One of our most favorite things about the ACE Basin is the fact that it is such a natural haven for birds in need of a home. It is also a great place for birds just stopping by for a bit during their migratory periods. Today, we are going to be talking about 5 common birds you’ll find in the ACE Basin!
Welcome back to the blog, adventurers! What wonderful outdoor activities have you been up to lately? Have you found a shark tooth? Explored new paths? Stumbled upon a brand new kind of fish or plant you’ve never seen before? Exploring can be so much fun, and hidden treasure is always waiting to be found in its many forms! We’ve been talking a lot about the ACE Basin and the stunning birds local to the Lowcountry (two of our favorite things!) throughout our last few blogs. We have been so inspired that we thought it would be fun to talk about some of the most common birds found in the Ace Basin! It is a treasured home and spot for birds and bird watchers alike, and has become more important as the natural landscape begins to disappear. These drastic changes are causing so many native species to flee and look for a new place to call home. Thanks to the protection of the ACE Basin, many birds and other native wildlife and plant life remain in the Lowcountry.
Don’t forget, this is a very important and popular time to see many different birds in the ACE Basin. Many are passing through and spending time here on the coast while they migrate, and many more can be seen during this time of year as the foliage is not as dense and there are not as many tourists! Spring is right around the corner, so you might be able to spot some new furry hatchlings as well! One of the many reasons the ACE Basin is popular and so protected is thanks to the Refuge. The Refuge lies along the Edisto River, and right along the Atlantic Flyway. The Ernest F. Hollings ACE Basin Natural Wildlife Refuge is made up of over 11,000 acres of fresh, brackish, and saltwater marshes. It is also dotted with hardwood and mixed pine forests, agricultural fields, and bottomland hardwoods. It is divided into two units; the Edisto Unit and the Combahee Unit, both laying against rivers of the same name.
During the winter months, like where we are sitting right now, and thanks to the migratory patterns of the Atlantic Flyway, all kinds of waterfowl, birds of prey, shorebirds, and neotropical birds make their way south to nest right here in the ACE Basin. It is a haven for wood ducks, pintails, mallards, and many others according to the Fish and Wildlife Services. It has also become a very imperative location for many endangered species like the wood stork and the bald eagle, both nest on the Refuge and can use the areas for feeding. Thanks to all of its hard work and dedication the ACE Basin NWR has been named an IBA or an Important Bird Area by both the National Audubon and The American Bird Conservancy.
According to the Fish and Wildlife Services, about 96 species of birds are known to nest at the Refuge, while over 50 birds are known to be accidental, being seeing only once or twice. About 140 birds (if not more) are also known to call the refuge home at some part of the year. Thanks to the extremely diverse habitat of the ACE Basin with its 79,000 acres and the Refuge with its 11,815 acres, an incredible home has been created for these stunning creatures. While we could talk about these hundreds of birds over many blogs, however, we are going to narrow it down and talk about 5 birds you can find in the ACE Basin! To learn more about these specific birds, follow this link!
According to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, over half of the birds that occur in North America inhabit the ACE Basin. Approximately 288 species and 17 orders call the ACE Basin home at least one point in the year. Some just use it for feeding ground, but there are many year-round residents as well. While it’s difficult to pick just a few birds to talk about, we wanted to make sure that we picked a handful that you might have a chance to spot the next time you’re on a trip to the ACE Basin with us or on your own!
The ACE Basin provides an incredibly important and popular home to the American Oystercatcher, one of two kinds of oystercatchers that breed in North America. The majority of these almost endangered birds spend the winter in the Cape Romain area along the coast. They are listed as a “species of high concern”, but South Carolina has around 400 pairs of nesting oystercatchers. However, since their nests are located in open areas, in shallow depressions, on shelly or sandy beaches, or mounds of washed oyster shells, their nests are often disturbed. Predators are very common and the development along the coast has hit the species hard. They are large shoring birds that can measure over 18 inches long. They are noticeable with a black head, dark brown body and wings, a white undercarriage, a white stripe on the underside of their wings, and a very long thin orange-reddish bill. The bill is used to cut the abductor muscle of their favorite bivalves, which will prevent it from closing and will let the birds eat the meat without prevention. It is common for the birds to forage for their food, swooping down when their prey’s shell is open. They also eat clams, muscles, snails, barnacles, fiddler crabs, sea worms, and aquatic insects. Here in the Lowcountry, they begin to nest between April and July. They usually lay about 3 speckled eggs and both parents help with the incubation period that lasts about a month. After they’re born, chicks rely on their parents for food at least two months after hatching. They can fly about 30 days after they hatch and begin breeding when they are about 3 to 4 years old.
