1. BARRED OWL
- Named for the bars or bands of brown stripes on their chest
- The only owl to nest in area swamps, but also common around Summerville
- Probably one of the most daytime active of the owl species
- Standard call is series of hoots having a cadence of “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” They can make a variety of individual hoots and mated pairs can let loose with a caterwauling that sounds like a cross between a monkey howl and a cat crying.
- Possess spectacular night vision with binocular vision like ours
- Also possess spectacular hearing with asymmetrical ear openings that allow them to pinpoint the exact location of sound sources even in complete darkness
- Silent flight accomplished by frayed front edge of primary wing feather and wing feathers with a velvety sound-muffling surface
- Have needle sharp talons that can make quick work of the small mammals, other birds, lizards, fish and crayfish that are their favorite foods
- Nationally, their population numbers are strong and stable
2. ROCK PIGEON
- Can find their way home even if released from a distant location BLINFOLDED! Navigate by sensing the earth’s magnetic fields and perhaps by using sound and smell and sun position.
- Egyptian hieroglyphics suggest they were domesticated more than 5000 years ago. Have such a long history with humans that is impossible to tell where there original range was.
- Come in many different shades and plumage patterns, some of which have been named, so keep any eye out for Bluebars (bluish-gray bird with two black bands on wing and a black tail tip), Red Bars (similar to Bluebar but with rusty red color), Checkers (have spots on their wings), Spreads (all black or all gray) or Pieds (birds of any color with splotches with white).
- Were used to carry messages for the US Army Signal Corps during both World War I and II, saving lives and providing vital strategic information.
- Common sight in cities around the world, they can crowd streets and public squares living on discarded food and offerings of seed. Eat mostly seeds and fruits in the wild, but God only knows what they eat in city parks. Everything from bread crumbs and food scraps to candy, gum and popcorn!
- Were introduced to North America from Europe in the early 1600’s. Now common throughout the Continental US, as well as all of Central and South America. Although still abundant worldwide, their North American population has dropped 45% since the mid 1960’s.
- Take turns with incubating eggs, male in the morning, female in the afternoon. Not winners of any Good Housekeeping awards, they repeatedly reuse the same nest and do not remove the feces of the young as do most other species. Over time the nest can become a pretty sturdy mound of concreted droppings, old egg shells, and even mummified remains of dead baby birds.
- Song a series of tremulous and soft “coos.”
3. EASTERN BLUEBIRD
- Eat mostly insects caught on the ground such as caterpillars, beetles, crickets, grasshoppers and spiders, in addition to wild fruit and berries like mistletoe, sumac, blueberries, black cherry, wild holy, dogwood, hackberries, and bay. Attract them to your yard by placing a nest box and planting your yard with native berry/fruit species.
- Male attracts female by displaying at his nest cavity by bringing nest material to the hole and then going in and out while waving his wings. Once he attracts a female, he contributes nothing to the nest building process!
- Their populations crashed in the early 1900’s with the introduction of aggressive introduced cavity-nesting species such as the European Starling and House Sparrows. In the 1960’s – 1970’s the establishment of bluebird box nesting programs has allowed their numbers to rebound dramatically and their numbers continue to recover.
- Are prevalent in a number of Native American mythologies either as a symbol of spring, as being associated with the wind and able to control the weather, or as representing the sun.
- Call is a soft low-pitched “tu a wee.”
4. NORTHERN CARDINAL
- Named after the Cardinals in the Catholic church known for wearing bright red robes and head coverings
- Common feeder bird favoring seeds, berries and fruits but will supplement diet with insects.
- Both males and females will commonly attack (often relentlessly) their reflection in windows, thinking they are driving off a competing interloper
- State bird of 7 eastern states
- Like to nest in bushes and dense foliage
- Call is a wet sounding assemblage of phrases. “cheeeer-a-dote, cheeeer-a-dote-dote-dote… purdy, purdy, purdy… whoit, whoit, whoit, whoit… what-cheer, what-cheer… wheet, wheet, wheet, wheet… cheer, cheer, cheer… what, what, what.”
