Take a Look at the “Bird Library”

We hope you enjoy this article and livestream of a special library! Thanks to Joleen Ardaiolo for sharing this story from Time.com.

Livestream of the Belmont Library for Birds

Take a Moment to Dip Into the Miniature World of This Library For Bird

While many libraries across the country have closed due to coronavirus, there’s one library that’s staying open — and its flocks of visitors are overjoyed about it.

The Belmont Library for Birds, located in Charlottesville, VA., has open hours all day for all avian friends and even a few squirrels and a livestream for human companions who are responsibly practicing social distancing.

(To see the full article click above)

Watch “SIB’s Movie Matinees” from the Comfort of your Home

In light of our new life of social distancing, Seabrook Island Birders wants to share some of our previously shown “SIB Movie Matinees” which you can watch from the comfort of your home. The first two films were shown last month, as the Red Knots began arriving for the annual visit to Seabrook Island.

The first, “Crash: A Tale of Two Species,” premiered on PBS Nature in 2008. It is the story of the fabric of life, and how every species is interconnected – each one important, no matter how big or small. At its center is the humble horseshoe crab, a creature which has remained virtually unchanged for 350 million years. Its annual spring spawning produces millions of eggs that are the lifeline for a tiny bird called the Red Knot, which migrates 10,000 miles from South America to the Arctic each year. Scientific and medical communities have discovered that the crab also provides an indispensable testing agent for drugs and vaccines, as well as resources for human optics and burn treatment. But horseshoe crab numbers are plummeting from their new use as bait for the fishing industry, dropping by two-thirds or more since 1990. And the precious pyramid depending on this age-old creature is about to come crashing down. To view the hour-long program, click play below:

PBS Nature: Crash: A Tale of Two Species

The second video “Birds of May”, filmed in May 2016 on the beaches of the Delaware Bay, is filmmaker Jared Flesher’s ode to the natural spectacle of the Red Knot’s annual visit. It’s also an examination of potential new threats to Red Knot survival. Not everyone is sure that expanded oyster farming and Red Knots can happily coexist. Against the scenic backdrop of the bay, Flesher interviews both oyster farmers and the shorebird biologists who fear that an oyster farming boom here could push the rufa Red Knot closer to extinction. To view the 27 minute film, click below:

Birds of May

Spring on Seabrook Island

Have you noticed it has been a little noisy outside lately? No, I don’t mean from your neighbor blowing the Live Oak leaves off his driveway. From the moment it begins to brighten in the morning until the sun sets the birds are singing and loudly calling to one another. What you are hearing are mostly male birds attempting to attract a mate and claim their territory. This is also an announcement that pretty soon we will have a new crop of baby birds on our island. 

Let the nesting begin!

Not all songbirds nest at the same time or in the same type of nest. 

“Resident” birds are birds that live in the same area year-round. Nests found early in the spring tend to belong to non-migratory birds. Some of our “resident” birds are the Carolina Wren, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Eastern Bluebird, Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Northern Cardinal, and House Finch. These birds might begin nesting as early as the beginning of March. Examples of birds that migrate to our area and nest later are the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Prothonotary Warbler, Northern Parula, Summer Tanager, Painted Bunting, and Great-crested Flycatcher. 

Nest building is sometimes, but not always, a joint effort as it is with the Carolina Wren. Typically the female does most if not all of the construction with very little help from the male. Nest building can take anywhere from two days to two weeks depending on if birds are working on the nest together and if there is excavating involved. 

Nest materials vary by species. Nests may be beautifully constructed of moss and grasses lined with hair and feathers like that of a Carolina Chickadee or a bulky mass of twigs and leaves like that of the Carolina Wren. Nest construction is not random. Materials used and nest types and shapes are very specific to the bird species. Some birds may even weave in snake skin or spider silk. Our tiniest nesting bird, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, uses spider silk to hold her tiny nest together. So leaving the spider webs in your yard may be encouraging Ruby-throated Hummingbirds to nest close by. 

