A Bevy Of Beautiful Birds

The shores and waterways of South Carolina are teeming with bird life year-round. On our barrier islands we are treated to an ever-changing parade of fabulous feathered friends. Naturalist Sarah Harper Diaz highlights some of the more notable species to be found on or around Sullivan’s Island, Isle of Palms and Dewees. Photos by Dewees photographer Judy Drew Fairchild.


Roseate Spoonbills are large wading birds which are easy to identify due to their pink plumage and unique bills. They swing their bills back and forth in shallow water to forage, utilizing their keen sense of touch to find food. They are very rare in South Carolina and are spotted irregularly in small numbers. In the U.S., breeding colonies (called rookeries) are only found in Florida and along the Gulf Coast. Other rookeries are found in Mexico and the Caribbean. This species was brought close to extinction in the 19th century due to plume hunters.


 Yellow-Throated Warbler is a neotropical migrant which spends winters in Central America and the Caribbean. The breeding range includes most of the Southeastern U.S., but they can be found year-round along coastal South Carolina. They forage by creeping along branches near the tops of trees in search of insects, especially caterpillars. Although they are fairly common, they are often difficult to see due to their foraging habits.


Reddish Egret is extremely rare—so rare in fact that there are thought to be only around 2,000 breeding pairs in the entire United States. Dewees Island is one of the few areas on the East Coast where you may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of this unusual bird. Their foraging behavior is energetic and erratic. They most frequently forage in coastal lagoons and are the only egret species that can be seen foraging along the sea shore. They were almost driven to extinction in the early 1900s due to plume hunters.


Grebes have evolved to spend their lives entirely in water. They are unable or barely able to walk on land, since their legs are located so far to the rear of their bodies. They dive underwater to catch a wide variety of invertebrates, small fish and other food items. The Pied-billed Grebe has a wide distribution in North America. It is small and dark brown with a distinctive dark vertical stripe on its beak. The body shape and size are distinctive and it can be reliably identified at a distance.


Northern Gannet is a large seabird which can be seen foraging along the East and Gulf coasts during the winter months. Northern Gannets breed in large colonies which number in the thousands. In North America, there are only six breeding colonies, all of which are located on islands off the eastern coast of Canada. They forage in the ocean by plunge diving directly into schools of fish. Unfortunately, they are frequently entangled in fishing nets. Northern Gannets don’t reach sexual maturity until they are four or five years old. Breeding pairs raise only one chick per year.


• Breach Inlet, between Sullivan’s Island and IOP, is an ideal location to see shorebirds including terns.

• A new nature trail at Station 16 on Sullivan’s provides excellent vantage points for woodland birds.

 • The field surrounding Fort Moultrie is home to a variety of unusual birds, including Eastern Meadowlarks and tree swallows; purple martins, common nighthawks and Chuck-will’s-widows; bobwhite quail and Loggerhead shrikes.

• Early morning is the best time for birding, from sunrise to around 9 a.m.

 • For photographing birds, try right after sunrise and in the early evening.