- Nationally, their population numbers are strong and stable
- Attract them to your yard by stocking a platform bird feeder with black oil sunflower seeds and planting native species like dogwoods, mulberry, hackberry, sumac, tulip poplar, black and blue berries
5. AMERICAN REDSTART
- Considered a warbler, this strikingly colored and lively bird hops along tree branches in search of insects. Both sexes use a technique of flashing the bright color patches of their wings and tail as a way of startling its insect prey up out of the foliage.
- Male Redstarts will show the female several potential nesting site that she will “test drive” before selecting a site to actually build in. Males will sometimes have two mates at the same time, holding two separate territories. The creep of a male begins attracting the second female once his original mate has begun incubating the eggs!
- Considered a Neo-Tropical Migrant, spending their summers nesting in North America and overwintering in Central and South America. Population has shown a small decline over the last 50 years, due in the most part to habitat changes both here and in their wintering grounds in Central America. Are a species likely to suffer from shrinking habitat and shifting insect availability as a result of climate change
- Song is a series of 2-11 thin, high pitched notes that tend to build up and abruptly end causing some to describe it as “sneeze-like.”
- Feed mostly on flying insects that can be startled up such as leafhoppers, flies, moths and their larvae, wasps, and beetles. In summer, may also eat small berries and fruits such as serviceberry and magnolia. Increase the likelihood of them visiting your yard by planting native seed and fruit-bearing trees and shrubs.
6. RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD
- Eastern North America’s sole breeding Hummingbird, the Ruby-throat can beat its wings 53 times per SECOND!!! Legs are so short, they cannot walk or hop, but must just shuffle along a perch. In a taxonomic order called Apodiformes, which means “without feet,” which is definitely how they look. Most overwinter in Central America, making the “jump” across the Gulf of Mexico in one non-stop flight.
- Don’t stay paired together for long. After an elaborate flying courtship display and the subsequent mating is over, the males are soon off on their own. Please draw no parallels between humans and hummingbirds! That is unfair to the hummingbirds.
- Feed on nectar of red or orange tubular flowers such as trumpet creeper, cardinal flower, honeysuckle, jewelweed, red buckeye, and red morning glory, as well as hummingbird feeders. Will also catch insects (mosquitoes, gnats, fruit flies, and small bees) in midair or pull them out of spider webs. Attract them to your yard by planting tubular native flowering plants and bushes, or by setting up hummingbird feeders out of harms’ way from cats.
- Song is a constant series of monotonous chips made at daybreak. Call is an even “chee-dit” exchanged between individuals or during chases.
- One of the few species of bird that can hover, fly backwards, and sideways, their population numbers have increased steadily over the last 50 years due in much part to the popularity of providing feeders.
7. PAINTED BUNTING
- Named Nonpareil in French, which means “without equal,” is a reference to its dazzling plumage. Looking like it just flew out of a child’s coloring book, this blue, green, red and yellow bird was trapped extensively in the 1800’s and shipped to Europe as caged birds. Although illegal, they are still trapped and sold in large numbers in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.
- Eat mainly seeds that are foraged on the ground for most of the year and mainly insects like grasshoppers, weevils, beetles, caterpillars, spiders, snails, wasps and flies during the breeding season. Attract them to your feeders in the summer by keeping low, dense vegetation present in your yard.
- Vigorously defend territories of about 3 acres, frequently ending in aerial fights including pecking, grappling and striking each other with their wings. Fights can end with lost feathers, wounds, eye damage and even death. Courtship on the other hand involves the male going to great lengths to ingratiate himself to the female. Among other displays, he spreads his feathers like a miniature male turkey, while the female feigns disinterest by pecking at the ground.
- Song is a series of short, musical phrases of thin, sweet, high-pitched notes lasting about 2 seconds. Neighboring males may sing back and forth at each other, a territorial behavior called countersinging.
- Populations declined by 62% from the 1960’s to the 1990’s, but declines seem to have stabilized or at least slowed in the last 25 years. They are on the “Near Threatened Red List” with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Habitat loss and degradation from the destruction of swampy thickets and woodland edges for urban development, as well as the illegal pet trade has contributed to this decline.
- Can sing almost endlessly all day long and even at night. Will mimic the calls of other birds and repeat them in a hodgepodge of singing that may sound like there are 10 birds singing outside your house. A male may learn as many as 200 songs of other birds throughout his life. Tends to repeat calls anywhere from 2-6 times.
