Wild birds from many different species can be found in South Carolina. The most identifiable and well-known South Carolina birds, particularly those that can be spotted in your own backyard, will be discussed in this article. Several of these species spend the entire year in South Carolina, while others are migratory and only spend part of the year in the Palmetto State.
The local bird record board estimates that there are 424 species of birds in South Carolina. The Carolina wren has been named the state bird of South Carolina, and birdwatchers may readily locate them all around the state. Other species to appreciate besides the Carolina wren include flamingos, grebes, plovers, terns, and numerous others.
Let’s take a look at 13 must-see birds for residents and visitors of South Carolina- plus two bonus birds!
The common but elusive Virginia rail (Rallus limicola) is a type of rail. These rails continue to be common in North America and the northern half of the United States despite trapping and ongoing habitat destruction. Birdwatchers are more likely to hear their sounds than see them because of their elusive character.
The brown bellies and darker brown upper areas of these water birds help to identify them. Along with having sharp, reddish-orange bills, they even have white streaks on their wings. Birders can identify this rail species thanks to its dark grey cheeks.
Freshwater and brackish wetlands are preferred habitats of Virginia rails. However, they do occasionally go to salt marshes, particularly during the winter months. These South Carolina birds move in large numbers to warmer climates to stay for the winter.
Snow Goose (Anser caerulescens) can be easily recognized by birders based on its white or dark plumage. There are two varieties of this species, a white morph, and a blue morph, and you can tell them apart by their feathers. The blue morph has a dark body with a white head, whereas the white morph has a white body with a black tail.
Snow geese, particularly the females, go back to their original nesting locations during the breeding season, which lasts from May until mid-August. The females choose the spot on high ground for their colonies’ nests. These geese spend time migrating outside of the breeding season.
The snow goose inhabits agricultural fields, prairies, coastal plains, and other areas. The wetlands where they can forage for food are where most of them are located. The primary food sources for the geese are water plants and invertebrates. They consume residual grain in the winter.
The ring-necked duck (Aythya collaris) is another species of waterfowl that can be seen in South Carolina. This bird from South Carolina is a long-distance migrant, but it is native to North America. These ducks spend the winter in southern, warmer climates before migrating back to breed.
The duck is distinguished by a gray beak with two white rings around it. Additionally, it has black wings with white wingtips. Birdwatchers can identify this duck thanks to its yellow eyes and white chest. Males are a little bit larger than females.
The ring-necked ducks eat a variety of different things. They hunt for aquatic plants by diving, particularly when they are adults. The list also includes leeches, midges, earthworms, and bugs.
American Golden Plover
The characteristics that help you recognize an American golden plover (Pluvialis dominica) are its black body and white mottles on its top regions. The gold flecks on the back of the bird give it its name and set it apart from other species of plover. It also has white markings on the head and neck.
The Arctic tundra is where the American golden plover nests, and they like open spaces for their nests. They can migrate over distances of up to 25,000 miles, making them long-distance migrants. They pause in the middle of the open ocean to eat and drink while traveling.
These birds hunt for food on shores, in fields, and along the coastal plain. Their primary food sources are crustaceans and bugs. In order to construct a breeding habitat, the birds use scraped nests and add some foliage and weeds.
One of the birds in South Carolina has been identified as the white-rumped sandpiper. This little shorebird spends the breeding season in the tundra of northern Canada and Alaska before migrating south for the winter. Since they breed in northern latitudes, birders are more likely to observe these birds in the spring and autumn than in the summer.
The beak and legs of the sandpiper are slender and black. Its upper portion is dull grey with a white eye band. Birdwatchers can observe their white plumage when in flight, thanks to the white underpart of the bird. They are quite difficult to recognize in the winter since their plumage is unique.
These birds live in the tundra that is forested. These birds nest in the swampy northern tundra during the breeding season. They favor wetlands like estuaries, marshlands, and lagoons when migrating.
The American flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber) is one of the annual visitors, according to the South Carolina local bird committee. The pointed, black, downward-hooked beak and reddish-pink plumage of this huge bird help you identify it. The pink spots contrast with the upper bill’s chalk-white color.
The legs of the American flamingo are lengthy. These legs aid them in walking across the water to get food. Their beaks have developed marginal lamellae to filter water out of their meal. Aquatic invertebrates and fish are included in the diet.
These short-distance migrants from South Carolina will move in search of food, particularly if their environment is disturbed. They will leave the area and seek out alternative sources of food. On the other hand, flamingoes may fly for a while without feeding.
The black-necked grebe (Podiceps nigricollis), also referred to as the eared grebe, is a remarkable aquatic bird with unique coloration. These grebes have mating plumage with an ochre hue that reaches behind the eyes during the breeding cycle. They also have upper sections that are dark or blackish brown.
The foraging strategies used by the water birds vary depending on the prey. They catch insects on the water’s surface or when flying, which eventually becomes their major source of food. These birds sometimes plunge for fish, frogs, crabs, or tadpoles. They consume brine shrimp as well.
The black-necked grebe can cover up to 3,700 miles during migration. They often prefer to walk instead of flying and lose their ability to fly for around two months during molting. They feed throughout this time, doubling in size.
The common tiny tern known as the black tern (Chlidonias niger) joins the list of birds found in South Carolina. Birdwatchers can recognize the black tern in flight by its white undersides and inner wings. These shorebirds, however, have pointed beaks and grayish-black coloration with darker heads.
