Ask SIB: Why is Northern Cardinal’s head bald?

Question: Is this a Northern Cardinal? If so, why does its head look so small and its beak so large? – SIB member Lesley Gore

Answer: This question was also answered in Bird Watcher’s Digest. They say:

Soon after nesting season ends, many birds replace their feathers. Songbirds generally lose and regrow a few feathers at a time, so molt is hardly noticeable.

But some birds, especially northern cardinals and blue jays, can lose all their head feathers at one time—a catastrophic molt. Not all cardinals or blue jays do this, but a significant number do, and it’s considered healthy and normal. A week later, feathers will start to grow, and in a month, the bird’s crest will return and be perfectly normal and regal once again.

“Bald” birds could also be young individuals with head feathers still developing, or they could be the victims of avian feather mites that eat the feathers and cause a bird to “go bald.” The mites exist on a bird in the only place it cannot preen itself—on the head.

This commonly occurs in late summer and has been recorded on other species as well. We notice the bald cardinals more readily because they are common, resident (non-migratory) birds that come to our bird feeders. The mites are perfectly natural, not caused by diet, and relatively harmless, unless the bird is in an otherwise-weakened state.

A bald bird usually isn’t anything to worry about, and it’s kind of fun to see a bird’s naked skin and ear holes, isn’t it?

Shorebird videos now available for viewing

The Seabrook Island Birders Shorebird Stewards and the Kiawah Shorebird Stewards have worked together to share educational opportunities. Spring 2022, Bette Popillo, Kiawah Shorebird Steward Program Coordinator, arranged a wonderful set of talks given by four prominent biologists who work with shorebirds and seabirds.

We have collected the links to those talks on a Shorebird Video page on the Seabrook Island Birders web site. This provides a single reference for stewards (and others) to bookmark and review the valuable information that was presented. We’ve also included the artistry of Pam Cohen, a Kiawah photographer who has fallen in love with Red Knots and Bob Mercer’s “Shorebird Identification” presentation.

The five links on this new page are:

  • Abby Sterling, PhD: “Busy Beaches after Red Knots: Supporting Our Nesting Shorebirds”
  • Nolan Schillerstrom: “ The Sassy Seabird:Least Terns
  • Fletcher Smith, “Red Knot Research in the Southeast
  • Janet Thibault, “Black Skimmers: Creatures of Edges
  • Pam Cohen, “Red Knots: A Story of Migration and Survival
  • Bob Mercer: “Shorebird Identification on Seabrook Island

SIB’s Article for the August The Seabrooker

In case you don’t receive it, or haven’t had a chance to read it yet, we hope you will enjoy The Seabrooker’s August 2022 SIB article. Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) contributed a full page article on Page 4! The stories this month feature:

Seabrook Birds…Through the Lens – Learn more about Ed Konrad’s experiences photographing birds.

Thanks to author and photographer Ed Konrad. Ed also serves as our graphic designer!

Charleston Audubon Fund Raiser

Some SIB members recently received an email that may be of interest to other members. It came from the Charleston Audubon and Natural History Society.

We need help for McAlHany Nature Preserve!!!!

Join us for a screening of Purple Haze, a conservation film about Purple Martins, a species completely reliant on humans for survival! Limited space, get your tickets today!

Terrace Theater
1956d Maybank Hwy, Charleston, SC 29412

7:30 pm-9:30 pm.

We’ll have door prizes as well, bring your friends and help us support our on the ground conservation work!


Join SIB to Sit, Sip and See at Palmetto Lake

Monday, August 15 @ 7:00pm
Location: Picnic Table at the back of Palmetto Lake near the Playground
Max: 20
Cost: Free for members; $5 donation to SIB for guests

Register Now

Please join Seabrook Island Birders for an evening of birding and socializing with your favorite beverage at Palmetto Lake. During the hot summer months birds are more active in the early morning and early evening. We thought that this would be a great location to gather and sit and let the birds come to us. At this location, near the playground, we can relax and watch the herons and egrets fly into their now favorite roosting area. It is mesmerizing to observe the different groups fly into the lake area and then maneuver into their spot. There are a few places to sit at the picnic table, but you will probably want to bring a chair in order to get the best view. There will be SIB members available to carry your chair to our location. Birds that we should see coming into the rookery are Green Heron, Little Blue Heron, Great Egret, Tricolored Heron, Cattle Egret, and White Ibis. We could additionally hear or see woodpeckers, hawks, and passerines.

This is a BYOB and BYOSnacks event. If you are not an experienced birder, this is the perfect opportunity to get some tips on using binoculars and phone apps, and identifying species and bird calls.

As always bring your binoculars and hats. No sunscreen required at this event, but you might want to bring bug repellent just in case.

Register no later than Sunday, August 14th . All registrants will receive a confirmation letter on Monday morning, August 15th.

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”

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.

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

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