- In the 19th century, so many people kept them as caged pets that they nearly vanished from parts of the East. In the early 1800’s, an extraordinary singer could fetch as much as $50, a fortune at the time.
- Will flagrantly harass other birds that intrude on their territories, flying slowly around them or prancing toward them, legs extended, and flaunting their bright white wing patches. When running in the open it may stop every few feet and flash the white patches on its wings.
- Eat mainly insects in summer and switch to mostly fruit in the fall and winter. Are common to backyards but don’t often visit feeders. Attract them to your yard by keeping an open lawn, but providing fruiting trees and bushes like mulberry, hawthorn, or blackberry.
- Population numbers have declined nearly 33% over the last 50 years, but remain common and widespread… for now. Is a perfect example of a bird that was once very common but is now in decline. Keeping common birds common is a goal of the BIRDS project, so please do what you can to help them out!
9. TUFTED TITMOUSE
- Look like a miniature gray Cardinal
- Common on feeders, they are fond of the larger seeds and nuts, but will also eat insects in the summer months. Have a habit of hoarding food in the winter time, storing the food for later use.
- They are cavity nesters relying on abandoned woodpecker holes, nest boxes, or natural cavities as they cannot excavate the holes themselves.
- Like to line their nests with softer materials like hair and have been known to pluck hair from living animals like raccoons, opossums, squirrels, rabbits, horses, cats, dogs and even humans!
- Noisy birds, prone to constant chips and chatter, they are also nosey birds, often joining in with groups of other birds to scold or mob a predator.
- Easy to call in by making “pish, pish, pish” sounds
- Their call is a clear and repetitive “Peter, Peter, Peter” sometimes sounding more like “Peer, peer, peer.”
- An eastern U.S. bird, their numbers are strong and stable.
- Can help them by installing a nest box and a birdfeeder stocked with sunflower seeds, peanuts, and suet
10. CAROLINA CHICKADEE
- Named by John James Audubon, the Carolina Chickadee is a curious and intelligent little bird that looks much like the Black-capped Chickadee from farther north. In areas where their ranges overlap, they can hybridize producing young with a combination of both markings and an intermediate call.
- Will stay mated for several years, with different regional populations exhibiting varying degrees of mating fidelity. If a nest attempt fails, a female may seek out a new male on a different territory. Will nest in natural cavities, or abandoned woodpecker holes, or man-made boxes placed in your yard.
- Winter diet consists mostly of plant materials, like seeds and small nuts, but in the rest of the year they eat primarily small insects and spiders gleaned from tree foliage and bark. Will visit backyard feeders for sunflower seeds, peanut chips or suet.
- Their song is a four note whistle, singing “fee bee fee bay” with the first and third note higher in pitch. Their call is a rapid “chickadee-dee-dee.”
- Tend to join mixed flocks with other species during the winter, such as Tufted Titmice, Black-capped Chickadees, Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets, Nuthatches, Brown Creepers, Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers.
- Population numbers are common to abundant and have been stable for the last 50 years. The ability to live in deciduous and mixed deciduous-coniferous woodlands, swamps, river corridors, open woods, as well as suburban and urban areas has led to their success.
11. COMMON GRACKLE
- The name comes from its latin genus name of Graculus
- Taller and longer than typical blackbirds with a more tapered bill and possessing beautiful glossy iridescent bodies displaying purples, greens and blues when the sun hits them just right.
- Will eat almost anything including insects, minnows, frogs, eggs, berries, seeds, grain and even small birds and mice. Will also steal food from other birds or rush forward and grab the bread crust that drops from your table at picnic grounds!
- Make a variety of squeaks, whistles, and croaks. Typical song, made by both males and females, is a guttural “readle-eak” accompanied by high-pitched, clear whistles. It is often described as sounding like a rusty gate.
- Tend to congregate in large groups, popularly referred to as a “plague” or “annoyance” due in the most part to their propensity for raiding grain crops.
- Are known to engage in what is referred to as “anting”, rubbing ants on their feathers, perhaps to apply the formic acid that is secreted by the ants as a way of ridding themselves of parasites.
- Their overall numbers are large, however they are considered a “Common Bird In Sharp Decline” as their population has shrunk by over 50% in the last 50 years.
