Did you know: Birds molt changing their appearance

In mid-February, I saw a bird for the first time on Seabrook Island – an Indigo Bunting. I didn’t recognize it initially with it’s brown plumage with just a hint of blue. After about a week, it disappeared to return mid-March. Boy, what a difference now that he was in his breeding plumage. The pictures were taken through a window but they still clearly show the difference.

I know several “Yankees” who didn’t initially recognize our wintering American Goldfinch in their drab plumage. About the same time as my Indigo Bunting returned, I saw an American Goldfinch in his summer finery. These changes caused me to research more about molting. The Cornell Lab’s All About Birds site provided an excellent article: The Basics: Feather Molt. The first few paragraphs answered a lot of my questions:

A feather is a “dead” structure, analogous to hair or nails in humans and made of the same basic ingredient, the protein keratin. This means that when they get damaged, feathers can’t heal themselves—they have to be completely replaced. This replacement of all or some of the feathers is called molt. In addition to providing a new set of healthy feathers, molts often provide a new look to the bird’s plumage—new colors or patterns that can indicate the bird’s age, sex, or the season of the year.

Molt is extremely variable. Observed patterns can vary by species, by individual, from year to year, and by individual feathers on the same bird. Molts can be either complete, in which the bird replaces every one of its feathers over the same molt period; or partial, in which the bird replaces only some of its feathers (for example, flight feathers or body feathers).

Molt keeps birds in top flying condition by replacing feathers that have become worn or damaged with completely new feathers. However, if a bird loses an entire feather, that feather will begin growing back immediately rather than waiting for the next molt. (This is why people clip the flight feathers of captive birds rather than plucking them out.)

Molting occurs in response to a mixture of hormonal changes brought about by seasonal changes. The entire process is complex and many questions remain regarding how the process is controlled. A basic understanding of molting patterns can be a useful aid in identifying many species and in determining their age.

It takes a lot of energy to build new feathers. As a result, timing is important—and birds typically time their molts to avoid other periods of high energy demands, such as nesting or migration. Molt timing can be more complicated for larger birds, because growing larger feathers means that their molt process takes longer than it does for smaller birds. This is one reason why some birds undergo partial molts.

I encourage you to read more about this feature of our feathered friends but reading the entire article The Basics: Feather Molt by Cornell Lab’s All About Birds.

Submitted by: Judy Morr

Did you know” is an on-going series of blogs that answer possibly more technical questions people have about birds or their environments. If you have an idea or question, submit it via the “Ask SIB” link on the SeabrookIslandBirders.org web site or send an email to SeabrookIslandBirders@Gmail.com.

SIB Travels: Hammock Coastal Bird Festival

In October, we published a blog telling you about a scheduled Bird Festival sponsored by the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce called Hammock Coastal Bird Festival. Melanie Jerome, Jennifer Jerome, Susan Markum and Judy Morr decided to have a “girls weekend” to participate. After finding a 4 bedroom condo, deciding on meals (the conference provided dinners), we could focus on BIRDS!

We easily agreed on which of the wide variety of tours to register. Mark, from the Chamber, worked with us to be sure we all got on the same tours. The weekend was a success with 94 species identified…Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, Mute Swans, Screech Owls, and more!

Continue reading “SIB Travels: Hammock Coastal Bird Festival”

Help in identifying some confusing winter visitors

When we started Project Feederwatch, Dean was confused trying to identify some of the regular visitors to our backyard. To help him, I created two “cheat sheets”. Each contained information I copied from All About Birds web page.

The first sheet was for those “Little Brown Jobs” often called LBJs.

The second was for what I call the “yellow birds”.

These sheets by no means answers all the questions you may have nor do they cover all the birds you may see in your yards. If it helps someone else get more comfortable in their identification, feel free to print from these PDFs.
Little Brown Jobs
Yellow Winter Birds

I printed, placed in a protective sheet cover and they have served us well for several years. Hope they help you.

Submitted by: Judy Morr

SIB Travels: Central Florida for family reunion

We decided to join Dean’s snowbird cousins for a quick afternoon reunion near Bradington, Florida. You know I can’t go anywhere without working in a little birding so I researched what birds were in area so we’d be prepared. I gave Dean my “wish list” of birds so he’d be prepared to help me look and to understand when I yelled “STOP” as we drove down the road. My list included the Nanday Parakeets, Monk Parakeets, White-winged Doves and Black Swans to name a few.

As we stopped at each rest area, we saw the usual suspects…lots of Boat-tail Grackles, Northern Mockingbirds, etc. As we drove down the interstate, LOTS of Turkey Vultures seemed to be leading our way. At the Florida Welcome Center, we were briefly excited…could that be one of my target birds, a White-winged Dove? No, it was 5 Eurasian Collared Doves which we often see at Bohicket Marina. We never did see a White-winged Dove which were “common” birds in Central Florida.

Sandhill Cranes – Dean Morr

As we drove state roads between Lakeland and Bradington, we finally saw a “Florida Bird”… a Sandhill Crane. On the return trip, we stopped for pictures of flocks of these large noisy birds. We also saw lots of Cattle Egrets, White Ibis and of course Turkey Vultures.

We had never seen so many Osprey on nests! It seemed like every other power poll had a nest. Some were in the joints of the power poles but some were on the platforms the power companies wisely placed at the top of the poles or sometimes even extra poles installed for no purpose other than to contain a platform for nesting purposes. A Google search told us that the debris (or chicks) falling from poorly placed nests caused power outages so the power companies proactively placed platforms to be used for nesting.

Osprey at New College of Florida – Dean Morr

As we visited with the cousins, we saw American Robins, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet. Two hawks were hunting in the leaves of the golf course rough but I couldn’t confirm they were Coopers Hawks.

The New College of Florida campus on the Sarasota Bay looked like a promising eBird site for White-winged Doves and possibly the Nanday Parakeets and Monk Parakeets. We saw Double-breasted Cormorants swimming around fishermen in hip waders, Ring-necked Ducks, Great Egrets and more Osprey but none of the target birds. I MAY have seen a pair of Nanday Parakeets but they flew by too fast to get my binoculars up so I can’t be sure. Nearby, we did briefly stop at a lagoon at the Manatee Convention Center for Mallards, and Common Gallinules.

On the return trip across Florida, we stopped at Lake Morton in Lakeland. This isn’t officially a zoo so I think the birds I saw are reportable but I’m not sure. The city puts caution tape around the Black Swan nests and there are vending machines where you can buy seed to feed the various birds. About 50 White Ibis approached us as we exited the car, begging for food…a good clue they were tame. At this relatively small lake in the middle of town we saw Black Swans, Mute Swans, Muscovy Ducks, and Peking Ducks (aka domestic white ducks). I also saw the Anhingas, Mallards, Ring-necked Ducks, White Pelicans, Lesser Scaup, American Coot and Osprey which were definitely “wild”.

It was a good visit with cousins but the only “life bird” was the questionable Black Swan. I did learn more about Osprey nesting habits and had a closer look at Sandhill Cranes. I think a return visit is needed for another reunion and better birding.

Submitted by: Judy Morr

Ask SIB: What do I post in eBird?

Question: I’m preparing for a trip to Florida and I’m confused about which birds should be posted in eBird and which should not. Some of the birds that led to my confusion are Monk Parakeet, Nanday Parakeet and Black Swans? Can you give me some guidance? – Judy Morr

Answer: The question above was sent as a text to my eBird experts, Aija Konrad, Bob Mercer and Nancy Brown. Several texts later we decided it merited a blog…possibly only interesting to bird nerds like me.

eBird’s Frequently asked questions starts with: eBird is intended for observations of wild, living birds. Please do not report dead or captive birds (e.g., do not include birds in a zoo exhibit or pheasants on a farm). I knew about living bird idea but some of the other aspects took more study. (Note: Italics below are all quotes from eBird web pages.)

Captive birdsdo not include caged or pinioned birds. You may report wild birds you see at outdoor zoos, but birds that are part of a zoo or collection should not be reported. Do not report free-roaming pets, such as birds used in falconry, or birds that return to a pen or cage regularly. I already knew that I shouldn’t report chickens I see or hear in someone’s yard. That white “domestic” duck I saw at Christmas, I didn’t report. The peacock (aka Indian Peafowl) I saw at Magnolia Gardens was considered “captive” and Keith McCullough correctly told me to delete from a list submitted. The Great Blue Herons, American Cardinals, etc. I reported in the same list were valid as they weren’t captive. Similarly, the Indian Peafowl I saw roaming down River Road one day was a valid submission.

Captive Species: Indian Peafowl (aka “peacock”) photographed at Magnolia Gardens by Bob Mercer

Exotic Species – are any species that occurs somewhere as a direct result of transportation by humans. These are further broken down into three subcategories: Naturalized, Provisional and Escapee. All should be reported in eBird but some may not count on some reports. This gets trickier (and some interesting considerations).

