Birding from My Back Porch

Pine Warbler at meal worm feeder

I have a perfect 4-season back porch for backyard birdwatching. There is an undeveloped lot next to my house, a lagoon just behind, and a backyard that has no grass and is small and flat for optimal visibility. Additionally, there are two large Live Oak trees and one large Pine tree close to the porch for birds to perch and hide. Because of the water and native plants I probably do not need feeders to attract birds. However, over the past 4 years I have made it my mission to set up the perfect arrangement of feeders, food, and birdbaths to attract as many species as possible. This season I have seen almost 40 different species just sitting on my back porch. 

Feeders in backyard

For four years I have tweaked the arrangement of my feeders and food by observing the behavior of the birds and their seed or suet preference. This will change seasonally. There are, by far, a greater number and variety of birds at the feeders during the winter and, therefore, this is my favorite time for backyard birdwatching. 

I have 4 poles and 15 different feeders that I can easily watch while sitting at my table on the back porch. None of the feeders are large and, in fact, some are quite small. Keeping the feeders clean is important for the health of the birds. Even though it’s more work to fill small feeders daily, it makes it easier to keep them clean. Like making coffee and walking the dog, filling the feeders has become part of my morning routine. 

Blue Jay at Bark Butter

To attract different birds, I offer different feed. At this time of year, I have 4 suet feeders. Two are small cylinder cages where I put homemade suet and two are the square cages for the store bought “Peanut Delight” suet cakes. These attract woodpeckers and warblers. Additionally, I have been spreading some of the bark butter with cayenne pepper in notches on the trees close to my porch. I’m amazed at the different birds clinging to the trees enjoying this bark butter. No special equipment needed and the squirrels steer clear.

I have 3 small tube feeders; 2 filled with mixed “no mess” nuts and seeds and 1 with white millet. White millet is a very inexpensive seed that’s particularly popular with Painted Buntings. Birds who don’t necessarily like to share their feeding space seem to prefer my smallest tube feeder that has only two feeding ports. I have 3 tiny bowl feeders attached to the poles for dried mealworms. Mealworms most notably attract Eastern Bluebirds, but also many warblers. Almost all birds will eat sunflower seeds so I have several open platform type feeders with Black Oil Sunflower Seeds in the shell. 

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Even in the winter I put out my hummingbird feeder. It is surprising how often hummingbirds are seen here even during the coldest weather. Another nice addition was an oriole feeder that friends gave me. I have been diligently filling the little bowl with grape jelly over the past two years. So, for those two years the grape jelly attracted Carolina Chickadees, hummingbirds, and even a Black-throated Blue Warbler, but not a Baltimore Oriole. Finally, this January there have been at least two Baltimore Orioles visiting the feeder almost daily. Patience, perseverance, and a lot of grape jelly paid off. 

Sharp-shinned Hawk enjoying bath – Joleen Ardaiolo

I make sure that there is always fresh water available. In the backyard is one old concrete birdbath that came with my house built in the 90’s. This attracts as many birds as my feeders and, additionally, it attracts birds that don’t visit feeders. As I was writing this blog, a Sharp-shinned Hawk came down for a drink and a bath. Naturally there were no other squirrels or birds to be seen or heard while he was freshening up. I have also made two smaller birdbaths out of flower pots for the birds who spend time foraging on the ground like the Hermit Thrush, Mourning Dove, and Palm Warbler. 

Western Tanager at platform feeder – Jackie Brooks

This is my hobby and it makes me happy and relaxed to see the birds everyday. Studying to learn the characteristics and sounds of birds is helping to keep my mind sharp. Additionally, even though “birding” can be a solitary hobby, there are many people who enjoy birdwatching on many different levels with whom you can engage. You can even become a citizen scientist and report what you observe to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology through eBird or FeederWatch. This year I have been fortunate to have a Western Tanager at my feeders. This is a rare bird for our area, and because I report it to eBird each day that I see it, the Western Tanager on Seabrook Island in January 2022 will become an interesting statistic. 

Do you need 15 feeders? Absolutely not! This many feeders requires a lot of time and money. If you can manage one tube feeder, one suet feeder, and one small birdbath you will attract a lot of backyard birds. OR – you are always welcome to visit and watch the birds from my porch.

Feeding Birds on Seabrook Island

Recently a question was asked on our neighborhood social media site about if it is safe to feed our wild birds. Earlier this spring there was an outbreak of avian salmonellosis in the southeast that affected pine siskin, purple finch, and American goldfinch. People in our area were asked to remove their feeders until the affected birds had migrated out. There is another outbreak of an avian disease, but, as of now, it does not appear to be in our area.

The linked article from Bird Watcher’s Digest reports where the outbreaks are and offers great suggestions on what we need to do as backyard bird enthusiasts to keep our birds safe.

PSA for Bird Lovers

If your mailbox has an open newspaper slot it is often considered prime nesting real estate for our local small songbirds such as Eastern Bluebirds and Carolina Chickadees. Many passerines are cavity nesters and are desperate to find a safe place to nest and raise their young once nesting season begins. Safe is the key word here. Even though the newspaper boxes will keep the nest and eggs dry, the low position and large front opening makes these nests vulnerable to snakes, raccoons and even other birds. These nesting attempts are rarely successful.

If a bird does build a nest and lay eggs in your newspaper box and you do not want it there, remember that native birds are protected by Federal law and it is illegal to destroy a nest containing eggs or to interfere with the nestlings. However, you can install a proper nest box with a baffle close to the newspaper box and carefully relocate the nest while the parent bird is watching. The newspaper box can then be closed off to prevent other birds from nesting there.

Please consider closing up the front of your open newspaper box now in preparation for the nesting season that begins in March.

