Ask SIB: Eastern Bluebird Winter Behavior

On January 9, 2021, Andy wrote SIB, “Today we saw maybe half dozen blue birds and one was sitting on the entry hole.  Isn’t it early for them to be nesting?  Has the warm weather put them off schedule?”

Eastern Bluebird – photo by Bob Mercer

The questions are relatively easy to answer. Yes, it is too early for them to be nesting, so they are not “off schedule” due to the weather. As usual, the questions lead to another question; what are the birds doing?

Since Eastern Bluebirds are year-round residents in our area, one can watch the full range of behaviors. During the winter months, bluebirds can gather in flocks of up to 20 birds. These flocks consist of one or more family units. In really cold weather, a flock of bluebirds may all cram into a single cavity, presumably for shared body warmth. Pair bonding for bluebirds can happen anytime between November and March.

This photo of an Eastern Bluebird entering the box and the female watching perfectly captures some of the courtship behavior–wing droop tail spread. Photo by Nancy Brown

During the courtship and nesting period, the flocking behavior disappears. Once a pair settles on a territory, they work hard to drive away all competitors including their siblings. 

It is difficult to know exactly what Andy observed, but one can make an educated guess. Since he saw a half dozen birds, he observed a winter flock. The bird sitting at the nesting hole most likely was a male bird checking out the box for its potential. 

Once a male makes a choice, he will then attempt to attract a mate or to solidify his relationship with his current mate. According to the Cornel Lab of Ornithology website Birds of the World, the male goes through a very predictable pattern of behavior. The male institutes a nesting demonstration display where he perches at a hole holding nesting material with his wings drooping and his tail spread wide. He looks around, presumably to make sure his intended is paying attention, and then look in the hole. The next step is to rock back and forth into and out of the hole before going in the cavity. Once in the cavity, he will stick his head out still holding the nesting material. Leaving the material in the cavity, he then hops out near the hole and does a wing waving display. The female entering the box cements the pair bond. 

People with bluebird boxes they can view, or who have cameras trained on a box, may be lucky enough to watch this behavioral sequence. 

Nesting on Seabrook Island usually begins around the first of March. The Seabrook Island Birders sponsor a bluebird box monitoring program. Volunteers have a route where they check a series of boxes once a week to monitor if birds use the boxes and nesting success of failure. Anyone interested in helping is encouraged to contact the Seabrook Island Birders.

Be sure to read tomorrow’s article discussing the installation and monitoring of a birdhouse with an outside WIFI camera!

Gowaty, P. A. and J. H. Plissner (2020). Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.easblu.01

Ask SIB: “Are Red Knots at North Beach?”

Fred Whittle recently sent a question to Seabrook Island Birds. He asked, “Are Red Knots at North Beach now?  Thought I saw them on Sunday afternoon.”  

Photo taken of Red Knots and other Shore & Seabirds by Mark Andrews on 12/28/21.  Notice the misty view, as there was a thick marine layer with visibility of only around 50m date day.

The quick answer is yes. Mark Andrews recently reported 300 birds at the end of North Beach. That leads people who like birds to a host of other questions. First and foremost, “Why are they here?” Instinct drives much bird behavior. The hard-wired drive to migrate makes birds leave the far north long before conditions become untenable for life. Some but not all of the eastern race of Red Knots, Calidris canutus rufa, migrate from the Central Canadian Arctic to Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America. With studies being done by scientists and observations like birders on Seabrook Island, much has been learned about Red Knot migration habits and much more still needs to be discovered. Knots spend winter in four regions:

  1. Southern coast of S. America, mainly Tierra del Fuego
  2. Northern coast of S. America, mainly Maranhão
  3. Western Gulf of Mexico, mainly the Laguna Madre
  4. Southeast U.S./Caribbean, mainly FL to NC

Evolution created these four regions as ways to protect the populations. Each location offers advantages and disadvantages—e.g. long or short distance to travel low or high parasite exposure. Unfortunately, a evolutionary new risk has arisen in these ancestral wintering grounds—humans. Development along the migratory route and probably climate change stress the migrants. 