- Spreading seed on the ground beneath a feeder can attract them as they are ground foragers. This will also keep them off your feeder and away from smaller and less aggressive birds.
12. CAROLINA WREN
- The State Bird of South Carolina, this tiny cinnamon-colored bird with the up cocked tail can really belt out its song. Delivering a lot of decibels for its size, the song is a bright and clear “teakettle-teakettle-teakettle” or the even faster delivered “germanygermanygermany.”
- Is sensitive to cold weather, with populations at the northern edge of their range decreasing markedly after a harsh winter. With climate change, their range has been expanding further northward over the last decades.
- Mate for life and nest in a wide variety of locations. Prefer to locate nest in open cavities of trees or stumps, but near homes they will nest in hanging plants, discarded flower pots, mailboxes, propane tank covers, boxes, etc. Males will often build several nests before the couple finally decides on just the “right” one.
- Diet consists mostly of insects and spiders such as caterpillars, moths, stick bugs, leafhoppers, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, cockroaches. May consume a small amount of plant matter, such as fruit pulp or seeds from bayberry, sweetgum or poison ivy.
- Attract them to your yard by leaving possible nest sites up off the ground (like a bucket or wooden box on its side), planting native vegetation that can support local insect populations, allowing some of your yard to get a little “brushier” and a suet feeder in the winter.
- Are common across their range and their population is growing with the Northward expansion of their range.
13. MOURNING DOVE
- Named for their sad-sounding, mournful call of “ohAAH-cooo-coo-coo”
- Common at backyard feeders and like to perch on power lines
- Their species name, macroura, means “long-tailed” and refers to their long, skinny tail that can be up to a third of their length
- Make a whistling sound when flying that is not a vocalization but rather made by their rapidly beating feathers
- Feed their babies something called “pigeon milk” which is a fatty secretion from the lining of their crop
- It was a dove that Noah released during the flood that eventually came back with an olive branch letting him know that the waters were receding. It was a dove that descended upon Jesus during his baptism. The constellation Pleides means “flock of doves” in Greek. Many cultures see doves as signs of peace, but in Japan they are considered messengers of war!
- Best attracted to your yard with a platform feeder.
- Nationally, their population numbers are strong and stable.
14. CANADA GOOSE
- A flock of them is referred to as Canada Geese, NOT Canadian Geese!
- Changes in weather, hunting pressures, and land uses have resulted in many migratory populations not travelling as far south as in the past. Also, the proliferation of lawns, golf courses, and parks has provided such reliable habitat, that many populations have stopped migrating.
- Mate for life and in a pattern referred to as “assortative mating” they select mates according to relative size. Big male looks for a big female and vice versa.
- Prefer to nest on the ground near water. Will aggressively defend the nest and the goslings once hatched.
- Feed on grasses and sedges in the spring/summer and berries and seeds in the fall/winter.
- Call can be various loud “honks, barks and cackles” as well as loud “hisses.”
- Nationally, their numbers are strong and growing, even becoming “pests” in areas where they have stopped migrating.
15. WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH
- Adapted to suburban life, non-migratory year-round residents and common to Summerville
- Tiny with short necks and tails, and an interesting habit of walking sideways and upside down on tree trunks and limbs.
- Name comes from habit of jamming large nuts and acorns into the bark of trees and whacking them with their sharp bills to “hatch” out the seed from inside
- Poke around in tree bark looking for small insects and stored seeds and nuts
- Males mating call is a very nasally “qui-qui-qui-qui-qui-qui.” Try pinching your nose and saying it and you will have a good approximation
- Mate for life and nest in cavities with a habit of smearing the guts of stink bugs around the opening to dissuade squirrels from stealing eggs or the whole hole
- You can attract Nuthatches with a small-holed nesting box and a bird feeder stocked with sunflower seeds and peanuts.
- Nationally, their population numbers are strong and stable
16. RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER
- Feed mostly on insects pecked and extracted from dead wood, but will also eat nuts, pine cones, seeds, and fruits. Are known to stick acorns into the bark of trees and then pounding them open with their beak. Will feed at feeders and push most other birds off.
- Named for the very faint “pink” cast to the belly. The name Red-headed Woodpecker belongs to a different species with a solid red head. Male Red-bellied woodpeckers possess more of a red “cap” and females have red at the nape of the neck.
