SIB “Bird of the Week” – Laughing Gull

Laughing Gull – Leucophaeus Atricilla
Length:  16.5″; Wingspan: 40″; Weight: 11 oz.

A "flotilla" of Laughing Gulls - Ed Konrad
A “flotilla” of Laughing Gulls – Ed Konrad

Swirling over beaches with strident calls and a distinctive, crisp black head, Laughing Gulls provide sights and sounds evocative of summer on Seabrook Island.  You’ll run across this handsome gull in large numbers at beaches, docks, and parking lots, where they wait for handouts or fill the air with their call.

Laughing Gulls are medium-sized gulls with fairly long wings and long legs that impart a graceful look when they are flying or walking. They have stout, fairly long bills.  Laughing Gulls are medium gray above and white below.  Summer adults have a crisp black hood, white arcs around the eye, and a reddish bill.  In winter, the hood becomes a blurry gray mask on a white head.  The legs are reddish black to black.  Immature Laughing Gulls are much browner and more subtly patterned than adults; they take 2-3 years to gain adult plumage.

Like most gulls, Laughing Gulls have very broad palates. They eat many invertebrates, including earthworms, insects (including flying ones), snails, crabs, and crab eggs, as well as fish, squid, berries, garbage, offal, and handouts from beachgoers. They occasionally eat eggs of other birds (though not as frequently as larger gulls do).  They often congregate in parking lots, sandy beaches, and mud bars. Listen for their nasal, strident calls in flight, while feeding, and at rest.  Laughing Gulls are a coastal species and are only occasionally seen very far inland.

Laughing Gull numbers were seriously depleted during the 19th century by hunting for feather trade.  They recovered well in the early 20th century, then faced some decline at northern colonies owing to competition with larger gulls. Currently some colonies face threats, but overall, the population is abundant and widespread.

They have a slow flight with deep wing beats.  Because of their opportunistic feeding, many people associate them most with their begging behavior.

These gulls are monogamous, and pairs often stay together for several breeding seasons.  They breed in colonies, sometimes with thousands of nests; sometimes associated with other species of gulls or terns. Nest site is on the ground among grass or bushes.  Nests may be among denser growth, under shrubs or vines, perhaps for protection from sun.  The nest (built by both sexes) may be a scrape in ground with sparse lining, or may be shallow cup of grass, sticks, debris, lined with finer grass.   Nests usually contain 3 olive-brown eggs with dark blotches.  Adults may continue adding to nest during incubation.  They nest, often in large numbers, on islands near the shore but safely isolated from terrestrial predators making Deveaux Bank a large nesting area.

A group of gulls has many collective nouns, including a “flotilla”, “gullery”, “screech”, “scavenging”, and “squabble” of gulls.

Laughing gulls can be seen all over Seabrook Island but especially along our beaches and begging for food at Pelican Nest Restaurant.  Although they are common sight in summer, they are an unusual sight in winter.

(See the range map following the photographs below.)

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

Republished from June 2016
Article originally submitted by:  Judy Morr
Photographs provided by:  Ed Konrad

This blog post is part of a series SIB will publish on a regular basis to feature birds seen in the area, both migratory and permanent residents.  When possible we will use photographs taken by our members.    Please let us know if you have any special requests of birds you would like to learn more about.

Opportunity to Kayak to Deveaux Bank

Our friends at Camp St. Christopher are once again offering their “Outdoor Encounter” kayaking excursion to Deveaux Bank. Although this is not a Seabrook Island Birders activity, we thought our members may be interested in joining this trip scheduled for August 1 at 2:30pm – 5:30pm.

This trip is a three-hour guided kayak tour to Deveaux Bank, located across from St. Christopher. The trip begins on the beach at St. Christopher before crossing the Estuary and landing on the northern tip of Deveaux Bank, which is home to thousands of sea birds. It is the largest sea bird nesting area north of Florida, so much of the island is protected and off-limits, but sections of the island are open to the public where you can observe and identify thousands of sea birds. Binoculars provided. The trip is scheduled so kayak to Deveaux on the outgoing tide, tour the accessible areas of the island during neap tide then returning on incoming tide.

To register, visit Camp St. Christopher’s Outdoor Encounter site.

