer, frogs, dogs and even squeaky wheels. They tend to repeat phrases 2-6 times before shifting to a new sound. Unmated males will are the most insistent singers and may sing late into the night.

Northern Mockingbird – Charles Moore

Northern Mockingbirds are common on Seabrook Island year round. They are a medium sized bird that has gray upper parts with black and white wing feathers. Its tail is long, gray and edged with white. Its underside is light gray/white, their bill is black and the iris is yellowish-orange. They have prominent white patches on the wings that are especially visible in flight. These birds measure between 8-11 inches long and weigh 1.4-2 ounces. The sexes are similar although the male is heavier than the female.

These birds are generally monogamous. They breed in the spring and early summer on Seabrook and the female has 2-6 blue green eggs with brown splotches. The female incubates the eggs for 2 weeks and when they hatch, both male and female will assist in the feeding.  

Northern Mockingbird – Charles Moore

Northern Mockingbirds are omnivores. Their diet consists of insects, crustaceans and a variety of arthropods, especially beetles, ants, bees, wasps and grasshoppers. They also eat fruits and earthworms. You usually find them on SI foraging on the ground, on top of hedges, in open areas and forest edges. These birds are bold and territorial when defending their nests and will even attack intruders like cats, dogs, humans or other birds that venture too close.

Northern Mockingbird – Charles Moore

The lifespan of a Northern Mockingbird in the wild is eight years.  The Northern Mockingbird is the state bird of Texas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Florida and Arkansas.

Article Submitted by: Flo Foley 2017, resubmitted by SIB.
Photographs by: Charles Moore & Ed Konrad

Ask SIB: What happens if Deveaux disappears?

After watching the replay of Felicia Sanders presentation on shorebird migration, Andy Allen asked: I just watched the shorebird presentation replay. The importance of Deveaux Bank to migratory and also local breeding birds is enormous. However Deveaux Bank is not a stable island. When we first bought here forty years ago it was actually two small islands with a significant channel between them. A few years later we came down and discovered it was gone-just ocean. A local resident said this happens every so often when a nor’easter comes down and scours out the sand, taking it elsewhere. We have watched the re-emergence of Deveaux over the years and hopefully it will achieve some permanence. My question for the DNR presenter would be, “What do all the birds do if suddenly Deveaux is gone?”

Felicia kindly provided this response:

The simple answer is we don’t know! Maina Handmaker, the PHD student at USC, is using high resolution location data that we are getting from the GPS tags on select Whimbrel to investigate Whimbrel movement and migration. She is looking at how site faithful Whimbrel are to Deveaux and the characteristics of the island that make Deveaux an ideal nocturnal roost for thousands of Whimbrel. Hudsonian Whimbrel are experiencing a steep decline: peak numbers in the Atlantic flyway decreased nearly 50% over a 15-year period beginning in the early 1990s (4.2% per year). There are many possible causes for the decline but surveys finding very few nocturnal roosts suggests that suitable places to sleep may contribute to the observed decline.

The limited number of Whimbrel roosts may be the result of human alteration of coastal areas. Shifting islands and shoals, such as Deveaux, form naturally at river mouths from sediment deposits. However, human activities, such as the placement of physical structures to protect against coastal erosion, mining
intertidal sand for beach renourishment projects, and dredging shipping channels can alter natural shoreline processes. Much of the Atlantic coast of the United States now has hard structures that limit coastal migration and the natural accretion of islands. This has important implications for Deveaux: we
first discovered large numbers of Whimbrel using Deveaux in 2014 but are unsure how long the island has been an important roost site. Deveaux was known to be important for nesting waterbirds in the 1930s, then disappeared after Hurricane David in 1979. To mitigate the potential ephemerality of the island, identifying or creating a network of alternative roost sites is therefore a necessity.

You may have heard about the renourishing or building of Crab Bank in Charleston Harbor last November. The island is 80 plus acres at low tide. The Army Corps made the island from sand taken from the deepening project of Charleston Harbor. The island is so large, Whimbrel may be able to use it as a
nocturnal roost. Opportunities such as this one may help to create alternative roost sites when islands used by shorebirds disappear in the natural cycle of coastal movement that includes erosion.

