Ask SIB – When should I clean out my Bluebird nest box?

Question: Our Bluebirds just left the nest yesterday, should we clean out the box?

Answer: Eastern Bluebirds in the Carolinas can have up to three nesting cycles per season. If possible, it’s a good idea to clean out the nest after each brood fledges, and definitely at the end of breeding season.

To learn more about when and how to clean out your Bluebird nest boxes, check out this excellent article from Birds and Blooms.

Learning Together – Deveaux Bank Watch

Deveaux Bank – an hour before sunset

Thursday May 25, 2023 7:30 pm – 8:30 pm
Location: Meet on the beach at Boardwalk 9
Max: 20
Cost: Free for members; $10 donation for guests – Priority will be given to prior waitlisted & members

Deveaux Bank Seabird Sanctuary was established to protect significant roosting and nesting habitats of sea and shorebirds. Located at the mouth of the North Edisto River in Charleston County, Deveaux Bank Seabird Sanctuary encompasses approximately 215 acres and is only accessible by boat. As Deveaux has limited access with restrictions, one of the best ways to see the birds is through a spotting scope from Pelican Beach, accessible via boardwalk 9. Sunset is the best time to see large numbers of birds returning to Deveaux for the night so bring your beach chair, favorite sunset beverage, and join us to watch this nightly event. Birds most likely to be seen include Brown Pelicans, Least Terns, Royal Terns, Black Skimmers, Sandwich terns, Laughing Gulls, Willet, and possibly Whimbrel.

As always, be sure to bring your binoculars/cameras, hats and sunscreen.  If you want to stay and watch the sunset, be sure to bring a chair.  Limited parking available on Seabrook Island Road, beside Boardwalk 9.  

If you’re not yet a 2023 SIB member, you must first become a member for only $15 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 $10.

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

Happy Mother’s Day from SIB!

Great Egret with Chicks. Photo by Dean Morr.

Being a mother is hard work. It comes with a unique set of challenges, but it also comes with great reward. Mother’s Day is a time to honor all mothers and recognize the love, care, and work they put into raising their children.

Being a bird mom also has its challenges. They too put in a lot of effort to raise, feed, and teach their offspring how to survive out in the world.

Keeping chicks safe and warm (or cool), making sure everyone has plenty to eat, and keeping a tidy home are just a few of the things we have in common with bird moms. But many of them take it a step further. They design and build the nest, teach their young to fly, then often start all over again with a second brood. In the same year!

Hummingbirds come to mind as one of the best bird moms, and they probably should. Did you know the male hummingbird takes no part in raising the young? That task is completely handled by mom.

So which birds win mom of the year? And which birds take a more casual approach to motherhood? Here are the Audubon bird mom awards for birds who each use a different strategy to raise their young.

Bird Mom Awards: The good, the bad, and the just plain weird

And to find out why Hummingbirds are the ultimate Supermoms, click here

Happy Mother’s Day!

Submitted by Gina Sanders

Ask SIB – Dancing Cowbird

Question: This cowbird comes to the pole that the hummingbird feeder is on several times a day. It faces the window and fans its wings out flapping, a courtship display, maybe? I am a little concerned that it will keep the hummers away. Any thoughts? – Patricia Schaefer

Brown-headed Cowbird – Photo courtesy of Patricia Schaefer

Answer: This is a Brown-headed Cowbird doing a territorial display. Brown-headed Cowbirds are promiscuous, but they also fight for the right to mate. It is not uncommon for a group of males to do a performance directed at the other male. The performance usually consists of a back feather ruffle, a head bow with a wing lift. It often ends with a bill wipe.

Since your bird is facing the window, it is seeing its reflection and thinks it is another bird. In a normal situation, one of the birds would back down, giving a submissive display. Since your window is acting like a mirror, the “second” bird never backs down. It is possible this display will lead to this bird “attacking” your window in an effort to drive away the intruder.