The work being done by SCDNR, University Of South Carolina’s Senner Lab, and our local birders strive to understand if the same birds each year hang around South Carolina or are they stopping here on their way to Florida or farther south. We do know that the numbers of Red Knots slowly increase as the season passes into spring. We do know that many of our birds spend time in Florida and when they arrive here, they may stay several weeks of even months before flying on to either New Jersey’s Delaware Bay or directly to the southern tip of the Hudson Bay.

In May, birds with flags indicating that they were banded in South America show up on Seabrook Island. They join up with the birds already here before they all depart sometime before Memorial Day.

For all these birds, the arc along the South Carolina coast provides a critically important stopping area where they can pack on the fat before tackling the long flight to the Arctic and the arduous task of raising the next generation.

When you see people out on the beach taking pictures, recognize that the photographers want far more than pretty picture, they want clear images of the tiny flags on the bird’s legs. Once scientists receive these flag codes, the scientists can start to build a better understanding of the migratory patterns of the Red Knots.

When you are on the beach, remember, “Share the beach – give them space!” If you have questions or are interested to learn more about the SIB Shorebird Steward team, please send and email to: sibstewards@gmail.com or complete this form.

Volunteer to Bird Your Backyard on Monday January 3rd, 2022

Each year starting on December 14th and continuing through January 5th, people across the country are participating in the annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC).  Each count takes place on a specific day in an established 15-mile wide diameter circle, and is organized by a count compiler. Seabrook Island is part of the Sea Island SC count organized by Aaron Given, Wildlife Biologist at Kiawah Island. Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) will again support this year’s 122nd annual CBC on the designated day of Monday January 3, 2022.  

This past year, on January 3, 2021, 19 SIB members contributed to the 2020 -2021 CBC. A total of 111 different bird species accounting for more than 6,000 birds were sighted by our volunteers during more than 80 equivalent hours in backyards, on the beach, at the marsh and beyond.

This year we are looking for all available “backyard birders” to assist with the count. All birds observed within a 24hr period on that day can be counted.   If interested, sign up here, and we will send you detailed instructions on how to record your observations throughout the day  to reduce the chance of double-counting the same individuals.  Please read the instructions carefully and if you have any questions, please let us know. 

Some more uncommon species that are notable and can be found at backyard feeders include hummingbirds,  Baltimore Orioles, and Painted Buntings.  Don’t assume all hummingbirds are Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.  During the winter, it is not uncommon for western species such as Rufous Hummingbirds, Black-chinned Hummingbird, or others to make their way to the east coast.  If you have a “different” looking hummingbirds please try to get a photo of it so that it can get identified.    Even more rare could be Purple Finches, Pine Siskins, Red-breasted Nuthatches and Evening Grosbeaks

Please enjoy the photos taken by several SIB members during the day a few years ago.  If you are interested to participate in the 122nd Christmas Bird Count on Seabrook Island on Monday January 3, 2021, register today!


Photographs Submitted by:  Charles Moore, Patricia Schaefer

Request for Help!

American Oystercatchers on North Beach

HELP WANTED! With the increasing number of visitors to our beaches we need
more volunteers to help protect the Red Knots, American Oystercatchers and
Least Terns. We haven’t had a successful Least Tern nesting on our beach since
2018 and Oystercatcher U5, who is nested out there, tried three times last year
without success.

If you can spare just a couple of hours per week from now until the end of June to help keep visitors a safe distance from the nesting area, please let us know. We are looking for people to be on the beach from 10-12pm and 12-2:00pm or
maybe even bring your lunch & do a double shift from 10-2p!

This will not be the full steward expectation since the Red Knots are about to head north.We need people to monitor the Nesting Area to protect the nesting birds from disturbance. You will use our cart and wear a Steward Vest to identify your function. Just your presence will make a difference.

We will give you a quick training course on Least Terns and American Oystercatchers nesting and provide you with a reference guide. We will also get you registered on our website that allows you to self schedule and make an easy shift report on your phone. The experience will be easy, rewarding and very much appreciated!