For information about the Whimbrel roost see the website, Discovery at Deveaux, especially the manuscript under the “Press” link at the top right.

Beyond Our Backyard-Charles Towne Landing

Beyond Our Backyard – Charles Towne Landing

Wednesday, March 2, 2022 — 8:00 am – 2:00 pm
Birding at Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site
Location: Meet at Seabrook Island Real Estate to carpool at 8:00 am
Meet at Charles Towne Landing at 9:00 am
Lunch option after birding: Ms. Rose’s Fine Food and Cocktails
Max: 16
Cost: Free for members; $5 donation for guests;
Park Admission: $12 Adult; $7.50 SC Senior

Join SIB to bird at Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site. Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site sits on a marshy point, located off the Ashley River, where a group of English settlers landed in 1670 and established what would become the birthplace of the Carolina colony. The significant features of the site include river and marsh views, majestic oaks and magnolias and 80 acres of English park gardens. Wildlife you may see at the park include the threatened wood storks, alligators and various coastal wading birds in the wild.

We will bird along the trails and marshes. After the organized walk, you can visit the Animal Forest (included in admission) to see animals that once inhabited the Charleston area such as bison, puma, black bear, otters, various shore birds, wild turkey and more.

In 2021, some SIB members did this walk and enjoyed watching a Great Horned Owl with it’s branching offspring. eBird shows 134 species seen during the spring at this hot spot. The diverse environment provides for shorebirds, wading birds, raptors, and song birds. All near downtown Charleston.

For the end of our morning, for those interested, we plan to make a lunch stop at the nearby Ms. Rose’s Fine Food and Cocktails.

As always, be sure to bring your binoculars/cameras, hats, sunscreen and bug spray. We ask that all participants wear a mask when unable to social distance.

If you are not yet a 2022 SIB member, you must first become a member for only $10 by following the instructions on our website: You may bring the form and your dues to the event. Or you may pay the Guest Fee of $5.

Please complete the information below to REGISTER no later than February 28th. All registrants will receive a confirmation letter on March 1, the day prior to the trip. If you need to cancel, please let us know so we can invite people on the waitlist to attend.

SIB “Bird of the Week” – American Goldfinch

American GoldfinchSpinus tristis
Length:  5″; Wingspan: 9″; Weight: 0.46 oz.

American Goldfinch - Charles J Moore
American Goldfinch – Charles J Moore

This small finch is commonly found in flocks on Seabrook Island during the winter months (November – March) on backyard feeders, along the golf courses or anywhere there are weed seeds.  It has a sharply pointed bill, a small head, long wings and a short, notched tail.

Those of you who are familiar with this bird during breeding season (when the male has a bright yellow body and black cap, wings and tail), may not recognize them in their winter plumage.  The winter male has olive-gray to olive-brown upper parts, paler underparts, yellow shoulder bar, white wing bar, dark conical bill and may show black on its forehead and yellow on its throat and face.  The winter female is duller with buff wing and shoulder bars and lacks yellow and black on the face and head.  This drastic change in plumage is a result of the American Goldfinch, the only member of its family, having two complete molts each year, one in the fall and one in the spring.

American Goldfinches are among the strictest vegetarians in the bird world only inadvertently swallowing an occasional insect.  It feeds primarily on seeds, including seeds from composite plants (sunflowers, thistle, asters, etc), grasses and trees.  At feeders they favor nyjer and sunflower seeds (hulled).  In both situations it prefers to hang onto seed heads or feeders rather than feeding on the ground.

American Goldfinches are often described as active and acrobatic.  They are also easily identified by their undulating flight pattern of several rapid wing beats and then a pause.  Listen for their flight song while they are flapping, which sounds like po-ta-to-chip.

A group of goldfinches has many collective nouns, including a “007”, “charm”, “rush”, “treasury” and “vein” of goldfinches.