Location of the nests are specific to the species as well. As many of you know, a Carolina Wren will nest almost anywhere. You might have fought the battle of removing a wren’s nesting materials from a hanging basket of flowers. Or, maybe you’ve had to wait to fire up your grill until the baby wrens have fledged the nest that is under the grill’s cover? Some of the small warblers build their nests high in Spanish moss hanging from the trees and the Northern Mockingbird and Brown Thrasher build nests deep in low shrubs. Many birds are cavity dwellers like woodpeckers, Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmouse, and Eastern Bluebirds. These birds might excavate their own cavity while others look for already established cavities. Birdhouses were not always available for nesting, but obviously birds have adapted nicely to these lush accommodations. Oh, and keep an eye on your paper box. That is prime real estate for the cavity nesters.  

Finally, there is the bird who doesn’t bother to build a nest at all. The Brown-headed Cowbird will lay her egg in another bird’s nest and leave it for that unsuspecting host to incubate and raise. Sadly, if a smaller parent bird is trying to feed her chicks, the larger cowbird chick will get most of the food, perhaps leaving some of the smaller chicks to die from starvation. 

Incubation time for time for those beautiful little eggs of songbirds are similar, but who does the incubating?

One to two days after the nest is built, the songbird will lay her eggs. Most birds will lay one egg per day, but different species of birds lay different numbers of eggs. A clutch is the number of eggs laid in a single nesting session that are incubated together. The clutch size of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird is 1 – 3 eggs. For the overachieving Carolina Chickadee the clutch size is 3 – 10 eggs. The Eastern Bluebird will have 2 -7, and the Mourning Dove only lays 2 eggs. 

The parent bird will not start to incubate the eggs until they are all laid. The female is the only incubator for most songbirds, but the male is often not without duties. He might feed the female or stand watch from a nearby perch. He might also be very active in feeding the babies once they hatch. 

The length of incubation also varies, but generally coincides with the size of the bird. The eggs of a larger bird, like the Blue Jay, will take a bit longer for incubation than a small bird. Generally speaking, though, most of of our backyard songbirds will take around two weeks to incubate their young. 

Once hatched, baby birds have names for the different stages of their life before becoming independent of their parents. 

Hatchling: This is a baby bird that has very recently hatched (hence the name).  It is, at most, a few days old and completely dependent on a parent for food and care. The hatchling hasn’t yet opened its eyes and is bald and pink except for a few downy wisps. 

Nestling: This is a baby bird that is still in the nest and is usually between the age of 3 and 13 days. It is a tiny bit more capable of taking care of itself than a hatchling, but is still very dependent on its parent for survival. The nestling has opened its eyes and has a few feathers, but still has naked spots with pin feathers coming in. 

Fledgling: This is a baby bird that is ready to leave the nest. It can hop, flutter, and walk with little problem. When the baby bird leaves it will stay close by to its family for a few days as it practices flying and foraging for food. The parent might continue to feed the chick and intervene if there is a threat to its baby. The fledgling has most of its adult feathers, but they may be a little stubby on the tail and wings and a bit dull in color. 

Once the young birds have left the nest, you might still see the parent feeding the fledgling. If you have feeders watch for two birds of the same species feeding together. The fledgling will flutter its wings and open its mouth and the parent will feed it a bit of suet or a seed. The fledgling is naturally the bird being fed, but to visually distinguish between the parent and the baby, note the fledgling’s bill. It will often look larger and more brightly colored than the adult’s. Also, as with any youth, it will have a bit of a rumpled look.

The end of spring doesn’t necessarily mean the end of nesting season as some songbirds, like the Eastern Bluebird, might raise more than one brood per season.

So start listening for the plaintive begging calls of our new crop of baby songbirds. You will know that the parent has arrived with a morsel when the cries get louder and even a little frantic. It’s a beautiful thing to hear. 

