Ask SIB: Are Egrets and Herons the same thing?

Question: Are Egrets and Herons the same thing?
– SIB Member at recent SIB Bird Walk

Answer: SIB’s Bob Mercer provided this response:

The short answer—Egrets and herons are closely related. Generally, Egrets are white birds and Herons dark, but that does not really tell the true story. The scientific study of taxonomy separates all living things into smaller and smaller increments until the get down to the species level. This breakdown results from finding similarities based upon body structure and now genetics. You may remember learning in your high school biology classes that the last three taxonomic categories are Family, Genus, and Species. One might think of things in at the Family level of being comparable to cousins, the Genus would be siblings, and the species the individual.

All herons and egrets reside taxonomically within the bird family Ardeidae, which means they are closely related. This family is broken down into 18 genera. If the above statement held true – herons dark and egrets light, the white birds would be in the same genus. Oh how nice it would be if life were so simple. It does not work that way. Currently even taxonomists struggle with assigning these birds into the appropriate genus. According to Birds of the World, the current accepted breakdown has the birds within this grouping breaks out as follows. Within the genus Ardea, one finds our Great Blue Heron and Great Egret. Within the genus Egretta, we find Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, and Tricolored Heron. This certainly does not follow the white dark breakdown. Furthermore, the Green Heron, the Black-crowned Night-Heron, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, and Cattle Egret all reside in different genera.

Reference: Winkler, D. W., S. M. Billerman, and I. J. Lovette (2020). Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns (Ardeidae), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (S. M. Billerman, B. K. Keeney, P. G. Rodewald, and T. S. Schulenberg, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.

Help on Shorebird identification

Shorebirds always challenge my identification skills. I decided it was time to review various material I’ve seen. I thought maybe the list could be beneficial to others even if it wasn’t all encompassing.

I started by adding this bookmark from Audubon to my birding backpack so I have it for quick reference:

I recently received an email from Audubon with a link to this article. It has some good overview information: Shorebirds 101: What to Look for When You Hit the Water

Bob Mercer has created the Field Guide to the Shorebirds of North Beach, Seabrook Island, SC. It is designed to be printed as a booklet. Printing is to be done double sided and flipped on short side. When done that way, the birds end up next to the description.

Seabrook Island Birders has also presented several shorebird programs that have been recorded which are available for watching at any time:

Janet Thibault: Seabrook’s Amazing Shorebirds!

Bob Mercer: Shorebird Identification on Seabrook Island, South Carolina

I hope these materials are helpful to you as they have been to me.

SIB “Bird of the Week” – Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird:
Family – Trochilidae
Species – Archilochus colubris
Length: 3 – 3.75”; Wingspan: 4.25 – 4.5”; Weight: 0.1 oz

(Submitted by Ron Schlidge)

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird - Bob Hider
Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird – Bob Hider

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the only hummer known by most Easterners and has a range that covers most of eastern North America.  Both sexes have glittering green crown and upperparts, and the underparts are grayish to white.  Males have black faces and a deep red to orange-red throat or gorget.  The humming of its wings is clearly discernible from a distance.  Their wings beat up to 75 per second. 

They feed primarily on nectar but take some insects and spiders, also sap from sapsucker drill wells.  In courtship flight, males make a huge 180-degree arcs back and forth, emitting a buzzing sound at its lowest point.  Males often arrive on breeding grounds well ahead of females.  These birds are strongly attracted to the color red as are many other hummers. 

The nest of the hummingbird is very small and made from soft plant down, fireweed, milkweed thistles and leaves.  They are a solitary breeder and generally lay two white eggs the size of a pea with incubation 11 to 16 days by the female. Altricial young stay in nest 20 – 22 days and are fed by the female. They have 1-3 broods per year.

Ruby-throated Hummers feed on red columbine in spring; salvia, trumpet or coral honeysuckle, and bee balm later in the year. They also fed on jewelweed, phlox, petunias, lilies, trumpet creeper, Siberian peatree, nasturtium, cone-shaped red flowers and sugar water.

You can mix your own sugar water by using a  4:1 ratio of water to sugar (ex:  2 cups of water and 1/2 cup of sugar).  Red food dyes added to sugar water may harm birds.  Always replace the sugar water in your feeders at least once a week and maybe more in the hot days of summer.

A group of Hummingbirds has many collective nouns, including a “bought”, “glittering”, “hover”, “shimmer” and a “tune” of hummingbirds.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are common on Seabrook in the summer. They can be seen over the beach, amid the dunes, and in the myrtles along the boardwalks.  They are also around the estuaries and edges wherever they may find nectar-producing plants and small insects.  If you have a home you might try a feeder – they will come.  A very few might spend the winter.  A feeder in winter might also attract other vagrant species such as the Rufous Hummingbird or Black-chinned Hummingbird.

(See the range map following the photographs below.)