- Most common call is a shrill, rolling “kwirr”or “churr” given by both sexes. You might also hear a gruff, coughing “cha cha cha” sounding through the woods, usually a contact call between mates, or a throaty growl exchanged when birds are close together.
- Using their stiff tail feathers as a kind of spring board, they will rapidly pound their beaks into dead wood excavating impressive cavities in both their search for insects or in construction of nesting cavities. Can stick their tongues out nearly 2” past the end of their beak. The tongue tip is barbed and their saliva is sticky, making it easier to snatch bugs from deep crevices.
- Their population numbers are solid and have increased over the last 50 years.
17. FISH CROW
- Named for their propensity for being around water whether coastal or inland rivers
- Looks almost identical to the more common American Crow, but they can be distinguished by their two syllable, nasally “nyuh unh” call
- Will eat almost anything including carrion, trash, nestlings and eggs of other birds, berries, fruit, grains, anything they can steal from other birds, crabs and other crustaceans
- Extremely intelligent birds, crows have exhibited the ability to figure out food prize multiple step puzzles that include the use of “tools” in order to solve
- Known to cache food supplies when food is abundant, saving it for later consumption
- A bird of the southeast and Atlantic coast, their numbers are strong and stable
- A flock of crows is referred to as a “murder.”
- Crows have played a role in the mythology of countless cultures over time. Everything from harbingers of rain to tricksters to bringers of death.
- Their population numbers are strong and stable.
18. CHIPPING SPARROW
- Named for their call. Male Chipping Sparrows sing a long, dry trill of evenly spaced, almost mechanical-sounding chips. Song lasts about 3.5 seconds and can be made up of 50 or more identical “chips.”
- Can be distinguished from other sparrows by their reddish colored cap, but can also be lumped with all of the rest of the Sparrow family as LBJ’s (Little Brown Jobs).
- Ground foragers, they feed mostly on seeds of a variety of grasses and herbs. Will hunt for protein rich insects during breeding season. Can be attracted to backyard feeders by using black oil sunflower seeds as well as seed mixes scattered on the ground.
- Males will guard the female while she builds the nest but will not help build it. They prefer to nest in bushes and prefer evergreens. Females can be fickle about nest placement, often starting a nest in one place, and abandoning it to start elsewhere. This probably explains the male’s refusal to assist!
- Their population numbers have been stable over the last 50 years. They are common throughout most of North America.
19. PILEATED WOODPECKER
- The term “pileated” means capped. Pileated Woodpeckers have a bright red crest on their head.
- Are quite vocal, typically making a high, clear series of piping calls that lasts several seconds – “hahahahahahahahahaha.” Also give shorter calls that sound like “wuk, wuk” or “cuk, cuk” to indicate a territory boundary or to give an alarm.
- Woody the Woodpecker is a Pileated. The second half of Woody’s call is modeled after the laughing call of the Pileated.
- The largest of the North American woodpeckers, they excavate large rectangular holes in dead trees in search of their favorite food, carpenter ants. Also eat other wood boring beetle larvae, termites, miscellaneous bugs, as well as wild fruits, berries and nuts.
- Can be attracted to backyards with suet and by leaving a dead tree or two.
- Abandoned nest cavities are frequently used by wood ducks, flying squirrels, other woodpeckers, bluebirds and occasionally bats.
- Forest clearing in the 1800’s through the early 1900’s almost wiped them out, but with the recovery of eastern forests their numbers have rebounded in the last 50 years. Logging practices that don’t account for allowing trees to get old enough to die or not leaving dead snags whenever and wherever possible can limit available food and nesting habitat.
20. BLUE JAY
- The color of their feathers is actually brown, but the blue color is caused by the scattering of light through modified cells on the surface of the feather barbs.
- Frequently mimic the call of hawks, especially Red-shouldered Hawks. May provide info to other jays that a hawk is around or used to deceive other species into believing a hawk is present. Captive Jays can imitate human speech or the meow of a cat. Traditional call is a loud and raucous “Jay, Jay, Jay.”
- About 1/5 of their diet is composed of insects and the balance is acorns, nuts, fruits and grains. Rarely, they will feed on bird eggs and nestlings. Store food in caches for eating later.