Undoubtedly, the hummingbirds will avoid the area during the display period. They will come back when the cowbird moves on. To discourage the cowbird, putting something in the window that breaks up the reflection might help.

Answer by: Robert Mercer

Migration Forecast

Weather maps are a familiar sight. We check the forecast to see what to wear, whether or not to wash the car, or to see if our beach day will get rained out. Doppler radar shows us storms marching across the country, tracks lightening strikes, wind speed and direction, and provides real-time predictions of bird migration.

Bird migration?

Meet the BirdCast website. BirdCast develops and maintains tools that predict and monitor bird migration. These include forecast and real-time bird migration maps that predict how much, where and when bird migration will occur, using radar measurements from the US weather surveillance radar network.

As most birds migrate at night, real-time data shows intensities of actual nocturnal bird migration between sunset and sunrise. And you can get specific data by state and county.

For example, I’m writing this on April 15th at 11:00pm and there are 120 million birds predicted to fly over the continental United States tonight. The map is color coded to show the areas of heaviest traffic.

What about local activity, can I see what’s happening right now? South Carolina currently has 3,841,800 birds in flight with 1,169,100 already crossed, and Charleston County currently has 70,400 birds in flight with 135,300 already crossed.

Interesting data for scientists, for sure. But how is this helpful to the average backyard birder? Well, first it’s just a cool site to play around with. You’ll be amazed at the depth of available data, and I’ll warn you, it’s a little bit addictive.

And those birds have to come down at some time to rest and refuel and that’s usually in the early morning hours. Go out at sunrise and you’ll notice new visitors to your backyard, hear unfamiliar birdsongs, and with a little luck and a good pair of binoculars, you’ll be able to add a few more birds to your life list.

For a unique perspective of migration, go outdoors and sit quietly in the cool night air and see if you can hear them passing overhead. Last year my husband and I were lucky enough to hear flocks of Bobolinks flying over Seabrook Island during fall migration. Fortunately for the observer, birds vocalize while on the wing, making night flight calls that can aid in their identification.

So how accurate is it? It’s now Sunday. April 16th, and here’s a look back at what actually happened in Charleston County last night.

With peak migration occurring over the next few weeks, this is the perfect time to give BirdCast a try. As you can see from the data we’re in the early days of migration, with May giving us much to look forward to. So give it a shot. Check the birdcast for your area, head out into the night to listen, get up a little earlier to go birding, and see if you can catch a glimpse of your overnight travelers.

Sources: Audubon – The Sights and Sounds of Nighttime Flights

BirdCast website is where you can start your own migration exploration!

Submitted by Gina Sanders

Birding by Ear

I attended my very first Seabrook Island Birders activity back in January, 2022. It was a golf course event so my non-birding husband tagged along to drive the cart while I looked. While I had always loved birds and kept feeders, I’d never joined a group birding event before.

SIB birding from Golf Carts – Jackie Brooks

And wow, was I impressed! I never expected to see so many birds in one morning – we saw 48 species! But what really impressed me was the other birders. I remember listening to Bob and Judy calling out throughout the walk: “I hear a Red-bellied Woodpecker” or “There’s an Orange-crowned Warbler in those bushes, I hear it!” WHAT? How do they know that?!

I finally had to ask Bob how one goes about learning to identify birds by their song and he gave me some great advice. Bob had an educational background and a career working in a birding environment for years so he obviously had the advantage. Frequent birders also learn from repetition and group discussion, that’s a big advantage to going to SIB outings on a regular basis. We learn so much from one another! But I wanted to learn as much as I could, as quickly as I could. So Bob recommended a CD (yes, a good old fashioned CD that you play in an actual CD player). Birding by Ear: Eastern/Central (Peterson Field Guides) by Richard K Walton. The only problem was, I no longer had a CD player, not even in my car.

I bought it anyway, then bought a portable disc drive, burned it onto my computer, transferred that to a playlist that I could listen to on my phone, and I was ready to learn. Even though I can now listen to this any time, any place, I find myself listening the most when I’m in my car, on the way to and from work each day. Or on the 4-5 hour drive to Seabrook.