The SIB Shorebird Steward Program Team
● Mark Andrews
● Lesley Gore
● Melanie Jerome
● Bob Mercer
Email: SIBStewards@gmail.com

Support the Avian Conservation Center

The Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) encourages our members and friends to support the Avian Conservation Center, located in Awendaw, SC.

The Avian Conservation Center is asking for your support at this most critical time.
 
We are coming to you now to ask that you please help us fund the $55,000 in the direct medical and husbandry expenses that we will incur in this second quarter now upon us. As we work to recover from the severe financial impacts of the past several months, we cannot fail to meet the current demands of the birds in critical need of care.

We have raised over $16,130 of our $55,000
Avian Medical Clinic Fundraising goal

THANK YOU to those of you who have already donated!

Your donation today can support avian patients like the Bald Eagle featured in this beautiful release video. He was recently released after 66 days of care in our Avian Medical Clinic. His treatments included; food, medication, blood work and radiographs all totaling $1,690 for his entire stay in our clinic. You can learn more about his specific case by following the link to the release video and reading the description.

Support the work of our Avian Medical Clinic By:

1) Donating directly to the Medical Clinic
Donate to Support Our Medical Clinic

2) Visiting our Amazon Wish list to purchase much needed supplies
Visit Amazon Wish list

You can continue to monitor the progress of our Virtual Avian Medical Clinic Fundraiser by visiting our website:
Visit our Website

To read about some of our Avian Medical Clinic’s successes this year and view some patient release videos, visit our social media pages:

Sincerely,

The Avian Conservation Center Staff

Avian Conservation Center
Center for Birds of Prey
PO Box 1247
Charleston, SC 29402
843.971.7474
www.thecenterforbirdsofprey.org

Replay of “Seabrook’s Amazing Shorebirds” and Volunteer to be a Steward

On Wednesday February 17, 2021, 80 members and friends of Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) were entertained by Janet Thibault, a Wildlife Biologist with SC DNR’s Seabird and Shorebird Program, as she educated us about the wonderful birds we can see right on our own beaches on Seabrook Island, SC. If you missed the program, you may view the replay below:

The shorebirds of Seabrook Island need your help! Many people do not appreciate how important our sanctuary is. The Shorebird Stewards Program asks you to be a volunteer to help educate people about the importance of our tiny piece of the world to the shorebirds that visit. This is not an enforcement effort, but an educational effort.

The 2021 Seabrook Island Birders Shorebird Steward Program Training session will be a Zoom meeting with Nolan Schillerstrom from Audubon South Carolina on Friday, February 26, at 1:00 – 3:30 pm. If you wish to join as a steward or just want more information, email us at sibstewards@gmail.com.

Volunteer to Bird Your Backyard on Monday January 4th, 2021

Each year starting on December 14th and continuing through January 5th, people across the country are participating in the annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC).  Each count takes place on a specific day in an established 15-mile wide diameter circle, and is organized by a count compiler. Seabrook Island is part of the Sea Island SC count organized by Aaron Given, Wildlife Biologist at Kiawah Island. Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) will again support this year’s 121st annual CBC on the designated day of Monday January 4, 2021.  

This past year, on January 3, 2020, 19 SIB members contributed to the 2019 -2020 CBC. A total of 98 different bird species accounting for more than 3,000 birds were sighted by our volunteers during more than 80 equivalent hours in backyards, on the beach, at the marsh and beyond.

This year we are looking for all available “backyard birders” to assist with the count. All birds observed within a 24hr period on that day can be counted.   If interested, sign up here, and we will send you detailed instructions on how to record your observations throughout the day  to reduce the chance of double-counting the same individuals.  Please read the instructions carefully and if you have any questions, please let us know. 