SIB Travels: The Acadia Birding Festival in Maine

We have participated in many dance and local seasonal festivals over the years,
but we were totally unaware of bird festivals until early this year.

The Acadia Birding Festival in Maine was a spur of the moment idea that morphed into a 3 week, 12 state, 3600+ mile road trip. In addition to the birding, we enjoyed lake life, genealogy, and history. We also added 24 life birds to our list.

Egg Rock Lighthouse, built 1875

For those unaware of birding festivals, this is what The Cornell Lab has to say: “A great way to enjoy bird watching is by going to festivals—they’re organized to get you to great birding spots at a great time of year, and they’re a great way to meet people. Experts and locals help you see more birds, and you’ll meet other visitors who share your hobby.”

Although late registering, we were still able to participate in 4 trips. There were
talks, and a large variety of scheduled activities. You could schedule 2-a-day if
you timed it right—and had the stamina. We were surprised to meet people
from CA, TX, and FL.

(Read more to see photos and details)

Continue reading “SIB Travels: The Acadia Birding Festival in Maine”

SIB “Bird of the Week” – Green Heron

Green Heron – Butorides virescens
Length:  18″; Wingspan: 26″; Weight: 7 oz.

Green Heron on the hunt - Ed Konrad
Green Heron on the hunt – Ed Konrad

A relatively common sight on Seabrook Island, the green heron is a dark, stocky bird that appears to hunch over on slender legs, often at the edge of a pond, marsh or stream. Seen up close or through binoculars, it is a distinctive bird with a velvety green-gray back, a brownish burgundy body and a dark cap often raised into a short crest. Its broad, rounded wings are dark grey, and its legs are a bright yellow. In flight, the green heron’s extended neck gives it a front-heavy, ungainly appearance.

The green heron feeds on small fish, crustaceans, frogs, tadpoles or aquatic insects. Sometimes the bird will ‘bait’ its prey, dropping twigs or feathers on the surface of the water as lures. The bird crouches motionless in the shallow water waiting for its prey to approach, then uses its long, straight dagger like beak to snatch up its food when it is within striking distance.

Green herons prefer to nest as isolated pairs or in small groups. The nesting site is usually in a shrub or tree 5-30’ above the ground, but occasionally herons will nest on the ground. Nests are platforms made of sticks: the male will begin nest construction, and then the female takes over while the male continues to forage for building materials for her.

Female herons will lay as few as 3 and up to 7 eggs at a time. Incubation is by both sexes and lasts 19-21 days. Both parents feed the young by regurgitation. Young herons begin to climb out and around the nest 16-17 days after hatching and will make first test flights at 21-23 days. Herons produce 1-2 broods per year.

Green herons are sometimes difficult to detect because of their dark plumage which helps them to blend into shaded areas and vegetation along the water’s edge. Their harsh call along with slow beats of rounded wings and an ‘unfolded’ neck in flight are good clues to the observer that you have spied a green heron!

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

Article submitted by:  Lyn Magee/resubmitted 2022 by SIB
Photographs provided by:  Ed Konrad

This blog post is part of a series SIB will publish on a regular basis to feature birds seen in the area, both migratory and permanent residents.  When possible we will use photographs taken by our members.    Please let us know if you have any special requests of birds you would like to learn more about.

Stream: “The Secret and Swampy Lives of Wood Storks”

On Tuesday, July 12, 2022, Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) hosted an in-person evening program featuring Kristina Ramstad, Associate Professor, Vertebrate Biology Department of Biology & Geology at the University of South Carolina Aiken. Nearly fifty SIB members attended the program at the Seabrook Island Lake House and another dozen viewed from the comfort of their homes in four states. Dr. Ramstad shared how emerging technologies are providing windows into many unknown aspects of Wood Stork behavior and population dynamics.

To watch the event, only available until August 13, 2022, watch it on our Seabrook Island Birder YouTube Channel.

SIB Travels: Summer at Camp in Maine

Last year, while spending time late summer/early fall in Maine, we purchased property on a lake near Bangor, where I grew up. We are so excited to be able to spend “summah upta camp!” The nights are cool, the air has been dry (NO humidity), and even on the hot days, a breeze comes off the lake and keeps us very comfortable as we sit on the screened porch or on our lawn listening and watching our birds.

