Clams for Dinner

Red Knot with Donax Clam on North Beach – Bob Mercer

Currently, the beaches of Seabrook Island host a large flock of Red Knot, a species of bird severely threatened. Some Red Knots make an epic journey all the way from Tierra del Fuego at the southern-most tip of South America all the way to the scattered islands north and west of Greenland, approximately 9,000 miles. To date not enough information about Red Knots exists to say for certain what is happening with the Seabrook Island birds. One tiny tidbit of information came from a Red Knot with a geolocator, a device once placed on a bird records for up to two years the bird’s location. Only after a scientist recaptures a bird can they read the information. One Red Knot with a geolocator made a non-stop flight from Seabrook Island to James Bay in northern Canada.

To make these marvelously long flights, birds need to pack on weight! They need a good food source. The birds on Seabrook Island find that in the form of a little clam. Scientist call this clam Donax variabilis. We call it coquina, wedge clams, or bean clams. Every time one walks on the beach, those small white shells that crunch underfoot indicate the presence of Donax Clams. Look carefully at these shells and you will see that those on the beach have small holes near the umbo or beak of the clam. This indicates that clam fed a snail, probably an Atlantic Oyster Drill, Urosalpinx cinerea. The clams eaten by the Red Knots go into the bird’s gullet where it is ground to a pulp so the bird’s stomach can extract the nutrients.

Donax Clams never grow very large, a huge one measures just ¾ inch. The Red Knots prefer the smaller ones and their small size makes them easy for the Red Knots to capture and swallow whole.

Donax Clam on North Beach – Bob Mercer

The presence of filter feeding Donax Clams provide an excellent indicator of clean water and clean sandy beaches. We can feel certain that the clean beaches with fresh sand and lots of clams on Seabrook Island provide the major attraction to the Red Knots. The sheer number of Red Knots seen on Seabrook Island far exceeds any other reported locations along the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean coast during the months of March and April. That changes in May when the population shifts to the Delaware Bay shores of New Jersey and Delaware where the bird’s change from feeding on clams to feeding on Horseshoe Crab eggs, a tiny packet of pure fat and protein. This tiny preferred feeding area extending essentially from Deveaux Bank through Folly Beach is a critical staging area for these birds, with Seabrook and Kiawah Islands hosting the largest concentrations.

Beach users can help these birds prepare for their journey by walking around the feeding flocks.

Article and Photos by: Bob Mercer

Red Knot with Donax Clam on North Beach – Bob Mercer

Have You Seen This Bird on Seabrook Island?

Although most people’s wings have been clipped, our feathered friends can still be seen migrating on their journey north to breeding grounds! One of these beautiful birds is rarely seen on Seabrook Island only during the spring migration – the Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Several of our SIB members have reported seeing either the male or female grosbeak.

We had both male and female Rose-breasted Grosbeak at our feeder today. They Loved the cylinder suet food.  I imagine going after the cranberries. The Red-winged Blackbirds kept chasing them away. I did get pictures of both of them. 

Patricia Schaefer

Thanks Patricia for sharing your beautiful photographs!

Have you seen a Rose-breasted Grosbeak on Seabrook Island? If you are interested to learn about other birds you might see migrating through Seabrook Island, refresh your memory by reading this blog from three years ago!

What Bird Makes this Sound?

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.

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!


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: eBird.org.  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 April and is gone by the end of September.

Chuck-will’s-widow historical frequency sightings by month for Charleston County, SC from eBird.org

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 near the tennis courts.

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

Another great website to learn more about bird migration, including a forecast each week for four geographic regions in the country, is Birdcast.info, a site created by Cornell.  Below is their forecast for the Chuck-will’s-widow for the Gulf Coast and Southeast and it looks like they are right on time!

Migrant Species

Chuck-will’s-widow

 

Begin
Arriving

3/29

Rapid Influx

4/10

Peak

4/24

Rapid
Departure

6/25

Last Departure

After Jun 30

Throughout April we will continue to share information related to bird migration including which birds are packing their bags to head north, which birds are arriving to breed and those who are just passing through and utilizing our island for rest and refueling.

In the meantime, check out this great article, Birdist Rule #70: Get Prepared for Spring Migration, by Nicholas Lund on the Audubon website.

Article submitted by:  Nancy Brown

Spring – an important time for Seabrook shorebirds!

Migrating Red Knots will be arriving. Piping Plovers will head north to breed. Least Terns, Wilson’s Plovers, and other shorebirds will mate and possibly nest on North Beach. It’s a time to enjoy their splendors, understand their challenges, and be extra careful when on the beach – give them space to rest, feed, and nest, and follow our beach rules for dogs.