If you want more detailed information about nesting and details about specific birds, check out nestwatch.org. Also, to find out what to do if you see a baby bird out of its nest, read the SIB blog post called To Rescue or Not To Rescue Baby Birds.

Red Knots Love and Need Our Islands

According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the population of Red Knots that visit the eastern United States, the subspecies Rufa, declined by 75% between 1980 and 2000. It is estimated that only 45,000 of these birds are alive. A recent study by volunteers from the Seabrook Island Birders in coordination with Aaron Given, Kiawah Island’s Assistant Wildlife Biologist, on March 26, 2020, discovered that the birds on the two islands could represent 10% off all living Red Knot within the subspecies Rufa.

Red Knot-North Beach – Ed Konrad

Since the Red Knots can be found all along the Kiawah Island and Seabrook Island beaches, those studying these birds wonder how many birds can be found at one time. Estimates averaged about 2,000 Red Knots in late March. There was ample concern that the numbers were not accurate due to double counting birds that moved from location to location. 

With low tide at 4:16 PM, a survey time of 1:30 PM to 2:30 PM was chosen. At that time, six Seabrook Island Birders stood at strategic locations along Seabrook Island beaches with Aaron Given covering Kiawah Island with a truck, could census the entirety of Kiawah Island within an hour’s window. The team members stationed from north to south, the Seabrook Island Birders Team include: Bob Mercer, Mark Andrews, George Haskings, Nini Wolitarsky, Joleen Ardaiolo, and Judy Morr. They each counted the number of birds seen between 1:30 and 2:30 PM.

At the designated time, the conditions for observation proved excellent—winds 15 MPH from the east and a clear sky with the sun at the observers backs. Without a doubt, luck prevailed! At the start time of the study, a huge flock of birds fed on the south point of Beachcombers Park. Aaron counted 3,200 birds. At the exact same time, a flock of 950 birds fed on the mud flat half way between Beach Access #1 and the tip of North Beach. Another smaller flock of 250 birds strolled along the beach near Access Point #3. About 15 minutes after he left to check the rest of Kiawah Island, a couple of people on bicycles deliberately drove right into the flock on Kiawah Island, scattering the birds. 

Red Knots flying at Seabrook Island – Ed Konrad

The study conducted created a snapshot of the number of Red Knot within the two communities between 1:30 and 2:00 when the birds were frightened away. The study documents 4,400 Red Knots feeding on our beaches. 

If these birds are to survive into the future, they need protected areas stretching from their southernmost wintering grounds in Tierra del Fuego on the Southern tip of South America up to the islands between Greenland, the North Pole and the northern reaches of the Hudson Bay. 

This study underscores the importance of these two islands in South Carolina for Red Knots. An effort will be made to conduct similar studies throughout the Red Knot migration period which ends by late-May, when the Red Knots have all left for the breeding grounds in the frigid north.

Remember … Give them space! Let them Rest!

Article written by: Bob Mercer
Photographs by: Ed Konrad

Red Knots and You!

Article written by: Bob Mercer
Photos & Videos by: Mark Andrews

Red Knots arrived early this year and the numbers keep rising. Beginning in February with a few hundred birds to the end of March with several thousand birds, these birds need the safety of Seabrook Island and Kiawah Island Beaches to power up for their long, non-stop journey toward their breeding grounds in the High Arctic. In order to help the birds, the Seabrook Island Birders (SIB), working closely with Audubon, SCDNR, SIPOA and the Town of Seabrook, implemented a short-lived steward program modeled after the Turtle Patrol and Dolphin Watch. Volunteers would be stationed on the beach with spotting scopes and binoculars to help beachgoers see the unique species of birds visiting our Seabrook Island beaches. 