Last week while talking with Flo’s sister, I said, “I gotta go, a Woodcock just flew into our yard!” It was just before 7pm and we found it huddled in the wet wooded area between our camp and the next. I grabbed the “big” camera and took photos of the American Woodcock.

American Woodcock, Pleasant Lake, Stetson, Maine – Nancy Brown

According to Sibley Birds, the American Woodcock: “Status and Habits – Uncommon and secretive on damp ground under dense cover within woods, where it is rarely seen except when flushed at close range. Displaying birds emerge into open grassy fields at dusk in spring. Secretive and solitary; rarely seen in daylight and never mixes with other shorebirds”. Guess we were lucky to spot him.

My family always called these birds the “Timberdoodle.” According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website “All About Birds,” the woodcock is also known as the Labrador twister, night partridge, and bog sucker.

The following night while taking our dog out for one last walk, I caught another glimpse of the bird in the same general area. In fact, as it moved, I could observe their interesting walk. Cornell reports, “The American Woodcock probes the soil with its bill to search for earthworms, using its flexible bill tip to capture prey. The bird walks slowly and sometimes rocks its body back and forth, stepping heavily with its front foot. This action may make worms move around in the soil, increasing their detectability.” Watch a fascinating video of an American Woodcock here.

We sure do love life at our camp on the lake! I hope to have more Maine birding experiences to share with you this summer.

Submitted by: Nancy Brown

Commentary: Declining red knots need our help

Nolan Schillerstrom of Audubon South Carolina recently wrote an opinion piece in The Post and Courier, mentioning Seabrook Island. If you missed it, you can read it here.

Red Knot populations have declined significantly due to several factors. U.S Fish and Wildlife Service/provided

Ask SIB: What is going on with recent reports of dead birds?

Question: A friend recently asked if we have heard of reports of dead birds on Seabrook Island Beaches. They have heard reports of at least 9 dead birds on Kiawah recently. Do you know what could be causing this? – Anonymous

Great Shearwater – eBird

Answer: Seabrook Island Birders has not heard of any increase in dead birds on Seabrook Island. I did notice several reports on my daily “Rare Bird Report” I receive from eBirds of rare birds in Charleston County. One recent report had Kiawah Island Biologist (and eBird reviewer) Aaron Given reporting Great Shearwaters on Kiawah. His siting on eBird stated: “Three alive and alert Great Shearwaters found while driving the beach. Picked them up and transported them to the far eastern end of the island. Also picked up 3 dead Great Shearwaters.”

I reached out to Aaron and asked if he had any insight into what was going on. His response: This is a cyclical thing that happens with Great Shearwaters. There was another mortality event since my time here but I can’t remember the exact year – at least 10 years ago. Most of the birds found dead are emaciated. I don’t think we really know the cause of it but it probably has something to do with a historically predictable food source not being available and causing the birds to starve.

Here’s a link to a paper published in 2013 about it: https://seanetters.files.wordpress.com/2015/07/grsh_mortality.pdf. In summary, my interpretation is that the causes of this apparent increase in strandings are unknown but may be due to an increase in reporting effort over the past two decades combined with changing oceanographic conditions in the South Atlantic Ocean, leading to large-scale mortality of emaciated Great Shearwaters along the east coast of the United States.

A later eBird siting by another observer stated: 1 deceased on beach near ocean course; appeared to have been washed up with the tide. 3 others resting on beach at far end, pointed out to us by DNR. One of the three seemed to be doing slightly better than the others but all were alive. My take away from this is that not only is Aaron aware but so is DNR.

Honestly, before seeing these reports, I had never heard of a Great Shearwater. Audubon’s Guide to North American Birds states Great Shearwater is: A common seabird off our Atlantic Coast, seldom coming close to shore except during storms. Since I haven’t been off shore and luckily I haven’t seen the stranding birds, I shouldn’t be surprised they weren’t on my life list of birds seen.

After I wrote this blog, someone forwarded Judy Drew Fairchild’s blog on Great Shearwaters are Unusual Guests on our Beaches. It has more good information.

If you have a question about a bird, submit a question via email to seabrookislandbirders@gmail.com or our Ask SIB web page.