1 Red Knot-North Beach
Red Knot-North Beach – Ed Konrad

Red Knots are amazing – flying 18,000 miles roundtrip from the tip of South America to the Arctic to breed. When knots arrive at Seabrook they’ve traveled 5,000 miles on this journey, sometimes flying six days straight over open ocean. They’re exhausted from using their fat reserves, and stay to feed along Seabrook, Kiawah, and Deveaux beaches to restore their strength. Adequate food and undisturbed opportunities to feed are essential for their long journey north, successful breeding, and survival. Red Knot populations have declined 70% in the last 20 years, and they’re Threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Here’s an analogy. Imagine when you’re hungry, each time you sit down at your favorite restaurant to eat, the fire alarm keeps going off. You’re disturbed time after time, never get to finish your meals, and are exhausted from running outside with the constant fire alarms. That’s what it’s like when we spook a flock of Red Knots, who need those meals and their rest to travel north to breed. Think about it next time on the beach!

6Red Knots, North Beach, April 2016
Red Knots, North Beach- Ed Konrad

Our partners at SC DNR will be continuing their Red Knot research on our large Seabrook flock, usually between 4000-8000 knots. In past years nanotags were placed on knots, transmitting the birds’ location to towers along the migration route. From this data SC DNR discovered that all the knots were not flying to Delaware Bay to feed on their way to the Arctic as had been thought. Many were stopping here, and then going directly to the Arctic. This proved Seabrook is a very critical “staging” beach.

3 Piping Plover 2K-North Beach
Piping Plover 2K, North Beach – Ed Konrad

In late April our Piping Plovers, who have wintered with us since last July, will head north to their breeding regions. We’ve been seeing 4-8 Piping Plovers each time we’re on North Beach this winter. Soon we may see over 20 at a time – as plovers from southern beaches stop at Seabrook to rest and feed as they move north. Look for the plovers feeding in the Red Zone – along the large tidal pool shore, and along the beach to the left of Boardwalk 1. They can be in the Green Zone too. In past articles we’ve shared “personal” stories about our banded Piping Plovers. We’re hoping black flag 2K, our guest the last two years from Prince Edwards Island, Canada, returns safely north, and hooks up with the same mate again to successfully breed.

Recent studies have shown negative impacts of human disturbance on Piping Plovers on their non-breeding grounds where they “winter”. Plovers were monitored to determine health and behavior. Those in disturbed areas were significantly lighter, due to not getting enough food. Given poorer body condition, it’s no surprise that birds in these disturbed areas had lower survival rates. Relate these disturbances to Piping Plover population sizes: Threatened Atlantic breeding region – less than 2000 breeding pairs. Endangered Great Lakes breeding region – less than 75 breeding pairs, where there once were 800 pairs. If every person on a beach on a given day can help shorebirds feed or rest, these many small impacts can begin to add up to help increase the population sizes.

On North Beach we have a responsibility to protect our Piping Plovers for the nine months they’re here – so they can feed and rest to be strong for the 1000-1500 mile journey to their breeding regions. At Seabrook we’re fortunate that (1) our Piping Plovers and other shorebirds have an incredible and mostly protected critical habitat, (2) the Town of Seabrook and SIPOA – with their many priorities to manage for our residents, guests, and beautiful island – feel it’s important to protect our shorebirds, (3) Seabrookers overall have an appreciation and respect for the wildlife that resides on our beautiful beach. The job isn’t done, but thanks all!

To help protect our shorebirds, Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) has initiated a Shorebird Stewards Program from March to May. We’ll focus on migrating Red Knots, wintering Piping Plovers, and nesting Least Terns and Wilson’s Plovers. SIB’s goal is for our Stewards to educate beach walkers on the challenges our shorebirds face, how important our critical habitat is, and how people should interact with shorebirds to keep them safe.

SIB’s Shorebird Stewards Program will also help Seabrook’s commitment to USFWS and SC DNR agencies that allowed the inlet relocation, in part because we agreed to protect Piping Plovers and Red Knots. Seabrook’s efforts to protect these two species has an “umbrella” effect on helping to protect other North Beach shorebirds at risk with declining populations – American Oystercatcher, Willet, Black Skimmer, Whimbrel, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling. Check the Seabrook Island Birders website about becoming a Shorebird Steward volunteer.

Last point – Seabrook Island Birders’ March 25 Evening Program will feature Benjamin Clock – field biologist, nature photographer and videographer – whose passion is documenting the wonders of wildlife & their habitats to help conserve wild places. Benjamin will speak about how his beautiful imagery can be a powerful tool to educate, inspire, and change the conservation of birds & habitat. He’ll share his worldwide adventures & stunning photos, plus highlight his work to protect Red Knots that feed and rest on SC beaches. SIB members and non-members can register at Seabrook Island Birders website. Hope to see your there!