SIPOA has indicated that open mailboxes can be closed off with a block of wood painted to match the color of the mailbox post/supports.

If you have one of the open newspaper boxes and would like to seal it off but are not able to do so, contact seabrookislandbirders@gmail.com and one of our members will be happy to help.

Example of a newspaper box with leftover nesting material.
Example of newspaper box with SIPOA approved wood block inserted to prevent nesting birds.

Identifying BBJs: Winter Hawks

Dr. Bill Hilton, who was SIB’s most recent Zoom speaker, has a website for his nature center, Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History, that includes a weekly blog. The most recent edition, #734, of This Week at Hilton Pond is about BBJs. BBJs are Big Brown Jobbers – or hawks – as opposed to LBJs which are Little Brown Jobbers – or small brown sparrows. Dr. Hilton describes and compares the Red-tailed Hawk, the Red-shouldered Hawk, the Cooper’s Hawk, and the Sharp-shinned Hawk. These are four hawks that are frequently seen in our area, but can look very similar from a distance. He has done such a great job of breaking down the differences and describing these raptors that it might be a good idea to print it and take it along on your next birding excursion. 

Enjoy WINTER HAWKS: THE BBJs and check out Dr. Hilton’s other 733 blog topics!

Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History


Replay of “Hummingbirds: From Your Yard to Central America… and Back”

Dr. Bill Hilton, Jr holding a Ruby-throated Hummingbird

For those who missed the latest Seabrook Island Birders Zoom program or for any participant who would like to rewatch a great presentation, we are offering a replay for the next 30 days. On December 2nd Dr. Bill Hilton, Jr. presented “Hummingbirds: From Your Yard to Central America…and Back!”

The program highlighted Dr. Hilton’s ongoing international research on the Ruby-throated Hummingbird and his continuing ornithological work at his Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History in York, SC. You can visit its website, hiltonpond.org, to learn about the center or read one of his over 700 blogs on natural history and what’s happening at Hilton Pond. 

Dr. Hilton, a teacher for 40+ years, educated 83 participants from 13 U.S. States and 1 from Canada.   He urged everyone who lived on Seabrook Island and the states with warmer climates to keep their hummingbird feeders up year round for the birds migrating through and for those hummingbirds overwintering here. Additionally, he asked anyone who sees a hummingbird (especially the banded or with a color mark on their chest) to become a citizen scientist and report their sighting through eBird or his website rubythroat.org.

To Rescue or Not To Rescue Baby Birds

Have you ever wondered whether to intervene with nature? Since we, as human beings, have moved into “nature’s” neighborhood it might be appropriate to occasionally give “nature” a helping hand. 

Rosemary Mosco is a science writer and naturalist who is a popular guest lecturer at not only birding festivals, but also writing and art workshops for all ages. Her popularity is in part because she delivers her thought provoking talks with a sense of humor. Additionally, Ms. Mosco is a graphic artist whose comics share the funny side of nature while highlighting environmental issues. You can see some of her comics on Bird and Moon and below is a clever graphic created by Rosemary Mosco to help you determine when, whether, and how you should rescue baby birds.

If you need to contact the wildlife care center in our area, please contact the Avian Medical Clinic at 843.971.7474 and press option #1 for the Injured Bird Line. You can also send an email to info@thecenterforbirdsofprey.org

An Evening with “the Bird Guy”

On May 29th the Seabrook Island Birders welcomed Dr. James Rotenberg, PHD, aka Dr. Jamie, aka The Bird Guy, to Live Oak Hall for a presentation about the Painted Bunting. 

To an almost full house of Painted Bunting lovers, Dr. Jamie shared his research information gathered with his Painted Bunting Observer Team “PBOT” and a group of citizen scientists on how habitat and environmental changes affect the viability of the Eastern Painted Bunting in North and South Carolina. The encouraging news for our area of coastal South Carolina, despite all the new development, is that the survivorship numbers are fairly good and stable. 

Male Painted Bunting feeding a young Painted Bunting at the feeder – Charley Moore

There were a few fun facts learned on Wednesday evening as well.  The Painted Buntings migrate to South Carolina from southern Florida, the Bahamas, and Cuba for their breeding season. The female and male might build and locate a very small nest either in low dense shrubs or high in trees. They generally have at least two broods per nesting season. The green Painted Bunting that is normally identified as a female may actually be a juvenile male. The young male Painted Bunting will remain green until his second year. Also, the Painted Bunting is the only green wild bird in South Carolina. Therefore if you see a green bird you can confidently identify it as a female or juvenile male Painted Bunting. Their song is easily recognizable and a male uses this song to establish boundaries. The Painted Bunting also makes a chipping sound very much like a Northern Cardinal.  Dr. Jamie encouraged feeding the birds. The Painted Bunting loves white millet and for them it’s a real treat, like whipped cream. During breeding season they will eat insects for the protein, but are year round seed eaters. So putting a tube feeder filled with white millet in a secluded area away from the other feeders may attract Painted Buntings to your yard.

A video of Dr. Jamie’s interesting and informative program is posted on the Seabrook Island Birders Facebook page for anyone unable to attend.

One final note, during the summer of 2017 and 2018, adult male Painted Buntings were fitted with geolocators (a light-level tracking device) on Kiawah Island. The birds were banded with an aluminum band on the right leg and either a yellow or pink on the left leg. To retrieve the valuable data stored on the geolocator, we need to recapture these birds and take off the device. If you happen to see a Painted Bunting with a yellow or pink color band coming to your bird feeder, please contact Aaron Given at
agiven@kiawahisland.org or call (843) 768-9166.

Article submitted by Joleen Ardaiolo
Photos by Jackie Brooks, Charley Moore and Aaron Given

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