The technique used on this particular audio book works quite well. It teaches you phrases, rhythms and sounds to associate with what the bird is “saying”. For instance, “who cooks for you” (Barred Owl); “who’s awake, me too” (Great Horned Owl); “teakettle, teakettle, teakettle” (Carolina Wren); “witchity, witchity, witchity” (Common Yellowthroat), a squeaky wheel going round and round (Black & White Warbler) or one of my favorites – “drink your tea” (Eastern Towhee).

There’s the name sayers: Carolina Chickadee (“Chick-a-dee dee dee dee dee”), Eastern Whip-poor-will (“whip-poor-a-will”), Chuck-will’s-widow (“chuck-will’s widow”), the Eastern wood-Pewee (with his whiny “pee-ah-wee”) and the Eastern Phoebe (with an abrupt “phoeBE”). The Killdeer and Northern Bobwhite also fit into this category, can you guess what they say?!

Then there’s the category of birds that mimic sounds – Gray Catbird, Brown Thrasher, and Northern Mockingbird. The audio book points out that Brown Thrashers usually repeat phrases once or twice while the Mockingbird repeats their phrases four or five times. The Gray Catbird usually doesn’t repeat his phrases but the mewing cat-like sounds mixed in with a variety of other songs helps it stand apart.

The audio book goes on to cover chippers, trillers, sing-songers, simple and complex vocalizations, warblers, high-pitchers, hawks and woodpeckers. And that’s just the first set of CDs! There’s a second set, aptly titled “More Birding by Ear”, that includes sounds we often hear around Seabrook Island – rails, waterbirds, shorebirds, sparrows and even more warblers.

But why bother learning all these songs and calls when we have great apps like Merlin that can tell us which birds we’re hearing? For me, I like to know what my “resident” birds sound like, that way I can immediately recognize a newcomer to my backyard. Many birds are well hidden in brush or in a leafy tree, or maybe they only sing or call out at night, so hearing them might just be the only way to know they’re there. And while technology has made bird identification so much easier, it’s still not perfect. I once had Merlin tell me a barking dog was a Barred Owl!

I’ll never forget that a Ruby-crowned Kinglet sounds like a typewriter or that the Fish Crow always says a nasal “ah-ah”. These I learned at another SIB activity and they’ve stuck with me ever since. In fact, I wouldn’t have known to look for this little Kinglet in the tree if I hadn’t heard him first!

Our field of vision is limited to only a fraction of our environment while our auditory sense is constantly attuned to 360 degrees. Learning to identify birds by their song can also help us differentiate between birds of similar appearance. It’s enjoyable, poetic, musical, and often our best method of knowing which of our feathered friends are in our backyard.

Learning birdsong can be challenging but it’s good exercise for the brain. There are audio books, apps for your phone, and online classes. In fact, check out The Cornell Lab’s Bird Academy for all sorts of classes, including one on bird song. But no matter which method you choose, the best way to learn is in the field. There’s no substitute for getting out there and learning to recognize all the beautiful birds around us every day.

Submitted by Gina Sanders
Photos by Gina Sanders

What kind of Hawk is that?

You spot a hawk, but you’re not sure what kind of hawk you’re seeing. Is it a Cooper’s? A Sharp-shinned? Red-shouldered or Red-tailed?

Hawks – Birds and Bloom

If you’re out birding and listing your sightings in eBird then you definitely want to know exactly what you’re looking at, in order to correctly report your sighting. Need some help to polish your hawk identification skills?

Here’s a great article from Birds & Blooms magazine with 5 tips to help you identify hawks accurately.

Do you have photos of hawks you’d like to share with Seabrook Island Birders? Send your photos to us and we’ll share them on our Instagram and Facebook pages. Email your pics to

Happy Birding!