Keep an eye out for the American Goldfinch, as they will be leaving soon to head north to breed and will return when the weather up north gets cold again next fall. (See the range map following the photographs below.)

If you would like to learn more about this bird visit The Cornell Lab of Ornithology – All About Birders: American Goldfinch and Birds of Seabrook Island: American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch in winter - Bob Hider
American Goldfinch in winter – Bob Hider

American Goldfinch spring molt - Bob Hider
American Goldfinch spring molt – Bob Hider

American Goldfinch spring molt- Bob Hider
American Goldfinch spring molt- Bob Hider

Range Map of American Goldfinch - Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Range Map of American Goldfinch – Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Watch the Replay: Felicia Sanders’ “Hemispheric Flights of Migratory Shorebirds”

Did you miss the live version of our program with Felicia Sanders on Wednesday, February 16, 2022? Good news! We’ve recorded it and you can watch it at your convenience from any place at any time! Just click below:

Program Description: Each year millions of shorebirds migrate to Arctic breeding grounds from wintering sites in South & Central America and southern North America. SC beaches are important sites for these long-distance migratory birds. Many know the Red Knot’s journey – Arctic tundra to nest, southern South America for winter, AND a stop in SC to refuel. But what about Whimbrels, Dunlin, Sanderlings, and Semipalmated Plovers that also nest on the northern Arctic shores? What are migration routes of Seabrook’s shorebirds? Where do the birds spend the rest of the year? How do banding, innovative tagging & tracking technology, and peoples’ reporting help identify birds’ exact movements and locations? Watch as Felicia Sanders, SCDNR partner and SIB’s good friend, takes a fascinating look at the diverse countries & habitats shorebirds encounter on their global journeys!

Learning Together-Ocean Winds Golf Course

Learning Together on Golf Course-Ocean Winds Monday February 21, 2022 8:30 am – 10:30 am
Birding on Ocean Winds Golf Course
Location: Meet at Island House (Golf Course Parking Lot next to Spinnaker Beach Houses) for ride along the golf course in golf carts
Max: 24 (If all seats in golf carts are used)
Cost: Free for members; $5 donation for guests – Priority will be given to prior waitlisted & members

The Seabrook Island Club closes one course a day each week and allows Seabrook Island Birders to use golf carts to travel the course with our members to bird. Join us for a morning of birding by RIDING in golf carts for at least 9-holes on Ocean Winds golf course. We expect to see a large variety of birds including Egrets, Herons and birds of prey. We will also see and hear some of the smaller birds like Tufted Titmice, Eastern Bluebirds, Northern Cardinals, Carolina Wrens and some of the many warbler species.

Since it is fall/winter, we can also expect to see Eastern Phoebes, Northern Flickers, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Belted Kingfishers, Double-crested Cormorants, Bald Eagles, and more!

As always, be sure to bring your binoculars/cameras, hats and sunscreen. Water will be provided. We ask that all participants wear a mask when unable to social distance if they are not vaccinated.

If you are not yet a 2022 SIB member, you must first become a member for only $10 by following the instructions on our website: You may bring the form and your dues to the event. Or you may pay the Guest Fee of $5.

Please REGISTER no later than February 19th. All registrants will receive a confirmation letter on the Sunday, the day prior to the trip. If you need to cancel, please let us know so we can invite people on the waitlist to attend.

Great Backyard Bird Count

Sunday February 20, 2020 8:00am – 5:00 pm
Great Backyard Bird Count
Location: Various locations around Seabrook Island
Max: 20 No cost to members, $5 to non-members

Connect to Birds, to Nature, and with Each Other! Birds are everywhere, all the time, doing fascinating things. Join Audubon and SIB, February 18–21, 2022, when the world comes together for the love of birds.

