Backyard Birding Q & A’s

Male Painted Bunting – C Moore

Feeding birds and attracting them to your yard inevitably leads to questions — about feeders, birdhouses, bird baths, baby birds, and more. In this free guide from Birdwatching Magazine, they answer 27 questions about birds in your backyard, including:What types of feeders are best?

  • How can I attract orioles?
  • Are decorative birdhouses as good as regular birdhouses?
  • What should I feed hummingbirds?
  • Why are birds’ eggs different colors?
  • How can I stop a woodpecker from drumming on my house?

And many more!

Backyard Birding Q & A’s from Birdwatching Magazine

What’s this about dead Great Shearwaters on our beach?

On June 27, residents of Seabrook Island began hearing about sick and dead Great Shearwaters being seen from Murrells Inlet to Miami, Florida. A first reaction was “What’s going on here?” Research showed that although the strandings are not a good thing, the knowledgeable people are not concerned as this occurs every couple years.

Great Shearwaters are a common seabird off our Atlantic Coast, seldom coming close to shore except during storms. They often forage in flocks, commonly feeding around fishing boats, fighting over scraps and offal, seemingly fearless of humans. It is a medium-sized seabird (L: 19 inches) that is smaller than most gulls. Long, narrow wings are held quite straight when flying as it flies on deep wing beats followed by long glide. It has scaled, gray-brown upperparts, white underparts, and brown markings on belly. A dark cap contrasts with its white face. Its tail is dark above with conspicuous white rump band and gray below. The bill is dark and hooked. Its legs and feet are pink.  Pictures from Audubon’s web site are shown below.

Shearwaters are among the most widespread, abundant seabirds on the world’s oceans but are rarely seen on beaches. Although Great Shearwaters are often very numerous in North American waters, they nest only on a few islands in the South Atlantic almost half way between Africa and South America. In April they leave their breeding grounds and move north rapidly, mostly along western side of Atlantic, becoming common off east coast of North America in June. They then spread eastward across North Atlantic during summer, and southward migration is on broad front during August. Non breeders remain in North Atlantic at least through November.

Seabirds, especially Great Shearwaters, are greatly affected by oceanic conditions such as fronts, currents, salinity and surface temperature that affect the distribution and abundance of plankton and phytoplankton. Juveniles especially are susceptible to these variations. Al Segars of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources indicates the stranding of Great Shearwaters on our beaches happens every couple of years at about this time. The birds appear to fall out during migration due to malnutrition and starvation. This occurs primarily during periods of onshore winds. Similarly, a 2009 article to the Carolina Bird Club says “Actually, spring migration die-offs of this species occur regularly and probably nearly annually. The magnitude of the die-offs, the degree of documentation, and the amount of media coverage are of course highly variable.”

Currently, the Center for Birds of Prey are interested in treating the sick Great Shearwaters and doing necropsy on the dead. Contact Glen Cox (703-201-8934) if you encounter a stranded Great Shearwater. The pictures below were provided by Glen. The first is of a Great Shearwater that died while being transported to the Center for Birds of Prey from Botany Bay and the second was seen at the inlet.

Article Submitted by:  Judy Morr

“You can observe a lot by just watching” – Snowy Egret and Tricolored Heron “dance” on North Beach

Article and photos by Ed Konrad

If you were a baseball fan in the 1950s and 60s, you know about Yogi Berra, 18 time All Star catcher for the NY Yankees. Along with his baseball legacy, he was famous for his Yogi-isms…countless colloquial expressions that lacked logic, but after closer examination, could be quite meaningful. “When you come to a fork in the road, take it”, “It ain’t over till it’s over”, “It’s like déjà vu all over again” to name a few.

“You can observe a lot by just watching” is a favorite Yogi-ism of mine, and can be applied to many aspects in life, including birding and photography. On a North Beach walk last week, my first pass didn’t reveal any photo opportunities. Many shorebirds and seabirds are off breeding, either having migrated north or at local places like Deveaux Bank. But in the last tide pool, an hour before low tide, I came across a Snowy Egret and Tricolored Heron doing their fascinating “dance”, one of my favorite bird behaviors to observe through the lens and photograph. I’ve included camera settings I use for bird photography later in article.

Continue reading ““You can observe a lot by just watching” – Snowy Egret and Tricolored Heron “dance” on North Beach”

Protecting Seabrook Island’s Migrating Shorebirds

Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) hosted a program featuring Felicia Sanders from South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SC-DNR) on Wednesday evening June 28, for a group of 70 SIB members and guests.

Felicia Sanders, Shorebird Lead for SCDNR, holding a Red Knot she has banded.

Felicia captivated the audience as she narrated photos of the fabulous shorebirds that spend time on our beaches either in the winter (Piping Plovers, Semi-palmated Plovers, Sanderlings), spring nesting (Wilson’s Plovers), during migration (Red Knots, Dunlin, Whimbrel), and year round (American Oystercatchers, Willets). As an example, Red Knots, a Federally Threatened shorebird species, use our beach during spring migration as a stopping point on their 18,000 mile roundtrip journey from their winter home on the southern tip of South American to the Arctic Circle where they nest. This spring, the largest known flock with 4,000 Red Knots enjoyed our beautiful and bountiful beaches to rest and feed before their 3-day direct 1,400 mile flight to James Bay in Canada.  This is pretty amazing considering there are only an estimated 25,000 Red Knots remaining on the planet! Felicia emphasized the significance of our Seabrook flock, and the partnership with Seabrook Island Birders as we assisted SC DNR in April in tagging Red Knots and placing transmitters for important tracking on their journey. 

Felicia explained how we can all help in protecting the birds and other wildlife on our island and particularly the beaches! The sign below has been donated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife and was recently installed by SIPOA at the end of Boardwalk #1 on North Beach.  Human disturbance is one of the top threats to nesting, migrating, and wintering shorebirds. Please remember:

  • Let Birds Feed & Rest: Resting and feeding are key to the survival of migratory and wintering birds on our beaches. Give them plenty of space. If birds run or fly, you are too close!
  • New signs posted on North Beach protecting nesting areas of Least Terns and Wilson’s Plovers.

    Respect Posted Areas:  Keep out of posted areas. Disturbances to nesting birds can cause nests or entire colonies to fail. Never walk into the dune areas – Wilson’s Plovers are nesting on Seabrook Island in these areas!

  • Be a Bird Friendly Dog Owner:  Keep your dog on a leash when you see flocks of birds on the beach. Never allow your dog(s) or children to chase birds as it is extremely stressful to birds. And please abide by the “no dogs allowed” past the sign on North Beach. The Piping Plover winter migration will begin soon!

Please take time to learn and help educate your family, friends, and visitors to Seabrook Island on the importance of protecting and sharing our beach with our wildlife!

Share the Beach educational poster now located at the end of Boardwalk #1 on North Beach courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife and SCDNR

Bird of the Week … Eastern Towhee

Eastern Towhee, Kennesaw GA – Ed Konrad

It is  very exciting to see and  identify a new bird. While walking along boardwalk 1 at North  Beach on Seabrook Island in May, I heard a bird singing quite loudly. It sang; drink your teeaaa, along with a long trill at the end.  I stood for a long time under the tree and finally I was rewarded with seeing a bird perched high in a tree. It had a black hood, reddish brown flanks , and white belly. It also had a white patch on its’ wing. I used a bird app and came up with a couple of possibilities. At first I  thought it might be a Orchard Oriole. Then I listened to songs on the app of the oriole and knew that was incorrect. Finally, I identified it as an Eastern Towhee by matching the description and song on the app.  The female is chocolate brown instead of black.  I later found out that it was high in the tree singing in order to attract a female.  The next week I saw it in the same area high in a tree singing. A week later I saw it again, this time on the ground under a bush. I discovered that Eastern Towhees eat insects and seeds from the ground. An interesting fact is that it scratches in leaf litter to find food while doing a type of backward hop.  Additionally, they are a sparrow. Next time you hear a bird singing , be patient and keep looking and you just might be rewarded with a look at a bird; a most wonderful sight.

Article Submitted by:  Lydia McDonald
Photographs by: Ed Konrad

Bird of the Week … Osprey

I think he’ll be to Rome
As is the osprey to the fish, who takes it
By sovereignty of nature.
Coriolanus Act 4 Scene 5

Osprey, Seabrook Island – Ed Konrad

The Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) is one of the most widely distributed birds in the world, found on all continents except Antarctica. Its breasts and belly are mostly white with some dark speckling; the female tends to have more of these darker feathers. The adult male is also slimmer and has narrower wings. White extends into the wings creating a mottled effect; the back is brownish black. The head has a distinctive white crest. Its face is bisected by a dark eye-stripe; and, check out those glowing yellow eyes checking you out. Its sharp hooked beak, while more slender than the eagle’s, gets the job done very well. When aloft the wings appear fairly white from below and are relatively long (50-71inches) with a bent wrist. Wing beats are slow and heavy, interspersed with glides giving the flight pattern an identifiable bounce.

Where the Osprey really shows its individuality are its uniquely adapted talons. The foot pad is rough and the toes can be held with three forward and one back or with two forward and two back. No other raptor has these characteristics which enable the osprey to catch and hold onto the slippery fish that are its main diet. Also aiding food sourcing are long legs, closable nostrils that keep out water during dives and dense, oily plumage to repel water.

The Osprey’s habitat is near bodies of water such as rivers, estuaries, salt marshes, and lakes where it can find fish in the 5-16 inch range. Prey is sighted about 30-130 feet above water. It hovers over its target and then plunges feet first capturing its fish. It has a good success record– usually scoring one in four attempts. The fish is held head first for the ride home (better aerodynamics!). Osprey will eat small mammals, reptiles and carcasses if no fish are available.

Osprey form pair bonds, usually mating for life. The male performs a vigorous sky dance as part of the mating ritual and then provides most of the heavy nest material—branches, twigs, sticks. The nest is lined with smaller twigs, bark, moss and grasses with the female putting in the finishing touches and rearranging things. Pairs use the same nest year after year, adding new material each year. Nests have been known to grow to seven feet wide and five feet deep and be used for as many as seventy years.

Typically, there are three eggs with both members of the clutch incubating the eggs for 38-43 days. They hatch over a period of days, establishing a pecking order that kicks in when food is scarce. The female stays with the hatchlings; the male brings home the ‘menhaden’ until the chicks can be left alone. Some studies report fledging time 44-59 days, others 8-10 weeks. In North America, great horned owls, bald eagles, and golden eagles are the only predators of osprey and their eggs where nests are built safely in tall trees or man-made platforms. Life span is typically 7-10 years, but some can survive for 20 years or more.

The formidable appearing Osprey has a high-pitched voice with a chirping song that can rise in intensity when threatened.

Osprey numbers were perilously low in the 1950-60’s due to shell-thinning and poisoning from pesticides. After DTT was banned in 1972, the population has continued to increase, especially throughout the eastern U.S. The proliferation of artificial nesting sites has also helped their comeback.

Osprey male & female, Bear Island WMA – Ed Konrad

A majority of North American Osprey winter south of the U.S border, but here in the Carolina Lowlands we often see them all year. A pair has taken up residence near the green of Hole 3 on Ocean Winds, and nesting pair on Mallard Lake and another has been nesting on the vacant corner lot at SIR and The Haulover. The latter two often bring their sushi to the pine trees in our yard. Let us know if you have seen any other Osprey nests on Seabrook Island!

Article Submitted by:  Donna Lawrence
Photographs by: Ed Konrad & Charles Moore