Red Knots on North Beach using a “digiscope” (Camera phone attached to spotting scope)
(photo credit Mark Andrews)

The Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) Shorebird Steward Program hoped to educate residents and visitors about how these small creatures need to fly huge distances. The birds succeed only IF they can pack on enough fat (adding up to 40% of their body weight) eating the tiny clams found in the surf. With better beachgoer understanding, the Stewards anticipated people would be willing to share the beach by leaving the birds alone as they fed or rested. Without a doubt, watching a huge flock of birds lift off and swirl around the sky in what appears to be a choreographed dance is breathtaking. From the bird’s perspective, time flying and avoiding people requires the burning of precious calories and may be the difference between life and death. 

The anticipated spread of COVID-19 resulted in the SIB Shorebird Steward Program being cancelled for this year. The real fear of virus spread requires a safe social distance of six feet. The planning committee decided a volunteer could not share a view from a spotting scope without people getting close and touching the equipment placing the volunteer and the visitors in jeopardy. The decision was made not to conduct the Shorebird Steward Program in 2020. Despite not having a formal program of volunteers, beachgoers can and are encouraged to still be engaged and helpful.

Red Knots flying on North Beach, Seabrook Island, SC (Video Credit: Mark Andrews)

Red Knots have several relatively predictable behavioral patterns. Beach visitors who understand these behaviors derive more enjoyment from their time on the beach, but they also can use this knowledge to protect the birds.

Red Knots in South Carolina eat predominantly Donax (Coquina) clams. As one walks on the beach, these are the small white clam shells that crunch under one’s feet. At high tide, the water floods the beaches and the source of Red Knot food. The Red Knots settle down in flocks of hundreds to thousands preferring the tip of Seabrook Island’s North Beach and the southern tip of Beachwalker County Park on Kiawah Island to rest and await the receding tide. If people can stop about 100 yards back from the tip of North Beach, the birds can rest for as long as they want. A bird resting spends the time converting food into fat. A bird flushed burns up that food to fly to safety.

Red Knots feeding in water on North Beach (Video Credit: Mark Andrews)

As the tide recedes, the birds leave their resting place and look for the flat, dark brown, ripply mud right along the edge of the water where the clams live. As the tide recedes farther, the clams bury themselves deeper into the wet mud down below the bill length of the Red Knot and the Red Knots spread out along the beach looking for better foraging ground. As the tide returns, the reverse is true. The clams rise up and the Red Knots feed some more. Visitors can help the Red Knots by detouring around the birds. During this time, from falling tide through the mid-rising tide, ample areas of exposed beach should be available for both the birds and us human visitors. Give them space!

Red Knots feeding on Donax/Coquina Clams on North Beach (Video Credit: Mark Andrews)

When the high tide covers the beach, the Red Knots need a secure location to rest and bath. Let them rest!

Photos of Red Knots resting at the point of North Beach – Give them space! Let them Rest!
(photo credit Mark Andrews)

How To Make These Next Few Weeks A Little Easier, Courtesy Of Birds

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has numerous resources to entertain and educate people of all ages while we are keeping our social distance. From live cams, to games to courses. So if you run out of closets to clean and cupboards to organize, click on the links below!

Here at Bird Cams, we recognize that the world is facing uncertain and challenging times ahead as we band together to control the spread of the novel coronavirus. We hope that during this time the birds can provide some respite to those in need of a peaceful moment and an outlet to reconnect with nature. For more ways to bring birds and nature into your home, check out these ideas from All About Birds

Live Cams: Bring The Birds To You

Stream one of our Bird Cams for peace, beauty, and intimacy with wild creatures. Many of our users keep a cam streaming all day long just for the calming outdoor sounds that filter in.

Bring nesting owlshawks, and Ospreys into your home

Or watch a rotating cast of birds at our feeder cams:

Ruffed Grouse and Evening Grosbeaks in snowy Ontario

Blue Jays and Northern Cardinals at our offices in Ithaca, New York

Tanagers and tiny toucans  (called aracaris) in tropical Panama

We wish you health, happiness, and safety! 

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology