Sea Islands Shorebird Festival Recap

The Sea Islands Shorebird Festival was held May 11 & 12 on Kiawah and Seabrook Islands to celebrate the large number of shorebirds, including the threatened Red Knot, that use our beaches. A group of organizations interested in shorebird conservation worked to organize the festival. Representatives from Seabrook Island Birders Shorebird Steward Program, the Kiawah Conservancy, the Town of Kiawah, South Carolina Department of Natural of Resources, US Fish & Wildlife Service, SC Audubon and Manomet focused on the importance of Seabrook and Kiawah Island beaches, Captain Sams Inlet, and Deveaux Bank as critical habitat for migrating and nesting shorebirds.

Featherfest – Lesley Gore

Long-time birders and newcomers to shorebirds enjoyed activities including a Birders Breakfast hosted by SC Audubon, bird walks at Beachwalker Park, the east end of Kiawah and North Beach, and the Feather Fest, a family-friendly fair of artists, photographers, kids activities and children’s book authors.
On Thursday evening, Kiawah Conservancy hosted the “Red Knot Reception”. Benjamin Clock presented a new documentary about Red Knots and Felicia Sanders, SCDNR Coastal Bird biologist described her research on the migration and population status of Red Knots.

Birds of the Inlet – Lesley Gore

On Friday evening, Seabrook Island Birders hosted “Birds of the Inlet” to highlight the importance of Captain Sams Inlet as the centerpiece of the Kiawah- Seabrook- Deveaux complex. Janet Thibault of SCDNR focused on the dynamics of inlets and why they are so crucial to shorebirds. Melissa Chaplin of USFWS spoke about the importance of the inlet to endangered Piping Plovers who overwinter here. Manomet biologist, Abby Sterling, PhD, described how nesting American Oystercatchers, like our resident U5 and mate, depend on these resources, and PhD candidate, Maina Handmaker, presented her ground breaking research on the largest known Whimbrel roost which exists on Deveaux Bank.

Thank you to everyone who made this event a success!

Submitted by: Mark Andrews

What an Owl Knows: New Insights into the World’s Most Enigmatic Birds

Jennifer Ackerman is an award-winning science writer and speaker and the New York Times bestselling author of The Genius of Birds, The Bird Way, and the forthcoming What an Owl Knows, to be available in mid June, 2023.

Smithsonian Associates is offering an evening lecture via Zoom with Jennifer Ackerman on Monday, June 26, 2023 from 6:45 pm to 8:00 pm ET. The description of the event is below:

For millennia, owls have captivated and intrigued us. Our fascination with these mysterious birds was first documented more than 30,000 years ago in the Chauvet Cave paintings in southern France. With their forward gaze and quiet flight, owls are often a symbol of wisdom, knowledge, and foresight. But what does an owl really know? And what do we really know about owls?

Scientists have only recently begun to understand in deep detail the complex nature of these extraordinary avians. Some 260 species of owls exist today, and they reside on every continent except Antarctica, but they are far more difficult to find and study than other birds because they are cryptic, camouflaged, and mostly active in the dark of night.

Jennifer Ackerman, author of the New York Times bestseller The Genius of Birds, pulls back the curtain on the nature of the world’s most enigmatic birds as she explores the rich biology and natural history of owls and examines remarkable new scientific discoveries about their brains and behavior.

To register for this evening event (cost $20 for Smithsonian Associates members or $25 if not), click below:

Ackerman’s book What an Owl Knows: The New Science of the World’s Most Enigmatic Birds (Penguin Press) is available for purchase. To pre-order her book visit:

SIB celebrated Global Big Day

May 13 was a perfect day to go birding and be a part of Cornell’s Global Big Day. Cornell has indicated that over 150,000 checklists were submitted worldwide in eBird for that day identifying over 7,600 species. 76,482 of those checklists were in the Lower 48 of the US showing 664 species.

Osprey with lunch – Jennifer Jerome

Seabrook Island Birders participated both individually and with organized bird walks. My personal favorite checklist submitted to SIBBig eBird list was by Jennifer Jerome. She reported 16 species at her home. Most impressive was an Osprey that landed in a tree in her backyard. The Osprey was still wet from his successful hunting. He brought a good size Large Mouth Bass and enjoyed his lunch in Jennifer’s tree.

Ibis in flight – Alan Fink

Our organized bird walks on Seabrook Island resulted in 66 species reported on 5 bird walks. It would be hard to select a highlight from each walk. The family of Brown-headed Nuthatch visiting the suet feeder at the Crab Dock would be one of the highlights of the 28 species seen. Shortly after we started our walk around Palmetto Lake, a beautiful flock of White Ibis flew over with the sun glistening off their wings and bodies.

Piliated Woodpecker – Alan Fink

A total of 26 species were seen during this pleasant walk including a family of four Piliated Woodpeckers. After lunch, we reported only 18 species at Jenkins Point but they were special as we saw a nesting Glossy Ibis and then on Nancy’s Island had a glimpse of foraging Whimbrels. Unfortunately, no picture was obtained of the Glossy Ibis because we were afraid of the “little” alligators in the lagoon and the Whimbrels were obstructed by marsh grass.

Mark Andrews led us on an educating walk on North Beach where 28 species were seen. We saw more Whimbrels but it was good to see the variation of the Eastern Willet and the more common Western Willet. We also saw Dunlin, Semipalmated Plover, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers and Sanderling. But how can we not mention American Oyster Catchers, Ruddy Turnstones, courting Least Terns, Red Knots, Black-Bellied Plovers or Wilson’s Plovers. The counts may not have been huge but it was a great afternoon.

The day officially concluded with 6 ladies walking along Bobcat Trail and Six Ladies Trail. Painted Buntings were plentiful but were only one of the 19 species seen or heard. I ended the day with a sunset visit at Boardwalk 8. Laughing Gulls were swooping everywhere with a conservative estimate of 300 counted when the look towards Deveaux was included. The highlight for me was the low fly-over of a mature Bald Eagle…a good conclusion for a good day.

SIB members participated in Big Day in places other than Seabrook Island. In Pennsylvania, Bob Mercer visited 5 different locations and recorded 87 species. Now that is a BIG DAY! He saw several birds we don’t see on Seabrook Island including Mute Swans, Perigrin Falcons, and 16 different species of warblers. Most of these warblers were seen at his previous nature center where he started his day at 5:30am.

Don’t forget to share your eBird lists with SIBBig. You can still share for anytime this year….our list is getting impressive.

Submitted by: Judy Morr

SIB “Bird of the Week” – Kites: Mississippi vs Swallow-tailed

Mississippi Kite – Ictinia mississippiensis
Length: 14″ Wingspan: 31″ Weight: 10 oz

Swallow-tailed Kite – Elanoides forficatus (endangered in South Carolina)
Length: 22″ Wingspan: 51″ Weight: 12 oz

Living at a beach community, I’m sure many people are accustomed to looking at kites in the sky along the beach – you know, the kind that Ben Franklin used.  But have you ever looked up to see either of these birds?

Mississippi Kite (left) & Swallow-tailed Kite (right) - Ed Konrad
Mississippi Kite (left) & Swallow-tailed Kite (right) – Ed Konrad

Both of these birds, the Mississippi and the Swallow-tailed Kites, can be seen on Seabrook Island and both within the past two weeks!  We’ve seen a Mississippi Kite pair flying over the community garden and over the marshes.

The two species look quite different from each other and are quite unmistakable from other birds.  Swallow-tailed Kites are large but slender and buoyant raptors. They have long, narrow, pointed wings, slim bodies, and a very long, deeply forked tail. The bill is small and sharply hooked. Swallow-tailed Kites are a sharp contrast of bright-white head and underparts and gleaming black wings, back, and tail. From below, the wing linings are white and the flight feathers are black. Its most unique characteristic is the elongated, forked tail (hence its name).  This large raptor is built like a glider with huge wings and small streamlined bodies. They rarely flap their wings; instead soar effortlessly, changing course with minute adjustments of their distinctive forked tails.  The species is now listed as endangered in South Carolina.

Mississippi Kites are a slender and much smaller raptor with long, pointed wings. The tail is fairly long and square-tipped. The strongly hooked bill is small and delicate.  They are an inky mix of gray and black, lightening to pale gray-white on the head and in the secondaries of the wings. The wingtips and tail are black. Juveniles are streaky, with brownish chests and underwings, and banded tails. Though known for their graceful, acrobatic flight, Mississippi Kites also spend time foraging on the ground and in shallow water.

Both species of kite feed on the wing, snatching dragonflies and other insects out of the sky and eating them while still in flight. They may also feed on small amphibians such as frogs, large insects, crickets, small birds and small mammals including bats. Swallow-tailed kites inhabit mostly woodland & forested wetlands near nesting locations. Nests are built in trees, usually near water. Both male and female participate in building the nest. Sometimes a high-pitched chirp is emitted, though the birds mostly remain silent.  Mississippi Kites breed in scattered areas of the southern and central United States, using very different habitats depending on the region. East of the Mississippi River, they nest in mature, diverse, low-lying forest—especially tracts that are large and unbroken but have nearby open habitat, such as pasture, cropland, waterways, country roads, or small lakes. They nest in almost any tree species, as low as a few feet off the ground to more than 115 feet high.

Both kites are creatures of the air, spending most of their day aloft and rarely flapping their wings. They tend to circle fairly low over trees as they hunt for small animals in the branches. At times they soar very high in the sky, almost at the limits of vision.

Swallow-tailed Kites once nested in 21 States. By 1940 after a sudden decline the Kite’s range shrunk to 7 States, from South Carolina to Texas. The species nesting habits have made the swallow-tailed Kite difficult to study. Researchers must come to them and climb high in Loblolly pine to observe nests. Nesting adults and their young are subject to predation by Great Horned Owls. They migrate North in the Spring across the Gulf of Mexico and can be swept off course by storms. During migration they may form large flocks.  Read this fabulous article featured in the April/May 2016 issue of Nature Conservancy.

If you see kites – researchers want to know about it. You should always document your bird sightings in eBird.  In addition, The Center for Birds of Prey, located in Awendaw, SC manages & tracks log sightings of the Swallow-tailed Kite. Visit for more info. The website guides you through a series of questions about the location, number and activities of the bird or birds sighted.

A group of kites has many collective nouns, including a “brood,” “kettle,” “roost,” “stooping,” and a “string” of kites.

Look for both species of Kites in South Carolina during the spring and summer breeding months over swamps, marshes and large rivers. Besides Seabrook Island, Caw Caw Interpretive Center is a great location to view kites.  They nest high in the loblolly pines.

(See the range map following the photographs below.)

If you would like to learn more about these birds visit:

Notes from photographer Ed Konrad:  “These photos were taken at Skeen’s Farm, Glenville GA, which is an incredible place to see the Kites up close and in action. A very memorable photographic day. We see Kites at Caw Caw, and on the way to Seabrook in Allendale SC and at a cattle farm outside of Augusta. But not up close as at this farm.”

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.

Submitted by Nancy Brown with information from Janice Watson-Shada.
Photographs compliments of Ed Konrad

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.

Bird of the Week: Chucks-will’s-widow

Each spring, Seabrook Island Birders receive many requests for us to identify the bird that makes this sound. Even if you have never seen this bird, chances are if you live or spend time in the spring on Seabrook Island, you have heard him after dusk and before sunrise! The bird we are hearing is the Chuck-will’s-widow, a “cousin” to another in the Nightjar family, the Eastern Whip-poor-will who makes this sound.

Local Seabrook Island residents began hearing this spring migrant at the end of March!  Where are you hearing this bird?

We’ve published a number of articles regarding this curious bird. Back in 2020, one of our members found a nest and saw the young on their property. Learn more by reading these articles:

And in the spring of 2021, we published this story about another Chuck-will’s-widow nesting site, including a video:

Below is a blog we have “recycled” from April 2, 2017, so you can learn more about the Chuck-will’s-widow and the migration of these fascinating birds.

And remember, just email us or “Ask SIB” if you have questions about birds you are hearing or seeing!

Originally Published April 2, 2017

On Friday, we asked if you could identify a bird by its song.  It was first reported on Seabrook Island early last Thursday morning by George Haskins.  The answer:  the Chuck-will’s-widow.  This bird winters as far south as Colombia, Venezuela and the Caribbean and breeds in pine, oak-hickory, and other forests of the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic states. They tend to live in more open areas than the similar Whip-poor-will, which are not common here on Seabrook Island.

Chuck-will’s-widow – Flo Foley

Scientist continue to learn much about the migration of birds, especially with the advancement of technology such as using radar, acoustic, electronic and optical technologies. Spring migration starts as early as January and continues into June.  Birds generally take off shortly after sunset, some flying all night and landing just before dawn the next morning.  Others will fly nonstop for 60-100 hours as they flyover oceans and continents. Some nights there could be hundreds of millions of birds flying over North America.

Citizen Scientists like all of us are a great resource for migration information as we document bird sightings using the Audubon/Cornell Lab of Ornithology website:  This data is also available for anyone to view.  This link will open the eBird page to view the historical bird observations for all species by month for Charleston county.  For example, the Chuck-will’s-widow is shown below to arrive in March and is gone by the end of November.

You can also drill down to view a map of locations where a bird has been documented, like the Chuck-will’s-widow map below.  Notice the red bubble was a sighting of a Chuck-will’s-widow documented by Aija Konrad on 3/31/17 near the tennis courts.

Chuck-will’s-widow map of sightings on Seabrook & Kiawah Island, SC from

Six years later, you can see how many more Chuck-will’s-widow sightings have been documented on Seabrook and Kiawah Islands!

Another great website to learn more about bird migration, including a forecast each week for four geographic regions in the country, is, a site created by Cornell.  

Article submitted by:  Nancy Brown

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

Watch “Bird of Prey” on YouTube

This past week, SIB featured “Bird of Prey,” the multi award-winning feature-length (1 hr 30 minutes) documentary from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, as our May Movie Matinee. If you haven’t seen it, we encourage you to take time to watch this incredible story on YouTube (link below). You won’t be disappointed! The film includes footage taken in the late 70’s & early 80’s and then an update with the same scientists and videographers.

Bird of Prey (2018) - Awards - IMDb

The film weaves a remarkable story of the world’s rarest eagle species and the heroic individuals working tirelessly to save it. Since its release in 2018, Bird of Prey, has screened to countless audiences around the world and throughout the Philippines where the film has become an invaluable tool for raising awareness and support for conservation of the critically endangered Philippine Eagle. To learn more about Philippine Eagles and how you can help support their conservation visit: https://www.philippineeaglefoundation… The Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF) is a private non-profit organization dedicated to conserving the critically endangered Philippine Eagle, preserving its rainforest habitat, and working with the communities that share its home. In addition to scientific research, public education, and culture-based conservation, they operate the only breeding and rehabilitation facility for the species in the world — the Philippine Eagle Center (PEC) in Davao City.

Ask SIB: What’s going on with Avian Flu?

Question: One of the explanations for the high price of eggs is Avian Flu in poultry. Does this effect wild life as well? – Anonymous

Answer: Many articles continue to be written about Avian Flu. The strain of avian influenza currently causing outbreaks is highly contagious and easily transmitted, so it is often referred to as highly pathogenic avian influenza or HPAI. Just this week, BirdNote updated their article Understanding the Current Avian Influenza Outbreaks. It states “The outbreak is continuing into spring, and the number of birds that have died from avian influenza is now a record.” In their responses to commonly asked questions (read the article for complete coverage):

  • Most of the 50+ million birds that have died are domestic birds, however, wild birds have had a key role in spreading the disease to new areas.
  • Seabirds that breed in colonies have lost large numbers of birds to HPAI in both North America and Europe. With nests bunched close together and birds frequently moving between colonies, the spread of disease is particularly rapid for colonial nesters such as terns.
  • Transmission of avian influenza to humans is rare.
  • If HPAI is reported near you, taking down birdfeeders and birdbaths can reduce the risk of transmission among your local birds. Even if HPAI is not reported near you, regularly cleaning bird feeders helps keep birds safe from several illnesses, including salmonella and conjunctivitis.

CDC provides weekly updates on Avian Flu. Their site states “Wild birds that carry bird flu viruses include waterbirds, like ducks, geese and swans, and shorebirds, like storks. Bird flu viruses can easily spread from wild birds to poultry, like chickens and turkeys. Some wild birds can carry bird flu viruses without appearing sick, but poultry, like chickens and turkeys, can get very sick and die from some bird flu viruses. If you raise backyard poultry or ducks, your birds can get bird flu if they have contact with infected wild birds or share food, sources of water, and environments with them. Most common songbirds or other birds found in the yard, like cardinals, robins, sparrows, blue jays, crows, or pigeons, do not usually carry bird flu viruses that are dangerous to poultry or people.”

The CDC site shows the only outbreak in South Carolina was one WOAH non-poultry flock (World Organization of Animal Health) of 170 birds in Beaufort County. Other sites however state it likely statewide with confirmed cases in Aiken, Beaufort, Charleston, Colleton, Fairfield, Lexington, Richland, and Spartanburg Counties. I suspect the discrepancy is due to the reporting period.

In June 2022, the USDA published a pamphlet “Found a Dead Bird? Here’s what to do next“. It states “If you find dead wild birds on your property, contact your State wildlife agency or State health department so they can collect and test them for HPAI.“. Given that guidance, I reached out to Felica Sanders of SCDNR and her guidance was similar to what we’ve told people in the past…if you find more than 10 dead birds for a species, contact SCDNR but otherwise dispose of the carcass or let nature do it’s thing. Of course, anytime you handle a dead animal, care should be taken to use disposable gloves or some other means to protect yourself from possible infection.

In summary, Avian Flu is in wild birds but we shouldn’t be overly concerned unless we see a large number of dead birds.

Where Do Birds Sleep at Night?

Did you ever wonder where the birds go at night? Do you know the difference between diurnal and nocturnal? When do birds sleep? Why do birds sing early in the morning?

For answers to these and other interesting facts, click on the article below by Jaydee Williams as published on AZ Animals. We think you might learn some fun facts you can share with family and friends!

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