Article by Ed and Aija Konrad, photos by Ed Konrad

(As published in the March issue of The Seabrooker)

Chuck-will’s-widow & Spring Migration

Each spring, migrants fly north, either leaving, passing through or ending their migration on Seabrook Island to breed. One of those birds who spends its spring and summer on Seabrook is the Chuck-will’s-widow.  Even if you have never seen this bird, chances are if you live or spend time in the spring here, you have heard him! Last Thursday, April 4th, was our first recorded identification of the Chuck-will’s-widow by George Haskins.  In fact, it was only a few days after his first “sighting” two years previous.  Below is a blog we have “recycled” from 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: eBird.org.  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 April and is gone by the end of September.

Chuck-will’s-widow historical frequency sightings by month for Charleston County, SC from eBird.org

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 near the tennis courts.

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

Another great website to learn more about bird migration, including a forecast each week for four geographic regions in the country, is Birdcast.info, a site created by Cornell.  Below is their forecast for the Chuck-will’s-widow for the Gulf Coast and Southeast and it looks like they are right on time!

Migrant Species

Chuck-will’s-widow

 

Begin
Arriving

3/29

Rapid Influx

4/10

Peak

 

4/24

Rapid
Departure

6/25

Last Departure

After Jun 30

Throughout April we will continue to share information related to bird migration including which birds are packing their bags to head north, which birds are arriving to breed and those who are just passing through and utilizing our island for rest and refueling.

In the meantime, check out this great article, Birdist Rule #70: Get Prepared for Spring Migration, by Nicholas Lund on the Audubon website.

Article submitted by:  Nancy Brown

The Travels of Red Knot “9CV”

What we now know about Red knot 9CV:

Felicia Sanders from South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SC-DNR) recently received updated information about Red Knot 9CV. This bird was recaptured Seabrook Island on April 29, 2017.

9CV Day Banded on Cape Romaine

Felicia is the Shorebird Lead for SC-DNR. On June 28, 2017, she presented to Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) a program of photos and narratives of the fabulous shorebirds that spend time on our beaches. That  program included a discussion on Red Knots. 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. She mentioned, 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.  Red Knot 9CV was one of those birds on Seabrook Island.

9CV Travel Map 2015-2016

Here is a map of that Red Knot’s migration. SC-DNR captured it in Cape Romain NWR at Marsh Island on Oct 16, 2015. A picture, as seen below, was taken at that time and a geolocator was placed on the bird as well as the banding tag.  9CV spent the winter at Cape Romain NWR and then left SC on May 24, 2016 and flew directly to James Bay shore (at the N 50 on the map), arriving the next day! It then continued on to above the Arctic Circle where it stayed for 44 days but did not seem to nest.  On July 16, 2016 it returned to James Bay and was spotted by Canadian researchers! Then, on July 30, it arrived in New Jersey and stayed 55 days. On September 24, 2016 it returned to South Carolina until it was captured on Seabrook, SC on April 29, 2017.  At that time, the geolocator was removed so the data could be analyzed and the bird was released. Ed Konrad was able to take pictures of the bird as it was being released. Felicia wanted to thank Ron Porter who interpreted the geolocator data.  She also wanted to thank the many others, who worked on this project!!

The above photos were taken by Ed Konrad as the bird was being released on April 29th, 2017.

Although this bird spent the winters of 2015 and 2016 in South Carolina, similar information from other Red Knots confirms some birds travel from the tip of South America to the Arctic Circle each year. Their time on Seabrook Island is a time to rest and renourish. As Felicia reminded us in June, 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!

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 is ongoing now.

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!

Article submitted by:  Judy Morr
Photos submitted by: Ed Konrad

Piping Plover Migration: From the Great Lakes to Seabrook Island

Piping Plover adult male, Sleeping Bear Dunes MI, July 17, 2017 – Ed Konrad

A few weeks ago, on July 17, Ed and I visited Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan, where the Great Lakes race of the Piping Plovers nest. We were so excited to see where these special little birds that visit us at Seabrook come from. We also had the pleasure of meeting up with Alice Van Zoeren, who has been monitoring the plovers for the University of Minnesota since 2004. We have been corresponding with Alice through the years, sending her pictures of banded Piping Plovers that we see in winter migration at Seabrook, and she reports back to us where the PIPL have been banded. This information is so important to researchers, to know where the birds are moving.