Naturalized: this exotic population is self-sustaining, breeding in the wild, persisting for many year and and not maintained through ongoing releases (including vagrants from naturalized populations). These count in official eBird totals and, where applicable, have been accepted by regional bird records committee(s). Examples of this are House Finch, Eurasian Collared Dove and European Starling. They are commonly seen here but still will have a black asterisk when you later look at checklist in eBird. For my trip to Florida, the Monk Parakeet and Nanday Parakeet will fall into this category.

Provisional: Provisional is often used for species that are established (i.e., occurring in substantial numbers in the wild for many years) but have not yet been declared Naturalized by a local ornithological authority. Provisional species count towards your eBird life list and appear in all public outputs, including Alerts. If on my trip to Florida I saw an Indian Peafowl (as someone reported on January 4) that would fall into this category. It appears on eBird with a rust asterisk.

Escapee: This is really the fun one. Escapees are exotic species known or suspected to be escaped or released, including those that have bred but don’t yet fulfill the criteria for Provisional. Escapee exotics do not count in official eBird totals. They are also not included in ABA countable birds for Big Year, etc. There is a whole list of escapees I hope to see in Florida: Graylag Goose, Black Swan, Swan Goose, Black-necked Swan, Red Junglefowl. If found, these will appear on my eBird checklist with a rust background around a white asterisk. Aija knows of a town in Georgia where the Red Junglefowl is ABA countable…so the category the bird falls into is dependent upon geography. Note, this nuance applies to all categories as my Indian Peafowl sited on River Road wasn’t even flagged as Provisional or Naturalized.

Red Junglefowl, taken in Key West, FL by Nancy Brown, April, 2011

If you want to know more about all this, you can find detailed descriptions at: https://support.ebird.org/en/support/solutions/articles/48001218430-exotic-and-introduced-species-in-ebird and

Submitted by: Judy Morr

Join SIB for Learning Together at Kiawah River

Sunday, December 4, 2022 8:00am-11:00am
Learning Together at Kiawah River 
Location:  Meet at the “bridge” entering the property
Cost None for members; $10 donation for guests

Register Now

Another chance to check out birds that can be found on this varied habitat  property.  We expect to see a large variety of birds including Double-crested Cormorants, Egrets, Herons, Osprey and other birds of prey. If we are lucky, we will see an eagle and osprey duel over a fish. As we enter the property, we hope to catch a glimpse of the resident American Coots and Loggerhead Shrikes.  We should also see and hear some of the smaller birds like Tufted Titmice, Eastern Bluebirds, Northern Cardinals.  We will drive to various locations on the property and then walk for better birding observations.  Of course ,this also gives us a chance to see this neighboring development.

As always, be sure to bring your binoculars, hats, water and sunscreen.  

If you are not yet a 2022 SIB member, you must first become a member for only $15 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 $10.  You can also use the link above to renew your membership for 2023.

Please register no later than Friday, December 2, 2022.  All registrants will receive a confirmation letter on the day prior to the event.

Help on Shorebird identification

Shorebirds always challenge my identification skills. I decided it was time to review various material I’ve seen. I thought maybe the list could be beneficial to others even if it wasn’t all encompassing.

I started by adding this bookmark from Audubon to my birding backpack so I have it for quick reference:

I recently received an email from Audubon with a link to this article. It has some good overview information: Shorebirds 101: What to Look for When You Hit the Water

Bob Mercer has created the Field Guide to the Shorebirds of North Beach, Seabrook Island, SC. It is designed to be printed as a booklet. Printing is to be done double sided and flipped on short side. When done that way, the birds end up next to the description.

Seabrook Island Birders has also presented several shorebird programs that have been recorded which are available for watching at any time:

Janet Thibault: Seabrook’s Amazing Shorebirds!

Bob Mercer: Shorebird Identification on Seabrook Island, South Carolina

I hope these materials are helpful to you as they have been to me.

Winter Banding of Painted Buntings

Painted Buntings usually summer in the Charleston area but are largely gone from November through March. Aaron Given from the Town of Kiawah Island decided to study this further and posted on Facebook:

Over the past 10 years, the number of Painted Buntings wintering in South Carolina, particularly in the Charleston area, has dramatically increased. To understand why, we need to learn about the population demographics, survivorship, and site fidelity of these overwintering birds. I am looking for people in the greater Charleston area that have Painted Buntings regularly coming to their bird feeders, and that would allow me to trap and place bands on the bird’s legs. Each bird would get a series of colored bands that would be unique to that individual so that it can be identified without having to recapture it again.