This winter is an irruption year for northern finches.  That means that certain species that normally are not found in the south are here this winter in search of food.  The normal food crops that they would have fed on up north did not produce well so the birds are forced to find food elsewhere.  Some example of these species include Purple Finches, Pine Siskins, and Red-breasted Nuthatches.  Evening Grosbeaks have been seen as far south as NC and northern GA.  Purple Finches and House Finches are be hard to identify as they look very similar.  Here is a couple of resources that I found that might be helpful in determining if you have House Finches, Purple Finches, or both.  If you are having trouble, try to get a photo.   

https://www.thespruce.com/house-finch-or-purple-finch-387318

https://www.sdakotabirds.com/diffids/house_purple.htm

Other more uncommon species that are notable and can be found at backyard feeders include hummingbirds,  Baltimore Orioles, and Painted Buntings.  Don’t assume all hummingbirds are Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.  During the winter, it is not uncommon for western species such as Rufous Hummingbirds, Black-chinned Hummingbird, or others to make their way to the east coast.  If you have a “different” looking hummingbirds please try to get a photo of it so that it can get identified.    

Please enjoy the photos taken by several SIB members during the day a couple years ago.  If you are interested to participate in the 121st Christmas Bird Count on Seabrook Island on Monday January 4, 2021, register today!


Photographs Submitted by:  Charles Moore, Patricia Schaefer

Register for Friday’s Shorebird Steward Training

Come to the Seabrook Island Birders Steward Program Training session on Friday February 28 at 3:00 pm at the Oyster Catcher Community Center, followed by a Happy Hour at 5:30 pm. Let us know you are interested by completing this simple form.

Why?

To help birds at risk: Seabrook Island sits at a critical junction for a number of shorebird species! During the spring, birds like Piping Plovers and Red Knots need our beaches to pack on weight in preparation for migration. Birds fitted with transmitters have proven that some Red Knots, as part of their 9.300 mile trip from South American to its breeding ground, leave Seabrook Island and fly non-stop to the Hudson Bay in northern Canada over 1,200 miles away. Other birds like Least Tern and Wilson’s Plover use the beach area for nesting and food.

To honor Seabrook’s promise to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the SC Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR).  The USFWS and SCDNR allowed our town to relocate the inlet in part because we agreed to protect the birds that needed sustenance from our beaches.

The Purpose

To educate: Many people do not appreciate how important our sanctuary is. The stewards program asks you to be a volunteer to help educate people about the importance of our tiny piece of the world to the shorebirds that visit. This is not an enforcement effort, but an educational effort. 

Your Commitment

The Seabrook Island Birders Shorebird Stewards Program asks you to volunteer for two-hour shifts, signing up for as many or as few as your schedule allows. You will use an online sign up to pick and choose the times you want to give. Ideally, at least two people will be working together for each shift. Please honor your commitment to the times you choose. Be friendly and open.  Encourage people to approach you with questions but limit your answers to the depth of their curiosity.

The Seabrook Island Birders Stewards Program’s Commitment to You

Prior to accepting a commitment of your time, we, in cooperation with Audubon South Carolina, will train you. You will learn key ways to interact with the public. We will provide educational material to enhance your understanding of the birds and you will have a professional spotting scope provided by SCDNR to show folks these miraculous birds. You can use these tools to help educate our friends and neighbors as to how to interact with the birds while on the beach. You will also be provided a station containing a chair, an umbrella, some signs for people to read, and some information to share. You will be kept informed as to what birds are currently on the Island and, if known, where they are from.

Learn more

Come to the next Seabrook Island Birders Steward Program Training session on Friday February 28 at 3:00 pm at the Oyster Catcher Community Center. If you wish to join as a steward or just want more information, click here to complete a simple form.

Red Knots in spring plumage on North Beach at Seabrook Island – Ed Konrad

Volunteer to Assist with the 120th Christmas Bird Count on Seabrook Island

(Article written for the December issue of The Seabrooker)

Each year starting on December 14th and continuing through January 5th, people across the country are participating in the annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC).  Each count takes place on a specific day in an established 15-mile wide diameter circle, and is organized by a count compiler. Seabrook Island is part of the Sea Island SC count organized by Aaron Given, Wildlife Biologist at Kiawah Island. Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) will again support this year’s 120th annual CBC on the designated day of Friday January 3, 2020.  