The Piping Plovers have 3 different “races”…the Great Lakes, the Northern Great Plains and the Atlantic Coast. The Great Lakes group breeds on the beaches of the Great Lakes region from May to early Aug. They lay 4 eggs in a small depression in the dry sand and these eggs are incubated for about a month. The Great Lakes population was once at nearly 800 pairs and has now declined to about 70 pairs that breed in the area. In 1986, the Piping Plovers were placed on the Federal Endangered Species list.

We met up with Alice on the plover breeding grounds on the edge of Lake Michigan. It was a beautiful day and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the US! Alice had counted over 16 plovers that day, including one very tiny young bird that we were lucky enough to see. He was probably 2 weeks old and had so much spunk! Alice said they are independent very quickly. They can run and feed themselves within hours of hatching. By 28 days they have a complete set of flight feathers and are accomplished fliers.

Most of the female adults had already begun migration when we were there, and Alice estimated that they could be in Seabrook well before us. The males will be the next and after that, the chicks. Ed photographed many of the banded birds so we would have a record of them so we can be on the lookout for them when they pass through Seabrook!

We arrived back at Seabrook this past Thursday night, and spotted 3 Piping Plovers on Friday AM, and 4 on Saturday, on our beach!!! Two were banded, one was a Great Lakes bird. We are waiting to hear from Alice in Michigan about it’s origin. 

What a thrill it was to see where it all begins!!! Keep an eye out for Piping Plovers at our beaches, beginning now!

Article by Aija Konrad
Photos by Ed Konrad

SIB “Bird of the Week” – American Robin

American Robin – Turdus migratorius
Length:  10″; Wingspan: 17″; Weight: 2.7 oz.

If you guessed the American Robin as the answer to our “Who am I” question on Friday’s blog post, you are correct!  Although generally this bird is thought to be a sign of spring in the more northern sections of North American, during the winter this migratory bird loves to hang in the warmer areas of the South gorging on our berries!

American Robin - C. Moore
American Robin – C. Moore

The Robin is among the most abundant bird species on the continent, with a population estimated at more than three hundred million. It lives in almost every habitat, from forest to tundra, from Central America to north of the Arctic Circle, from sea level to 12,000 feet.

The American Robin was mistakenly named after its smaller, orange-breasted European namesake by Early American colonists. The American Robin is not in the robin family but is actually a thrush, part of a group of songbirds that includes bluebirds, veeries, hermit and wood thrushes.  These birds often possess attractive plumage, spotted breasts (particularly in the young) and insectivorous diets. At ten inches long, the robin is the largest of the American thrushes and is often used to describe and judge sizes of other birds since it is so commonly recognized. Its orange breast sets off a black tail, a black head with white around the eyes, a yellow bill, black-and-white-streaked throat, grayish brown back and white undertail.  Male colors are bolder than those on the female and, true to form, juvenile robins have spotted breasts.  Look carefully the next time you see a robin and you will notice what a beautiful bird it is!

With autumn comes a southward migration, although some robins can be found wintering in even hostile climates, eating the berries remaining in wooded, densely vegetated areas. According to Lex Glover, a S.C. Department of Natural Resources wildlife technician, the population of robins in South Carolina swells each fall and winter, as robins move in from the northern states and Canada, sometimes on their way to Florida and the Gulf States.

“We can have pretty intense flocks of them, scattered through the coastal plain,” he says. “When we do Christmas counts, you’ll see large numbers of robins either first thing in the morning or the last thing in the evening, often going into bottomland hardwood areas where there is plenty of cover, and maybe cedars and evergreens so they have a place to roost. I have also seen them in plowed fields, with sparrows and blackbirds mixed in with them.”

Just before the New Year, one of our members, Ellen Coughlin, sent us the picture below to ask us to confirm the identification of the birds.  She said, “They were in the back yard and over the lagoon as well as fighting over the bird bath on Dec. 23.  There were easily 100-150 of them.  Flying around like they were drunk.  This is the second time this event has occurred.  The last time the birds were red winged blackbirds and it was about three years ago.  Same weird behavior, diving bombing us as we stood on the enclosed screened in porch.”  As you might remember from last weeks blog on Cedar Waxwings, some birds eat so many fermented berries they become “drunk.”  According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, ” When Robins eat honeysuckle berries exclusively, they sometimes become intoxicated.”