Submitted by: Judy Morr

Join SIB for Learning Together on Crooked Oaks Golf Course – Sunday July 17

Sunday July 17, 2022 8:30 am – 10:30 am
Birding on Crooked Oaks 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

Register Now

The Seabrook Island Club will be closing Crooked Oaks Golf course for aeration 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 Crooked Oaks 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 summer, we can also expect to see Eastern Kingbirds, Great-crested Flycatchers, Orchard Orioles, Summer Tanagers, Mississippi Kites and more!

As always, be sure to bring your binoculars/cameras, hats and sunscreen. Water will be provided.

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: https://seabrookislandbirders.org/contact/join-sib/. 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 Friday prior to the trip. All registrants will receive a confirmation letter on the Saturday, 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” – Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey – Meleagris gallopavo
Length:  46″; Wingspan: 64″; Weight: 259 oz.

A strutting tom turkey tries to attract a mate. C. Moore
A strutting tom turkey tries to attract a mate. C. Moore

Residents are reporting an increase in sightings of Eastern Wild Turkeys on Seabrook Island. The domesticated version of this large native game bird is well known because of its role each Thanksgiving day. Millions of turkeys are drawn from an outline of the hands of elementary children prior to Thanksgiving each year.

The turkey would have been our national bird if Benjamin Franklin had had his say. He thought the eagle was beautiful but a lazy thief as it frequently stole its dinner from the industrious Osprey.

Native Americans first domesticated the wild turkey hundreds of years ago. Spanish explorers took turkeys domesticated by the Aztecs back to Europe around 1500. The pilgrims brought turkeys across the Atlantic to the New World only to find them already here. These European settlers called them “Turkey birds” because they looked like African guinea hens from Turkey and the name stuck.

The wild turkey population in the southeastern U.S. was decimated from 1900 to the 1950’s due to hunting, pesticide usage (DDT) and habitat loss. During this period, the only wild turkeys remaining in South Carolina occurred in the Francis Marion National Forest and along the Savannah River.

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and the National Wild Turkey Federation launched one of the nation’s most successful conservation restocking programs during the 1950’s. Descendants of these few remaining turkeys abound today in all of South Carolina’s 46 counties and in every Southeastern state. Wild Turkeys are hunted in 49 of the 50 states with Alaska being the only exception.

Large males are called toms, weigh between 10 and 24 pounds and mature females, called hens, weigh between 5 and 10 pounds. Mating behavior begins in early spring with Toms attracting potential hens through gobbling and strutting about with their feathers puffed out, tail feathers spread, wings dragging on the ground and making low “drumming sounds”. The gobbling may be heard more than a mile away. A dominant Tom may attract eight to 10 hens to his harem.

Turkeys nest on the ground in shallow dirt depressions surrounded with woody vegetation. In South Carolina, laying of eggs begins in March and a clutch may contain as many as 18 eggs.  Eggs hatch in 28 days and the hatchlings are out of the nest looking for food within 24 hours. Hatchlings are called poults and adolescents are jakes

Turkeys sleep in trees but spend most of their time on the ground searching for food. They can run nearly as fast as a human track star at 25 miles an hour and may fly distances up to half a mile reaching speeds up to 50 miles an hour.

Wild turkeys are omnivores eating seeds, nuts, roots, berries, grasses, insects, small amphibians and reptiles. They are most active and feed primarily in the early morning and late afternoon.

Foxes, opossums, raccoons, skunks, snakes and many other animals pray on the eggs and poults. Predators of adult wild turkeys include foxes, coyotes, bobcats and large raptors such as eagles, owls and hawks.

Domestic turkeys are genetically distinct from wild birds. Ever wonder why domestic turkeys are white? Domesticated turkeys are bred to have white feathers because their pinfeathers are less visible when the carcass is dressed. Whereas, domestication has resulted in bigger, heavier birds with more breast meat, their natural survival skills have been greatly diminished. The wild turkey is a savvy, very wary, and intelligent bird whereas their domesticated relatives, well lets say, their elevators don’t go all the way to the top.

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

Article submitted by:  Charles Moore
Photographs provided by:  Charles Moore

This blog post is part of a series SIB will publish on a regular basis to feature birds seen in the area, both migratory and permanent residents.  When possible we will use photographs taken by our members.    Please let us know if you have any special requests of birds you would like to learn more about.

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