Posts Tagged ‘Sparrows’

Our efforts on Ship Island focus so heavily on tern monitoring, that we seldom mention the other species that spend their summer on the island. We made an earlier post about migrants, but I’d like to outline some of our everyday, non-tern sightings.

Two species of warbler are our brightest residents, their brilliant colors visible even through the growing foliage. Yellow Warblers, as their name implies, are a fantastic yellow hue throughout, with some red or brown markings on the breast. We have at least one pair in the grove, where the female was gathering nest material earlier in the season. A few Common Yellowthroats’ “Wichety-wichety-wichety” can be heard around the island, with them making an occasional feeding foray just outside the cabin window.

Male Common Yellowthroat outside our cabin window

Male Common Yellowthroat outside our cabin window

While not as striking as the warblers, three sparrow species make their homes on Ship, with at least two of them breeding here. Our two dozen or so Song Sparrows are one of the most common streaky sparrows found throughout much of the U.S. and Canada. Their reddish caps and tails set them apart from our equally numerous Savannah Sparrows. Savannah Sparrows are smaller and have a bright yellow spot right above their eye. A more recent arrival has been the Nelson’s Sparrow, of which we have seen only two. Smaller even than the Savannah, the Nelson’s have a strange call somewhere between a hiss and a sigh that we can often hear near the small wetland in the middle of the island.

Nelson's Sparrow calling from atop our solar panel

Nelson’s Sparrow calling from atop our solar panel

Terns are often lauded for their aerial acrobatics, but we have at least one pair of nesting Bank Swallows which can match them zig for zag. Much smaller than the terns, the swallows zip around the island gulping up small flying insects and turning on a dime. Their nest is near the top of the bluff, where they have excavated a small hole.

Several shorebird species make use of the island’s tideline for foraging, but only one species, the Spotted Sandpiper, nests here. Their peeping call and constant tail-bobbing set them apart from other species. We have found two nests and suspect that there are at least three more, hidden under tufts of grass.

Spotted Sandpiper nest with 4 eggs

Spotted Sandpiper nest with 4 eggs

No island bird post would be complete without mentioning our Mallards. A well-known and common duck throughout North America, we have at least three females currently roaming the island with clutches of ducklings.

Female Mallard with her ducklings

Female Mallard with her ducklings

Until next time!


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Hey Everyone!

The first couple weeks here on Ship Island have been fantastic! We have had great luck with the weather and are actually just hitting our first patch of all-day fog. We found our first Common Tern nest on 5/29 and the rest of the colony is following suit. We have identified 63 nests so far and terns are still showing up! Common Terns are the only species of terns that we have here. We do however also have  Spotted Sandpipers, sparrow, warblers, and Mallards nesting here. Some of these later birds have hatched already!



They grow up so fast!



For some reason a snail joined these Song Sparrow eggs.

While doing blind work Mary and I get to watch what the terns bring in to feed their mates. It’s actually very exciting as you try to follow the birds with your binoculars and either identify the food or snap a picture before they gobble it down. As of late, the gulls and terns in the area have taken to eating Clam Worms. These worms might seem a little strange out of water but they have a beautiful iridescent green to purple coloring as they swirl around in the water to clean themselves of sand. Most of the worms are around ten inches long and quite hilarious to see our small terns carrying.


What we believe to be a herring.

The research that we do for birds here is very rewarding, however we do have other responsibilities to help take care of Ship Island. One of the most important things we do is remove invasive species. The primary one here is garlic mustard (Allaria petiolata). The island had recently been covered in garlic mustard but Maine Coastal has been working towards removing the invasive for the past eight years. We have been testing different control methods, cautious in what methods we use in order to not affect the other species on the island. Currently we spend most warm days hand pulling the adults (the plant is biennial) before they go to seed.


The nightmare when you weed around Cow Parsnip.

Till Next Time!

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While our terns are busy incubating their eggs, I thought I’d take some time to fill everyone in on some of the other birdlife here on Ship Island.

Although they might be the most numerous, Common Terns aren’t the only birds that nest on Ship.  In fact, Jill and I usually wake up to the sounds of song birds, not sea birds. Six species in particular call Ship their summer home:  three sparrows, two warblers, and a swallow. Many local birders will find most, if not all, of these to be familiar Maine residents.

First up is the melodious Song Sparrow. Although they may lack the sleek elegance of a tern, they make up for it with a distinct voice. We estimate there to be about six pairs nesting on Ship, although they’re loud enough to be heard on every part of the island.

Our second sparrow is the sonorous Savannah Sparrow.  At first glance they look quite similar to a Song Sparrow, but they sport some flashy yellow eyebrows (technically called the supercilliam). Again, we believe we have about six pairs nesting on the shrubby interior of Ship Island. We often see both Savannah and Song Sparrows chasing each other around the island.

A Savannah Sparrow

Our third sparrow is the more elusive Nelson’s Sparrow.  We’ve only spotted two of these on the island so far, but we’re hoping to find more. Compared to the warbles, cheeps, and trills of the Savannah and Song Sparrows, the song of the Nelson’s Sparrow is quite distinct: a sharp hiss, which reminds me of a burger being dropped onto a hot grill.

A Nelson’s Sparrow

Besides those three sparrows, our most numerous non-tern residents are warblers: Common Yellowthroats and Yellow Warblers.

With their distinctive black masks, Common Yellowthroat males are quiet striking. They’re also far from the secretive tree-top dwellers many birders think of when they hear the word “warbler.” Our Yellowthroats are most often seen perched on the top of a bramble or other shrub, singing their hearts out like the fellow below. We’ve got at least three pairs nesting on the island.

A male Common Yellowthroat

Yellow Warblers are usually the first bird I hear in the mornings, probably because we’ve got a pair nesting right next to the cabin.  We’ve got perhaps four or five nests of these flashy little, and it’s not uncommon to see pairs of males chasing each other around the middle of the island.

A male Yellow Wabler

Our final bird for today is a change-up from the first five birds I’ve listed. Our seven resident Bank Swallows are in almost constant motion. They’ve set up shop under the bluff of the high side of the island. Presumably, they have a burrow there, but we haven’t managed to spot it. We’re keeping our eyes open, though. Until then, we’ve been enjoying the gurgling calls and acrobatic maneuvers of these zippy little birds. So far, they’ve proven faster than my camera, so here’s a shot of where we suspect they’re living:

Here’s the bank, but where are the Bank Swallows? So far, they’re too fast for my camera.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Seabirds, Shorebirds, and other Swimmers!

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