Count volunteers follow specified routes through their designated 15-mile diameter circle, counting every bird they see or hear all day. It’s not just a species tally—all birds are counted all day, giving an indication of the total number of birds in the circle that day. The data collected by observers over the past century allow Audubon researchers, conservation biologists, wildlife agencies and other interested individuals to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America. When combined with other surveys such as the Breeding Bird Survey, it provides a picture of how the continent’s bird populations have changed in time and space over the past hundred years.

The first CBC was held on Christmas Day 1900 and was organized by ornithologist Frank M. Chapman, an early officer in the Audubon Society.  His proposal was to create a new holiday tradition of a “Christmas Bird Census” that would count birds during the holidays rather than the traditional Christmas “Side Hunt,” where teams of hunters competed to bring home the biggest pile of feathered or furred animals.

This past year, on January 4, 2019, 30 SIB members contributed to the 2018-2019 Sea Island Christmas Bird Count (CBC).  In total we had ten homes who submitted Backyard Birding forms and we had another ten groups who submitted the forms for all across Seabrook Island, including Camp St. Christopher, the beach, golf courses, horse pastures, ponds and marshes.

Our teams identified 99 species on our island.  This was less than the previous two years (112 & 116 respectively), most likely due to the extremely foggy and rainy weather. On that day, no one on Seabrook Island even saw a Wood Stork, Turkey or Black Vulture! However, it was impressive that of 20 locations, at least 14 of these reported a unique species!  Other interesting facts are we had 3 locations with a Baltimore Oriole and 6 locations with a Ruby-throated Hummingbird – all of which were seen in backyards, demonstrating the importance of our members participating from their home locations!

Please enjoy the photos taken by several SIB members during the day, including birds at backyard feeders, birds through the fog at North Beach and some candids of our birders doing what they love!  If you are interested to participate in the 120th Christmas Bird Count on Seabrook Island on Friday January 3, 2020, please visit our website (SeabrookIslandBirders.org/bird-walks/) or send an email (SeabrookIslandBirders@gmail.com). You can volunteer to stay at your home and report the birds that visit your feeder or even join experienced birders who will travel the island throughout the day.

Finally, if you are interested to learn more about the annual Christmas Bird Count, join SIB for our final 2019 movie matinee on Monday, December 16, at 4:30 pm.  We will show two hour-long documentary style films from PBS featuring Willem Lange. The first, “Counting on Birds.” How did a Christmas-time tradition of shooting birds change to one of counting them? Willem Lange travels to Keene & Errol, NH, Ecuador and Cuba to meet people dedicated to the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count. The second, “Bird Tales.”  Why are people so devoted to birds? Join Willem Lange as he meets migratory bird enthusiasts with fascinating BIRD TALES talking about their experiences with migratory birds from New England to New Jersey to Washington, DC to central Illinois to Nicaragua. You can sign up to attend these movies at our website: https://seabrookislandbirders.org/bird-walks/

Article Submitted by:  Nancy Brown
Photographs Submitted by:  Ed Konrad, Charles Moore, Patricia Schaefer

New Volunteer Orientation – July 14, 2019

Registration is Open
for New Volunteer Staff Orientation
at the Center for Birds of Prey / Avian Conservation Center
in Awendaw, SC.

Join us on Sunday, July 14, 1-4pm, for an introduction to our Volunteer Staff program. Learn about the variety of areas where we need support and meet some of our team. You’ll be able to ask questions, get to know a few of our current Volunteer Staff, and learn about the behind-the-scenes activities that make the Center function.

We invite those who are interested in supporting the Center through volunteer service on our campus to attend this orientation. Those interested in becoming a Transport Volunteer should wait until a Transport Training Workshop is scheduled.

Please note that we will have limited seating at this session. So we can provide the personal attention and time that each volunteer candidate deserves, we will only offer 50 seats at this session, so register early!

Thank you,
Staff of the Avian Conservation Center
Register Now!
843.971.7474 
info@thecenterforbirdsofprey.org

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