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

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 Presents: The Secret and Swampy Lives of Wood Storks

Date: Tuesday July 12, 2022
Registration starts 7:00pm. Program starts 7:30pm
Location: Live Oak Hall, Lake House, Seabrook Island, SC
Program Fee: Members $0, Guests $5.00
Attendance: Limited to 100 members

There is no longer a mask requirement at the Seabrook Island Lake House, although you are welcome to wear one if you choose. Social distancing is recommended but also is not required. SIB will provide wine or bottled water at this event but feel free to bring your own beverage or snack of choice.

If you are not a 2022 SIB Member,
you can first join/renew for $10/year

Emerging technologies are providing windows into many unknown aspects of Wood Stork behavior and population dynamics. Dr. Kristina Ramstad, Associate Professor, Dept. of Biology & Geology at the University of South Carolina, will discuss research she and her students are doing at their USC Aiken lab – drones to estimate storks’ hatching success; genomics techniques to assess migratory behavior, mating system and population structure in storks. They’re also working to determine if Wood Storks are promiscuous or nest parasites, how populations are defined spatially, and what makes storks stay put versus migrate to new nesting colony locations. Outcomes of their work will inform conservation and management of storks, particularly under current climate change scenarios.

 The program is limited to 100 SIB members. SIPOA COVID protocol will be followed.

Questions? Email us at: 

Meet the speaker: Kristina Ramstad Associate Professor, Vertebrate Biology Department of Biology & Geology University of South Carolina Aiken

Kristina is originally from Washington State and studied sockeye salmon in Alaska for both her MSc (University of Washington) and PhD (University of Montana) research. Her postdoc work took her to New Zealand, where she spent eight years studying conservation genetics of kiwi before returning to the States and taking up her current role at USCA.  Her work draws on genomic sequencing techniques and field based ecological studies to address fundamental questions in evolution, ecology and demography of at-risk species. Her current obsession is the wading birds of the steamy and mysterious swamps of the US South.

Audubon webinar: Making Beaches Safer for Birds

A thank-you to Marie Wardell for forwarding this information about a program being offered by Audubon Connecticut.

Coastal Stewardship: Making Beaches Safer for Birds
Wednesday, June 15, 2022

4:00 – 5:00 p.m. ET

Each year, large numbers and varieties of shorebirds and seabirds travel along the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts of North America. These birds spend their winters in the southern US, Caribbean, and South America, then head north in the spring to breeding grounds in the United States and Canada.

In late summer, these travelers, joined by the young of the year, begin the return trip to warmer climates. Beaches, islands, and inland lakes and rivers provide valuable winter, stopover, and breeding habitat.

More information: During this webinar, participants will learn about some of these amazing migrants, the threats that they face annually, and management activities and programs that Audubon and partners have pioneered to reduce threats.

We will finish up with actions that you can take while visiting coastal habitats this summer to help these beautiful birds reach their destinations and successfully raise their young.

Corrie Folsom-O’Keefe, Director of Conservation at Audubon Connecticut
Shelby Casas, Coastal Program Associate at Audubon New York

Ask SIB: Will fledged wrens stay around?

Question: I have wrens that have nested inside my house I’m currently building. When the baby’s learn to fly will they fly around for a while or will they just go. Also if one is left behind can I continue to feed it?

– Alivia

Answer: Great questions! As a general rule, when a baby bird fledges it moves or is moved quickly away from the area of the nest. According to Birds of the World, the average time when a Carolina Wren comes off its nest to when it leaves its natal area is 27 days. A banded Carolina Wren was found 350 meters from its nesting area at the age of 79 days. This would imply that the birds in your yard move out into the neighborhood away from your yard. It may not be far, but enough that you will lose track of them.

Several hypothesizes could explain this tendency. Since the parent makes numerous trips to the nest area, it may be exposed to predators. The baby bird’s very vocal begging for food also enhances the danger of predation. Once a baby can fly, there may be a survival advantage from leaving the area. The other possibility for this rapid movement from the nesting area may have to do with food. It takes a lot of food to feed the hungry young and the parents do not want to travel too far. Over time they may deplete the food supply in the immediate area.

For many bird species. after the baby birds become independent and definitely before the parents start to raise the next brood, the parents drive heir progeny away from the nesting area or the young instinctively leave. Once again, a location can only support so many birds, so there may not be enough food naturally to feed birds from several generation. I liken it to getting our children to leave our houses when they become adults.

There are exceptions to this trend, but not with Carolina nor House Wrens.

Hope this helps!

– Bob Mercer, SIB’s “Resident Naturalist”

Invitation to upcoming Zoom presentation on Black Skimmers

(Updated with photos)

Our friends at the Kiawah Island Shorebird Stewardship Program have invited our members to another Zoom presentation. Links for recordings of this and the previous programs in the series will be coming soon. See the information they provided below.

Photo by Pamela Cohen

Most of us on Kiawah have been lucky enough to see the flocks of gorgeous Black Skimmers on the ends of our island, or the awesome sight of these birds flying low over the ocean skimming the water with their beaks to catch fish. Here is an opportunity to learn more about these amazing birds.  See Zoom link below.