Article Submitted by: Gina Sanders

Ethical Birding and Bird Photography

With the increasing popularity of birding and bird photography, combined with warm weather and spending more time outdoors, it’s a good time to remind everyone of the dos and don’ts of birding and bird photography. Think of it as birding etiquette. Audubon has several articles to this effect, here are a few pointers taken directly from their website.

The first essential element in bird photography and videography is a sincere respect for the birds and their environment. In any conflict of interest, the well-being of the birds and their habitats must come before the ambitions of the birder, photographer or videographer.

Avoid causing unnecessary disturbance or stress to birds.

  • Use a telephoto lens and maintain enough distance to allow your subject to behave naturally. Blinds offer a great way to watch and photograph or record video footage of birds without disturbing them.
  • Never advance on birds with the intention of making them fly, whether they are lone birds or flocks of birds. This disrupts natural processes such as resting, foraging, or hunting, and causes them to expend energy unnecessarily.
  • If your approach causes a bird to flush (fly or run away) or change its behavior, you’re too close. Some birds may “freeze” in place rather than fly away, or may hunch into a protective, aggressive, or pre-flight stance. Watch for changes in posture indicating that a bird is stressed, and if you see these, back away. If focused on you, birds may miss a predator.
  • Do not use drones to photograph or record video footage of birds, especially at their nests. Although drones can be useful for researchers and biologists documenting bird populations (such as at island nesting colonies), drones in general can be very disruptive to birds. They are also illegal in national parks and some state parks.
  • Concern for birds’ habitat is also essential. Be aware and respectful of your surroundings. Avoid trampling sensitive vegetation or disturbing other wildlife.

Nesting birds are particularly vulnerable and need extra consideration.

Photo by Jeff Sanders
  • Keep a respectful distance from the nest. If you’re using a macro lens or including the nest as a focal point in an image/footage with a wide-angle lens, even if you’re operating the camera remotely, you’re probably too close. Telephoto lenses of at least 500mm are recommended.

Beach-nesting birds (shorebirds and seabirds) require special care.

  • Respect and give space to the boundaries of roped-off nesting areas.        
  • Maintain a minimum distance of 25 yards from beach-nesting birds, especially solitary flightless chicks but also adults brooding, feeding, or incubating chicks.  Parents frightened from their nests leave eggs and chicks vulnerable to swift predation from gulls and other animals, as well as deadly temperature extremes. 
  • Situate yourself so that you are not in a direct line from the nest area to the water, which can inhibit the family and/or chicks from heading down to the waterline to feed. It is vital that chicks feed as much as possible to gain enough weight to survive their upcoming migration. If the young are feeding at the shoreline, take special care to keep your distance so they don’t hurry back to the nest area/dunes.

Show respect for private and public property, and consideration for other people.

Backyard Birding Photographers – Judy Morr
  • Enter private land only with permission. On public property such as parks and refuges, be aware of local regulations, hours, and closed areas.
  • Be respectful of birds located on private land but viewable from a public vantage point, and also respect the privacy of these private landowners. If they are uncomfortable with your presence, leave.
  • In group situations, be considerate of other photographers, videographers, and birders watching the same bird. Remember that your desire to photograph or record video footage of the bird doesn’t outweigh the rights of others to observe it. Large groups of people are potentially more disturbing to birds, so it may be necessary to keep a greater distance.

Showing a sincere respect for birds and the places they need to thrive must come before getting that perfect photo or footage. Birding, and bird photography, should be an enjoyable and stress-free pass-time for us and the birds. For more information about this and similar topics, go to:


Submitted by Gina Sanders

SIB “Bird of the Week” – Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl in flight. Photo by Peter Burian, Wikimedia Commons.

Great Horned OwlBubo virginianus
Length: 18.1-24.8″.; Wingspan: 39.8-57.1″ ; Weight: 32.1-88.2 oz.

“Who’s awake? Me too! Who’s awake? Me too!”