This tern species builds its nests either on the earth or on floating debris in bodies of water. They primarily eat insects and fish. These birds like to capture them while flying rather than plunging for fish, in contrast to sterna terns.
Additionally, they capture them close to bodies of water. Freshwater wetlands in South Carolina are where these birds breed. The females nurture the young and lay up to four eggs.
The local committee also noted the enormous and robust wood stork (Mycteria Americana), which is a wading bird. It has a white body, a bald, dark-skinned head, and a recognizable curved bill. The black flying coat of this bird, together with its tail that contrasts with its body and large wings, are visible to birders while it is in flight.
These avians hunt for fish in modest bodies of water. These specialist feeders have a distinctive feeding technique that enables them to catch the fish in an instant. They spread through the water after opening the bill. The bill clamps quickly when fish approach.
The wood stork population has moved north, and it is categorized as an endangered species. They now favor coastal areas throughout the state, with the ACE basin having the highest population.
The Carolina wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus), which is the state bird of South Carolina, is a widespread species there. The little bird enjoys the environments of deep forests, as well as residential regions and agricultural margins.
The mahogany chest and brown top parts help identify the wren. Additionally, they have darker brown wings with white spots and an eye-extending white stripe. Adolescent bird plumage molts and darkens in pigment in August and September.
These South Carolina birds can be easily located throughout the state by birders. Although trees are their natural environment, they also favor wetlands, farms, and suburban yards. They hunt among the plentiful trees and bushes that offer food.
Swainson’s warblers (Limnothlypis swainsonii) are a warbler species with gloomy coloring. This tiny bird has darker feathers on its head and an olive-brown upper body. Although it is difficult to spot in nature, it also has a distinguishing light eyebrow.
The migratory bird can be found in South Carolina’s coastal plain marshes and mountain woods. These warblers are usually heard rather than seen in their natural habitats. They have characteristic cries that are made up of several garbled whistles.
These warblers hunt for food and primarily consume insects. Their long bill aids in sorting through the trash and foliage, making it simple for them to locate the insects. Female warblers can lay up to four eggs throughout the breeding cycle.
The red-cockaded woodpecker (Dryobates borealis), an endangered species, fascinates both local birders and tourists. This woodpecker has striking black and white patterning on its feathers, as well as a black cap. In addition, it features long tails and white check spots that aid in bird identification.
The rock-cockaded woodpecker lives in the southern pinewoods of the state and is organized into small families or groups. It lives there all year round. Birders can identify them by their peculiar calling in addition to their remarkable looks.
In particular, red-heart disease-infected pines are targeted by these woodpeckers as they bore holes in live trees. These trees frequently have a white coating and sap that is flowing. The sap makes an excellent site for the bird to nest and helps ward off predators like snakes.
South Carolina is home to the common nighthawk (Chordeiles minor), a member of the nightjar family. Birders can locate this nocturnal bird by following its peculiar cries because they can identify it. They frequently can be seen lounging on trees, fence posts, or the soil.
The common nighthawk’s amazing white wing bars are visible when it is in the air. They blend in well thanks to their white barred top part and contrasting patches, which make them difficult to spot, particularly at night.
The main food source for nighthawks are bugs, particularly nocturnal ones. The bird’s keen vision serves as its primary sense for spotting prey. The nighthawks’ post-juvenile plumage molts and transforms into adult plumage around September.
Bonus: Acadian Flycatcher
With its army-green upper portion and grayish belly, the Acadian flycatcher (Empidonax virescens) stands out from other South Carolina birds. The tiny flycatcher also has white wing bars and pale eye rings.
The Acadian flycatcher can be found all around the state in swamps, soggy forests, and river forests. In highlands, they typically lay their eggs in rhododendron or ironwood. The highest numbers are, however, concentrated in the hardwood wetlands of the coastal plains.
The female constructs a nest and deposits about three eggs during the breeding season. The materials used to construct the nest are subpar. Between April and October, the birds land in South Carolina.
Honorable Mention: Swallow-Tailed Kite
Birdwatchers in the area can admire the beauty of the swallow-tailed kite (Elanoides forficatus). The thin wings of this raptor bird make it easy to identify. These South Carolina birds are natives of the area and breed there.
In river wetlands, the swallow-tailed kite resides. The birds pair together throughout the breeding season and build their nests atop pine trees. They frequently graze in small communities, and birders may quickly recognize the flock thanks to their recognizable physical characteristics.
These kites primarily eat dragonflies and other wingless insects. On rare occasions, they devour little snakes and lizards that they catch in flight. The greatest time to observe these birds is during the summer, and popular spots to do so are Francis Marion National Forest and Santee Delta Wildlife.
Birding in South Carolina
Americans’ respect for the outside world is still growing, and this trend is also seen in interest in the long-standing pastime of birdwatching. Sales of bird feeders, nesting boxes, and seeds have increased, and installations of bird identification apps have skyrocketed across the country.
However, the tendency to birdwatching is not new in South Carolina. The Palmetto State has long been renowned for its prime birdwatching locations thanks to its more than 430 different bird species and a wide variety of habitats. Additionally, it is the ideal size for visiting several places on a single weekend.
There are a ton of untamed avian habitats in parks and wildlife refuges around the South Carolina coast, especially Hilton Head Island and Myrtle Beach. Reserved sections of southern bottomland hardwood and bald-cypress swamp, such as Congaree National Park and Francis Beidler Forest Audubon Center and Sanctuary, are for numerous individuals, the state’s natural history’s main attractions.
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