The only species of stork that resides in the United States, these birds will stop you in your tracks. They can grow to be over three feet in length with an incredible wingspan of up to 5 feet. They are also one of the largest wading birds in South Carolina and are known to be beautiful flyers that soar through the sky. Unlike many of their wading cousins, they fly with their necks fully extended. They are a beautiful white color, with grey colored heads and beaks. Their long beaks are curved at the end, perfect for their kind of hunting. Their tails and the underside of their wings are black, and their heads are bald. They need at least 10 inches of water to forage in, and use a hunting style called “tacto-location”. When a fish touches its bill, it snaps shut very quickly and with incredible force. They are commonly seen walking very slowly through the marshes as they look for food. Adult storks, according to the SCDNR, can eat up to one pound of food every day. They very commonly form rookeries and build their nests in trees that are close to or are surrounded by water like cypress trees. Nesting couples generally lay about three eggs and take turns with the incubation process that lasts about 30 days. Hatchlings will remain in the nest for up to 55 days.
These stunningly large birds are also sometimes called fish eagles or fish hawks, and can grow to be up to 24 inches long and have a wingspan of up to almost six feet! Today, they are the only living relatives of the Pandionidae family and the Pandion genus, according to the SCDNR. Their coloring is very unique, filled with very thick black, brown, and white feathers. Their plumage is extremely thick and oily, which allows them to dive into the water after their prey, unlike their fellow fish-eaters (like the bald eagle) who just snatch their prey from the top of the water. Their backs are normally black and brown, their breast is white with brown spots, and their tail is grey with dark lines or bars running through. They have a splotch or line of color that runs along the side of their faces and up into their eyes. Their wings are multi-colored with black, browns, and a heavy white pattern that laces through their plumage. Their diet is exclusively live fish, their beaks and talons perfectly equip to make this possible. Their legs end in long curved talons that have short spines on the backside that help them hold onto their wet prey. They normally nest at the top of trees, creating nests the same size as eagles, sometimes even returning to the nest they used the year before. Due to their diet, they must nest the water. The ACE Basin has become so important to the species due to its expansive saltmarsh and protected estuaries. Nesting couples will usually lay 2 to 4 eggs that are pink or buff color with brown spots throughout April. The mother is primarily the one in charge of incubation, which lasts around 38 days. After they hatch, babies will fledge around 54 days but require up to six more weeks of care after that. Osprey reaches sexual maturity around 3 years of age.
These birds are very common throughout the entire state of South Carolina, and just like its distant cousin, the American white pelican, it’s one of the largest birds found on the east coast. However, unlike all of its pelican relatives, it is the only pelican that’s not all white. The very first eastern brown pelican was discovered right here in Charleston in 1790. If left alone in the wild, they can live up to be 30 years of age and can measure up to four feet in length with a wingspan up to 6 1/2 feet long. Both males and females look similar, with silver-grey/brown bodies and white faces. During mating season, that white color turns a yellowish golden color. They are monogamous, having only one partner during mating season, and they reach sexual maturity at the age of three. They nest in colonies and build their nests in trees or on the ground far enough away from the tides or predators. Nesting couples usually lay 2-3 eggs, with an incubation period of about 30 days. Both parents participate in the incubation period. The chick spends nine weeks in the nest until they’re ready to leave. interestingly enough, these great birds dive into the water to go after their prey, even though their eyes aren’t truly adapted to handle that. Just like the osprey, the eastern brown pelican’s diet consists of fish only.
Belonging to the Rallidae family, their compressed bodies allow them to zoom in and out of reeds and tall grasses. This bird is surprisingly big for its quick movements. It can grow up to a foot and a half in length and has short rounded wings. It has very distinctive long legs, with long feet and toes to match with a long thin bill. Its plumage is filled with browns, blacks, whites, and grays. They are very common in the salt marshes of South Carolina and nest in the Lowcountry in March. Their nests are made right above the water in shallow depressions or deep bowls with a dome-shaped canopy on top. They lay around 8 to 10 eggs, and nesting pairs will both be involved with the incubation process that lasts up to 14 days. Unique to this list, the chicks are ready to leave the nest very soon after hatching, and two sets of chicks can be born every year to nesting couples. The location of their nests makes them very vulnerable to natural elements and predators. According to the SCDNR they are secretive birds, making their appearances somewhat rare. They don’t fly often but are excellent swimmers. They also are very noisy birds with a very distinctive call. They prominently eat a good amount of crustaceans including shrimp, fish, mollusks, crabs, and are also known to eat insects and seeds too!
Have you spotted any of these birds during your trips to the ACE Basin? Which bird is your favorite on this list? Comment below and let us know! If you would like to learn more about the Ernest F. Hollings ACE Basin, click here
! We hope you enjoyed this list, and we also hope it shone a light on how important The Refuge and the ACE Basin are! While much of this land remains protected, so much is constantly being threatened. So many different birds rely on this important part of the Lowcountry to survive. We applaud those who work tirelessly to make sure it is protected, and we continue to do what we can! Until next time adventurers, keep your eyes to the skies to see if you can spot one of these special birds! Come and enjoy an excursion with us to see these birds and many others. Until next time, get outside and enjoy the Lowcountry as much as you can!