My “Birding by Ear” audio training suggests these phonetic phrases to help identify the Great Horned Owl. One night, while sitting on our back deck at Seabrook, my husband and I heard this very sound coming from an area nearby. We jumped up and ran out to the yard, looking all around. There in the moonlight, on top of the house, sat a Great Horned Owl. What an incredible sight! We stood there for a full minute and watched him through our binoculars while he watched the surrounding dunes and kept an eye on us at the same time. Suddenly he flew down to the dunes, we heard a brief yelp, then he flew up into the trees, carrying his prey. It was an incredible moment to witness.

Found throughout North America and much of South America, this large owl is an aggressive and powerful hunter. Prey includes hawks, ospreys, falcons and other owls. They also eat rabbits, snakes, rodents, frogs, and even skunks. Its large eyes have many rods for night vision and pupils that open widely in the dark. While its eyes don’t move, this owl can swivel its head more than 180 degrees and look in any direction. Great Horned owls have acute hearing, assisted by facial disc feathers that direct sound waves to its ears. Short, wide wings allow maneuverability through the forest and exceptionally soft feathers allow for silent flight. They clench their prey with talons so strong it takes 28 pounds of force to open them, a grip so deadly it can easily sever the spine of large prey.

It’s one of the most common owls in North America, found in deserts, wetlands, forests, grasslands, backyards, cities and almost any other semi-open habitat between the Arctic and the tropics. A very broad range! They’re nocturnal and can be seen at dusk sitting on fence posts or tree limbs at the edge of open areas, always watching. If you hear an agitated group of American Crows they may be mobbing a Great Horned owl. They gather from near and far to harass an owl for hours. And for good reason – it’s their most dangerous predator.

Great Horned Owl, Seabrook Island – David Woodman

Female Great Horned Owls are larger than males. In courtship, males perform flight displays and also feed the female. They typically use old nests of other large birds such as hawks, eagles, crows, herons and ospreys. Nests are usually 20-60′ above ground and they add little or no nest material to the existing nest. In fact, currently on Seabrook Island, a Great Horned Owl is actively nesting in what is believed to be a former Osprey nest.

Great Horned Owl on nest – Dean Morr

Two to three eggs is normal, with the female doing the majority of the incubation over a 28-35 day period. Both parents take part in providing food for the young owls, then when they’re 5 weeks old they can leave the nest and climb on nearby branches, can fly at 9-10 weeks, and are tended and fed by parents for several months,

Since owls are easier to hear than to see, take some time to learn the different hoots and calls. They’re often heard on Seabrook, so keep your ears tuned and binoculars handy.

To learn more about Great Horned Owls, go to:

Submitted by Gina Sanders

Bird feeder set-up ideas

The marsh is a very dynamic environment.  Its beauty is ever changing with the tide and the season, and it’s home to many species of birds and other wildlife.  It’s also Mark & Valerie Doane’s backyard and Valerie has created quite the paradise for the local birds.  

Valerie Doane with one of her feeder systems. Photo by Gina Sanders.

She started providing feeders back in 2016 and has put together a great system.  Perched on the rail of their second floor deck Valerie has strategically mounted a customizable pole system from Wild Birds Unlimited.  It allows for multiple arms and various mounting options giving her the flexibility to provide various types and styles of feeders.

She also uses a no-mess blend of food, making clean-up underneath the feeders much easier.  She has one bluebird feeder, one cylinder peanut feeder, one large cylinder feeder filled with the no-mess blend, one large dish feeder filled with safflower and another large dish feeder filled with sunflower chips.  She also has a hummingbird feeder which she keeps up year round.  She completes the setup with a shallow bird bath on the deck so a clean water source is always available to the birds as well.  

And what about the squirrels?  They have no chance of robbing her feeders – her deck is 21′ off the ground and has no steps leading up to it, so the squirrels are out of luck!  It’s a private oasis just for the birds.

The beautiful birds and the simple joy of observing nature provides much entertainment, photo opportunities, and a peaceful, relaxing environment. What more could you ask for!

For more information about the feeder system pictured:

Submitted by Gina Sanders

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