- Prefer tray feeders or hopper feeders on a post. Peanuts, sunflower seeds and suet are favored. Planting or maintaining oak trees in your yard will also attract them.
- Considered year-round residents, but mysteriously some will migrate some years but not all years.
- The lower the crest, the calmer the bird, like when they are with their mate or nestlings. The higher the crest, the higher the jays’ aggression level.
- Despite their being considered a “common bird”, their population numbers dropped about 30% from the 1960’s til now. The most common human caused mortality is attacks by dogs or cats.
21. MISSISSIPPI KITE
- Named after the way they glide, circle and swoop on the wind when they fly, darting gracefully and quickly back and forth as they hunt the larger flying insects that make up most of their diet. Once caught in the air, the insects are held by a foot and consumed while still flying.
- Insect choice tends to include cicadas, grasshoppers, katydids, beetles, dragonflies, moths and bees, but occasionally will also eat frogs, toads, snakes, bats, rodents and smaller birds.
- Call is a high, 2-syllable whistle: a quick note followed by a long one that trails down in pitch. It calls while flying or perched to advertise its presence.
- Nest preference for taller trees in more open spaces. In Summerville, they often nest in tall pines and can be seen and heard soaring all over town.
- Often seen hunting in the company of other kites.
- Rarely aggressive to one another, they will sometimes attack humans that wonder too close to the nest. Tends to be a real problem on golf courses.
- They summer and breed in Southeast North America and migrate all the way to central South America for the winter.
- Although not tremendously abundant, their population numbers have been stable over the last 50 years.
22. CHIMNEY SWIFT
- Looks like a “flying cigar.” This smudge gray bird nimbly maneuvers over rooftops, fields and rivers to catch the insects that make up the majority of its diet. Spend almost their entire lives airborne. When landing, they cannot perch and must cling to vertical walls of chimneys, caves, or hollow trees.
- With European settlement came chimneys and a concurrent rise in the numbers of chimney swifts. However, current chimney trends and designs and the propensity for capping chimneys do not allow for their nesting. In addition, the clearing of old-growth forest and short rotation forestry practices has resulted in a dramatic decline in natural cavities in which to nest. As a result, population numbers have declined about 65% in the last 50 years.
- Possess a gland under their tongue that secretes a glue-like saliva with which they cement their nests to the chimney wall or rock face. You can attract Swifts by leaving the cap off your chimney or building a nesting tower in your yard. Alternatively, leave large hollow trees in your yard, if they are not a threat to harm property or person.
- Eat almost entirely insects caught on the wing. Flies, bees, wasps, ants, mayflies, stoneflies, beetles, caddisflies, fleas, craneflies and others are all fair game and caught while zipping usually in small flocks over urban and residential neighborhoods, fields, grasslands, shrublands, orchards, forests and marshes.
- Call is a fast, twittering series of high-pitched chip notes, lasting for about three seconds.
23. CAROLINA PARAKEET
- Was the only parrot native to North America. Once extremely common and considered a pest by farmers, they would descend in huge numbers on farms and orchards and decimate entire grain and fruit crops. Between ruthless slaughter by wrathful farmers, forest destruction across its range in the 1800’s, and hunting for its bright feathers to be used in the millinery trade, it became extinct by the 1920’s.
- Inhabited deciduous forests and forest edges in the eastern U.S as far north as the Great Lakes, as well as river bottoms of the Great Plains and as far west as Nebraska.
- Ate the fruits and seeds of many trees and other plants, such as thistles and cockleburs, but the desire for corn, wheat, and apples became their downfall.
- In the early 1800’s, naturalist and artist John James Audubon described their flesh as “tolerable food, when they are young, on which account many of them are shot.” Even at that point in time he was observing their decline remarking that “Our parrots are very rapidly diminishing in number; and in some districts, where twenty-five years ago they were plentiful, scarcely any are now to be seen.”
- Is a perfect example of the fact that just because a species is common at present, it may not always be so. Habitat destruction, forest fragmentation, climate change, sea level rise, and changes in forestry practices are all examples of man-caused impacts that can take any wildlife from abundance to endangered.
- Help keep common birds common and do what you can to support their survival.