Three birds in caged feeder

Melodie Murphy saw this post and knew her backyard met the criteria as she had recently seen as many as 5 Painted Buntings at a time at her feeder. On a recent cold morning, Aaron came to her house and set up his station. Previously, Aaron has banded Painted Buntings in the summer using  a specially designed cage with a feeder placed inside. He placed this same feeder/cage next to Melodie’s now empty feeder. Within 10 minutes, 3 Painted Buntings were inside.

Each bird was then measured, weighed and aged. The three birds were a hatch year (sex indeterminate), an adult female and an adult male. A unique numbered metal band was placed on one leg of each bird. Each was then given the colored bands that would allow it to be easily identified. Before Aaron left, he had banded 6 Painted Buntings (1 adult male, 3 adult females, 2 immatures sex unknown). Melodie was given a log to record her resightings.

View the slide show to see the entire process.

If you have Painted Buntings at your feeder and are interested in participating, contact Aaron at agiven@kiawahisland.org.

Photos: Dean Morr

Update: Favorite Apps for Birding

Do you have a smart phone or a tablet?  Are you interested in learning more about birds or trying to identify a bird?  Why carry a heavy paper guidebook into the field or even around the house when you probably have a smart phone or tablet nearby!?!  Like with everything, there is an App for ANYTHING!  And more for birding seem to be added all the time.   Therefore, we decided to republish information on some of favorites of today.  (Note: We use Apple products so our experience is with the iOS versions.)

In this blog, we will focus on four apps, providing a brief summary.   Please use the links to learn more about each and to download to your device(s).   Most have tutorials available either in the app or on YouTube.  After you check the apps out, if you want more help or to share your experience, register for our app workshop to be held Tuesday January 25 at 4:00.

Merlin Bird ID

The first one I recommend to everyone, especially people new to birding, is called Merlin Bird ID.  Just answer five simple questions about a bird or upload a photo of a bird you are trying to identify, and Merlin will come up with a list of possible matches. Merlin offers quick identification help for beginning and intermediate bird watchers to learn about 650 of North America’s most common birds!  Cornell Lab of Ornithology created it in partnership with Birds in the Hand, LLC.  And the best part is it is FREE! (On my phone I have downloaded Bird Pack for Continental US and Canada and it takes about 2.5 GB of space).  Merlin also has the option to use a photo to help you identify a bird or the most recent addition is “Sound ID” which allows you to record a bird and it identifies the bird by comparing to its library of recordings.  It has the option to interface with your eBird account for personalized information.

Continue reading “Update: Favorite Apps for Birding”

Fall Migration has started!

When it’s 90 degrees in the shade, it’s hard to remember the birds are already preparing for winter and have started their migrations south. For those of us on Seabrook Island, this means we loose our summer residents, Painted Buntings, Great Crested Flycatchers, and Green Herons to name a few. Amoung those arriving will be Palm Warblers, Yellow-rumped Warblers and Northern Flickers. It is also a time when birds are flying through from their summer residences up north to as far south as South America. Many of the warblers are in this category.

The good news is all this coming and going means great birding opportunities. Since it’s hard for amateurs like to know when birds are coming through, I like to reference two web sites.

Close to home, Aaron Given publishes a daily blog of the birds they capture at the Kiawah Island Banding Stations. I know when these Kiawah banding stations are seeing a species, it’s a good chance they are on Seabrook as well. Since I don’t visit the site daily, it has a nice feature that allows me to page back to previous posts to see what has been captured on prior recent days. To learn more about the Kiawah Island Banding Station, visit the blog Aaron wrote for us last year.

Another helpful site can be used anywhere in the country. BirdCast is powered by Cornell Lab, Colorado State University and UMassAmhert. The site provides bird migration forecast maps that show predicted nocturnal migration 3 hours after local sunset and are updated every 6 hours. It also has a local migration alert tool to determine whether birds are passing overhead near your city tonight! This site doesn’t tell you which species are migrating but will give you an indication if there has been a recent influx of migrating birds.

Watch the Seabrook Island Birders blogs, activity page and calendar to see when the group will have organized activities during bird migration. You can also subscribe to the SIB Google Group. This group is then available for you to send an “impromptu” email asking others to join you in a search or other members would notify you when they are going out.

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