Check to also register for:
– Shorebird Steward Training Seminar – Saturday February 19, 2022
– Learning Together on Ocean Winds Golf Course – Monday February 21, 2022

You can also do your own birding and submit your findings. This birding can be any time (and as many times) between 12:01am February 18 through 11:59pm February 21. Audubon gives the following steps:
Step 1 – Decide where you will watch birds.
Step 2 – Watch birds for 15 minutes or more, at least once over the four days, February 18-21, 2022.
Step 3 – Count all the birds you see or hear within your planned time/location and use the best tool for sharing your bird sightings (either Merlin or eBird). If you use eBird, “share” your eBird list with SIBeBird so we can compile a list for all of Seabrook. If you don’t use eBird, please answer the question below requesting a form you can write into, deliver to SIB and SIB will enter into eBird.

SIB’s organized GBBC activities are on Sunday.

Sunday February 20, 2020 8:00am – 5:00 pm
Great Backyard Bird Count
Location: Various locations around Seabrook Island
Max: 20 No cost to members, $5 to non-members

Join us in participating in Audubon’s Great Backyard Bird Count. The day will involve walks at various locations throughout the day. The schedule below allows for individuals to sign up for a portion of the day if the whole day is not of interest. We request you register for all sections you will be attending so we know if we should wait for you at any individual location.

– Maintenance Area /Equestrian Center 8:00-9:30 am
We’ll start at the Garden Parking Lot. We will walk through the Club Maintenance area and look over the fence to the retention ponds of the Water Treatment Facility. In this area we hope to see Hooded Mergansers, Buffleheads, Ruddy Ducks and songbirds and sparrows. From there, we will walk along the horse trail (or drive) to the Equestrian Center to see Starlings and Cowbirds plus numerous other birds that can be expected there.

– Palmetto Lake 10:00 – 11:30 am
Join us to explore the birds around the Lake House and the walks of Palmetto Lake. This is less than one mile of flat, paved walk around the lake.

– Bobcat Trail and Six Ladies Trail – 1:00-3:00 pm
The group will meet at the Owners Beach Access Parking Lot at Boardwalk 1 then walk along Boardwalk 1 to Bobcat Trail then on to Six Ladies Trail, then returning via the road to the parking lot. Six Ladies Trail is an uneven and at times steep walk through the maritime forest. This is an inaugural walk at this time of year so it is unknown what to expect other than the typical winter residents of Yellow-rumped Warblers, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and of course Northern Cardinals, Carolina Wrens, Tufted Titmouse and Carolina Chickadees. While on the boardwalk we can expect to see Brown Pelicans, Ring-Billed Gulls and White Egrets. As we approach the marsh on Six Ladies Trail we also hope to see a Northern Harrier and hopefully see (or at least hear) a Clapper Rail.

– Jenkin’s Point 4:00-5:00 pm
We will be exploring the birds seen along Jenkins Point lagoons and streets, including ducks, wading birds and shorebirds. Since this event will be primarily by car, it is appropriate for members with mobility issues.

For all events, bring sun block, bug spray, a hat, water, snacks and binoculars.

If you are not yet a SIB member, you must first become a member for $10 by following the instructions on our website:, or you may join each session for a single Guest Fee of $5.

Once you are a member, please REGISTER to let us know which portions you plan to attend no later than Thursday, February 17, 2022. All registrants will receive a confirmation letter on Friday, February 18, 2022.

Ask SIB: Which Hawk is This?

Linda Rogoff recently sent this beautiful hawk picture to SIB requesting assistance in identification. Identifying hawks can be confusing, so we asked our resident naturalist Bob Mercer for his opinion.

Bob’s Response:

A nice picture like this from Linda Rogoff makes the identification easy!

When one looks at a hawk, the first task is to decide whether the birds genus is a Buteo, Accipiter, or Falco. The way to do that is to look at the general shape of the wings and tail. Broad wings and shorter broad tail define a Buteo. An Accipiter has broad wings and a long thin tail. A falcon has thinner wings and longer tail giving them a very different shape.

Linda’s bird falls in the Buteo genus. Note the broad wings and the fat and relatively short the tail. That immediately narrows down the options. Here in South Carolina in February, can expect to see only two species of Buteos—the Red-tailed Hawk or the Red-shouldered Hawk. The challenge becomes separating these two species. Linda’s bird has red (or what ornithologists call red) barring on its chest, which could make one think Coopers Hawk if we had not already noted the Buteo shape that ruled out the Accipiters.  The  red under the wings makes this bird a Red-shouldered Hawk. A Red-tailed Hawk would have a white chest with flecks of black feathers crossing the belly. The wings would be white and without those beautiful black and white wingtips. A Red-tailed Hawk also would have a black rectangle on the leading edge of the wing close to the body.