American Robins - Ellen Coughlin
American Robins – Ellen Coughlin

In fact, just days before Ellen’s email, a birder staying at his parent’s house on Bohicket Creek reported, “I watched flocks of robins flying from Wadmalaw Island to Johns Island at dawn, and then again from Johns Island to Wadmalaw Island at dusk. I would guess the flyway was about a half-mile wide, so I couldn’t monitor the whole thing, but multiple estimates of the number of robins passing overhead in my binocular’s field of view led me to a count of 300 per minute for 40 minutes (the flight lasted somewhat longer) for a report of 12,000 robins.  I’m confident that estimate is low, though it’s easy to over-estimate the number of birds for species that fly in loosely-organized flocks.

Keep your eyes and ears open for these common winter birds on Seabrook Island.  We are still seeing flocks of them flying overhead or eating berries atop trees and bushes throughout the island!

If you would like to learn more about this bird visit:

Article submitted by:  Nancy Brown
Photographs provided by:  Hud Coughlin, Ed Konrad, Charles Moore
Source:  South Carolina Wildlife

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.

SIB "Bird of the Week" – American Robin

American Robin – Turdus migratorius
Length:  10″; Wingspan: 17″; Weight: 2.7 oz.

If you guessed the American Robin as the answer to our “Who am I” question on Friday’s blog post, you are correct!  Although generally this bird is thought to be a sign of spring in the more northern sections of North American, during the winter this migratory bird loves to hang in the warmer areas of the South gorging on our berries!

American Robin - C. Moore
American Robin – C. Moore

The Robin is among the most abundant bird species on the continent, with a population estimated at more than three hundred million. It lives in almost every habitat, from forest to tundra, from Central America to north of the Arctic Circle, from sea level to 12,000 feet.

The American Robin was mistakenly named after its smaller, orange-breasted European namesake by Early American colonists. The American Robin is not in the robin family but is actually a thrush, part of a group of songbirds that includes bluebirds, veeries, hermit and wood thrushes.  These birds often possess attractive plumage, spotted breasts (particularly in the young) and insectivorous diets. At ten inches long, the robin is the largest of the American thrushes and is often used to describe and judge sizes of other birds since it is so commonly recognized. Its orange breast sets off a black tail, a black head with white around the eyes, a yellow bill, black-and-white-streaked throat, grayish brown back and white undertail.  Male colors are bolder than those on the female and, true to form, juvenile robins have spotted breasts.  Look carefully the next time you see a robin and you will notice what a beautiful bird it is!

With autumn comes a southward migration, although some robins can be found wintering in even hostile climates, eating the berries remaining in wooded, densely vegetated areas. According to Lex Glover, a S.C. Department of Natural Resources wildlife technician, the population of robins in South Carolina swells each fall and winter, as robins move in from the northern states and Canada, sometimes on their way to Florida and the Gulf States.

“We can have pretty intense flocks of them, scattered through the coastal plain,” he says. “When we do Christmas counts, you’ll see large numbers of robins either first thing in the morning or the last thing in the evening, often going into bottomland hardwood areas where there is plenty of cover, and maybe cedars and evergreens so they have a place to roost. I have also seen them in plowed fields, with sparrows and blackbirds mixed in with them.”

Just before the New Year, one of our members, Ellen Coughlin, sent us the picture below to ask us to confirm the identification of the birds.  She said, “They were in the back yard and over the lagoon as well as fighting over the bird bath on Dec. 23.  There were easily 100-150 of them.  Flying around like they were drunk.  This is the second time this event has occurred.  The last time the birds were red winged blackbirds and it was about three years ago.  Same weird behavior, diving bombing us as we stood on the enclosed screened in porch.”  As you might remember from last weeks blog on Cedar Waxwings, some birds eat so many fermented berries they become “drunk.”  According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, ” When Robins eat honeysuckle berries exclusively, they sometimes become intoxicated.”

American Robins - Ellen Coughlin
American Robins – Ellen Coughlin

In fact, just days before Ellen’s email, a birder staying at his parent’s house on Bohicket Creek reported, “I watched flocks of robins flying from Wadmalaw Island to Johns Island at dawn, and then again from Johns Island to Wadmalaw Island at dusk. I would guess the flyway was about a half-mile wide, so I couldn’t monitor the whole thing, but multiple estimates of the number of robins passing overhead in my binocular’s field of view led me to a count of 300 per minute for 40 minutes (the flight lasted somewhat longer) for a report of 12,000 robins.  I’m confident that estimate is low, though it’s easy to over-estimate the number of birds for species that fly in loosely-organized flocks.

Keep your eyes and ears open for these common winter birds on Seabrook Island.  We are still seeing flocks of them flying overhead or eating berries atop trees and bushes throughout the island!

If you would like to learn more about this bird visit:

Article submitted by:  Nancy Brown
Photographs provided by:  Hud Coughlin, Ed Konrad, Charles Moore
Source:  South Carolina Wildlife

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.