The Kiawah Island Shorebird Stewardship Program is pleased to host their final Zoom presentation of the season.

You are invited to attend on Wednesday, June 15 at 10:00 a.m.
Title of talk:  Black Skimmers:  Creatures of Edges
Presenter:  Janet Thibault, shorebird biologist with South Carolina Dept. of Natural Resources
Description:You never forget when you see a Skimmer – those candy corn-billed, jet black-backed, graceful flying birds of dusk and dawn.  Come listen as SCDNR Biologist, Janet Thibault, shares some natural history, geology and adaptation of these fascinating seabirds and learn how SCDNR is at the forefront of protection and conservation of nesting Skimmers in South Carolina.

NOTE: This presentation will be recorded, so please watch for the link to the recorded version if you cannot attend and would like to view it at a later time.
Also, please share this invitation with anyone you know who loves birds!

Photo by Pamela Cohen

Topic: Black Skimmers: Creatures of Edges
Time: June 15, 2022 10:00 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 859 8531 8250

SIB’s Article for the June The Seabrooker

In case you don’t receive it, or haven’t had a chance to read it yet, we hope you will enjoy The Seabrooker’s June 2022 SIB article. Seabrook Island Birders (SIB) contributed a full page article on Page 4! The stories this month feature:

The Science of Bird Feathers – Learn more about what makes the features most of us see when looking at birds. Also see the announcement for SIB’s July evening program.

Thanks to author Mary Wild and photographer Ed Konrad. Ed also serves as our graphic designer!

Reminder: Red Knot Zoom presentation Wednesday at 6pm

Join the Shorebird Stewards for a Zoom presentation on Red Knot Research in the Southeast – On Wednesday, June 8th at 6pm, join speaker Fletcher Smith of the Georgia Dept. of Natural Resources as he presents interesting findings from a long-term red knot project of counting, surveying, trapping, and banding knots.

Below is the information from our invitation last week.

Our friends on the Kiawah Island Shorebird Stewardship Program have shared the following invitation:

You are invited to the third of four shorebird Zoom talks being hosted by the Kiawah Island Shorebird Stewardship Program.  It will be on Wednesday, June 8th at 6:00 p.m.

This is a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the amazing lives of our beloved Red Knots.  We all know they visit our island every Spring, but this presentation will tell us about what we have learned from ongoing research on them.

The presenter for this talk will be Fletcher Smith of the Georgia Dept. of Natural Resources.

See the description of the talk below along with the Zoom link:

Topic: Red Knot Research in the Southeast

Time: Jun 8, 2022 06:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting:

Meeting ID: 885 9585 7121

Please share the invitation with anyone you know who loves birds!

NOTE:  The webinar will be recorded, so if you would like to watch it at a later time, please contact me for the recorded version.

Title:  Red Knot Research in the Southeast


Fletcher Smith is a shorebird biologist who has worked with migrating birds for over 17 years.  Red Knots have greatly declined in the last 50 years, but what is being done to understand more about why?  He will share interesting findings from a long-term Red Knot project of counting, surveying, trapping, and banding them.  He will also share what’s been learned about the Knots from this past season.  Learn how Kiawah and Seabrook are critical to the survival of this species!

Note: The link for the recording on this and the two previous programs will be shared when available.

Learning Together on the golf course-Ocean Winds

Learning Together on Golf Course-Ocean Winds

Sunday, June, 12, 2022 8:30 am – 10:30 am
Birding on Ocean Winds Golf Course
Location: Meet at Island House (Golf Course Parking Lot next to Spinnaker Beach Houses) for ride along the golf course in golf carts
Max: 24 (If all seats in golf carts are used)
Cost: Free for members; $5 donation for guests – Priority will be given to prior waitlisted & members

Ocean Winds Golf Course will be closed for aeration so The Seabrook Island Club allows Seabrook Island Birders to use golf carts to travel the course with our members to bird on this rare Sunday morning. Join us for a morning of birding by RIDING in golf carts for at least 9-holes on Ocean winds golf course. We expect to see a large variety of birds including Egrets, Herons and birds of prey. We will also see and hear some of the smaller birds like Tufted Titmice, Eastern Bluebirds, Northern Cardinals, Carolina Wrens and some of the many warbler species.

Since it is summer, we can also expect to see Eastern Kingbirds, Great-crested Flycatchers, Orchard Orioles, Summer Tanagers, Mississippi Kites and more!

As always, be sure to bring your binoculars/cameras, hats and sunscreen. Water will be provided. We ask that all participants wear a mask when unable to social distance if they are not vaccinated.

If you are not yet a 2022 SIB member, you must first become a member for only $10 by following the instructions on our website: You may bring the form and your dues to the event. Or you may pay the Guest Fee of $5.

Please REGISTER no later than Friday prior to the trip. All registrants will receive a confirmation letter on the Saturday, the day prior to the trip. If you need to cancel, please let us know so we can invite people on the waitlist to attend.

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