Linda’s picture shows a crescent of white between the black tips and the red underwing that when backlit like in this photo stands out. Birders refer to this as the Red-shoulder Hawk’s “windows.”

Both Red-tailed Hawks and Red-shouldered Hawks can be found on Seabrook Island and these field marks work great for adult birds like Linda’s. Separating the immature birds creates new challenges. Something for another day.

Readers with questions for “Ask SIB” should know; one does not need to be afraid to submit a lower quality image of a bird with an unknown identification or pose a behavioral observation with no pictures. That just make the learning more challenging and fun.

White Pelicans!

Snowy white birds with black wing tips.
American White Pelicans with black wing tips – photo by Patti Romano

What a delight it has been to see American White Pelicans here in the low country!

After scooping up the prey, the pelican lifting it's bill.
American White Pelicans with head raised after scooping up fish – photo by Mary Van Deusen

American White Pelicans are large, snowy white waterbirds with large, striking yellow-orange pouched bills and black-tipped feathers, visible only in flight.

Fish scooped up into pelican's pouch.
American White Pelican with fish in pouch – photo by Mary Van Deusen

It is interesting to observe how different their foraging habits are from the Brown Pelicans, more familiar to us here in South Carolina. Brown Pelicans plunge-dive from the sky to snatch fish from the water. Their white cousins glide along paddling bright yellow-orange feet, gracefully dipping their bills into the water to scoop up prey. We observed how they sometimes forage cooperatively as a group, corralling fish into more shallow waters.

American White Pelican with nuptial tubercles – photo by Mary Van Deusen

Although this has not been their usual breeding territory, we observed at least one of the serially monogamous pelicans with the nuptial tubercles (large ridges in the beak) and ornamental feathers on the head.

While the shape of these magnificent birds resembles that of Brown Pelicans, the much larger American White Pelicans are one of the heaviest birds in North America with a wingspan reaching 9 feet.

White pelicans with one brown pelican.
American White Pelican squadron with one brown pelican – photo by Mary Van Deusen

We hope you are fortunate enough to spot a squadron of these snowy white water birds floating, scooping up fish, or tipping up like ducks in our beautiful wetlands.

Feathers and Feet (Mary Van Deusen and Patti Romano)

To learn more about American White Pelicans, visit The Cornell Lab’s All About Birds website.

Beyond Our Backyard-Bear Island/Donnelly WMA

Beyond Our Backyard – Bear Island/Donnelly WMA Thursday, Feb. 17 5:30 am– 4:00 pm
Trip to Bear Island & Donnelly WMA
Location: Meet at SI Real Estate Office to Car Pool at 5:30 am
(Meet at Mary’s Pond at 7:00am)

Max: 10
Cost: free to members, $5 per guest

If you have never been to Bear Island Wildlife Management Area (WMA) or to Donnelly WMA, you won’t want to miss this opportunity – it’s well worth the 60-mile one-way trip! Part of the ACE Basin, this area is perfect habitat for birds with ponds, rivers, salt marsh, freshwater marsh, mudflats mixed pine-hardwood forest and farmland. Most of the birding is done by car with stops to get out and take short walks for viewing. Bear Island closes for hunting from November 1 – February 9 each year, so this is an early chance to visit for spring. We hope the winter waterfowl will still be present including the Tundra Swan. Each person should bring their own lunch, snacks and beverages, as there are no restaurants (nor restrooms) in the area. Also be sure to bring sun block, bug spray, a hat, binoculars, camera and a scope if you have one.

If you are not yet a 2022 SIB member, you must first become a member by following the instructions on our website:

Once you are a member, please REGISTER no later than February 15, 2022. All registrants will receive a confirmation letter the day prior the event.

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