Birds


Kiawah Island is home to more than 200 species of birds, ranging in size from the tiny ruby-throated hummingbird all the way up to the bald eagle. For additional details on some of our more prominent species see below.
Click here to download the bird checklist for Kiawah.

Beach

Blackscoterpair_Miller

Black Scoter


Males are solid black with a yellow-orange knob at the base of bill. Females are brownish with a light colored cheek patch.

Where to see

Migratory, common in winter. Ocean, typically several hundred yards out.

Notes

Flocks of several thousand are seen offshore in winter. A strong pair of binoculars or scope is required to see them.

Scaup_Male_Cohen

Lesser Scaup


Medium-sized duck. Males have purplish-black/green head and whitish-gray back. Females are brown with white face patch. Blue bill.

Where to see

Migratory, common in winter. Large ponds (Ibis, Willet and Bass) and ocean.

Notes

Often seen in large flocks diving for submerged vegetation, invertebrates, and mollusks. Also called “bluebills.”

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Red Knot


Medium, stocky shorebird. Grayish-brown in winter, distinctive rusty color in spring/summer. Black bill.

Where to see

Migratory, common in winter and spring. Beach, especially on east and west ends.

Notes

Threatened. In spring, thousands stage on Kiawah before migrating north to breed.

Oystercatcher

American Oystercatcher


Large shorebird. Brown above, white below with a black head. Long, bright orange bill and eye-ring.

Where to see

Migratory, breeder, fairly common year-round. Beach, especially on east and west ends, river, and creeks.

Notes

Specialized in feeding on bivalves. Uses needlelike bill to sever the strong muscle that holds the shell closed.

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Black Skimmer


Medium-sized seabird. Black above, white below. Large bill is black with red base.

Where to see

Migratory, fairly common year-round. Beach, ponds, and tidal creeks.

Notes

Feeds primarily at dusk or dawn (also at night) by skimming the surface of water with an open bill.

Ruddy turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone


Small, stocky shorebird. Head and chest patterned black and white, reddish above and white below. Orange legs. Short, pointed bill.

Where to see

Migratory, present year-round but common in winter. Beach, mudflats, and lagoons.

Notes

Often seen turning over beach debris in search of food.

BB Plover_em_a

Black-Bellied Plover


Medium-sized shorebird. Grayish above, whitish below turning a striking black and white in the spring. In flight, black “armpits” distinctive.

Where to see

Migratory, common in fall, winter, and spring. Beach, lagoons, mudflats, and driving range at the Ocean Course.

Notes

A stalking predator adapted to feed on a variety of prey items.

Wilson's Plover

Wilson’s Plover


Small shorebird. Brownish above, white below with a dark breast band across chest. Large, thick, black bill. Flesh-colored legs.

Where to see

Migratory, breeder, common in spring, summer, and fall. Rare in winter. Beach, mudflats, marsh, and lagoons.

Notes

Specializes in feeding on fiddler crabs.

Piping plover close

Piping Plover


Small shorebird. Pale gray above, white below with a narrow, pale band across chest that turns blackish in spring. Orange legs. Black bill turns orange in spring.

Where to see

Migratory, fairly common in fall, winter, and spring. Beach, lagoons, and mudflats.

Notes

Endangered. Picks invertebrates from surface of sand.

SPPlover

Semipalmated Plover


Small shorebird. Dark brown above, white below with a single dark breast band. Orange bill with dark tip and orange legs.

Where to see

Migratory, present year-round but common in winter. Beach, lagoons, and mudflats.

Notes

Forages on wet sand by picking invertebrates from the surface.

Marbledgodwit2

Marbled Godwit


Large shorebird. Brownish overall, mottled with black. Long, pinkish, upturned bill. In flight, shows rich cinnamon under wings.

Where to see

Migratory, present year-round, most often seen in winter. Beach, lagoons, and mudflats.

Notes

Uses long bill to probe mud or sand for invertebrates.

Dunlin_Cohen

Dunlin


Medium-sized shorebird. Long black bill with a slight droop. Pale-gray above, whitish below during winter. Upperparts reddish with a black belly in spring. Black legs.

Where to see

Migratory, common in fall, winter, and spring. Beach, lagoons, and mudflats.

Notes

Often seen in large flocks roosting on beach during winter.

Wetlands

Blue-winged Teal pair

Blue-Winged Teal


Small duck with a spatula-shaped bill. Overall brown in color. Males have a white crescent-shaped patch at the base of bill. Light-blue shoulder patches visible in flight.

Where to see

Migratory, uncommon. Fall, winter, and spring. Ponds, creeks, river, and lagoons.

Notes

Dabbles at the surface of the water in search of food.

rudu_miller

Ruddy Duck


Small, chunky diving duck with a long, stiff tail that is often cocked up at an angle. Overall brownish in color with pale colored cheek patches.

Where to see

Migratory, fairly common in winter and spring. Ponds, river, and ocean.

Notes

Commonly seen in Ibis and Willet ponds. Rarely flies from danger, usually dives or swims away.

Bufflehad

Bufflehead


Small diving duck with bluish bill. Males are dark above, white below with a large, white patch on the back of head. Females are dark above, gray below with a white spot on the side of the head.

Where to see

Migratory, fairly common in winter and spring. Large ponds, creeks, river, lagoons, and ocean.

Notes

Eats clams and other mollusks.

HoodedMerganser

Hooded Merganser


Medium-sized diving duck with a long, thin bill and a fan-like crown. Males are boldly patterned in black, white, and brown. Females are predominately brown.

Where to see

Migratory, common in winter and spring. Creeks, river, and ponds.

Notes

The most abundant duck on Kiawah’s ponds. Eats fish.

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-Billed Grebe


Small, duck-like water bird. Overall brownish in color with dull-colored bill. In summer, the bill is encircled by a dark ring.

Where to see

Migratory, common in fall, winter, and spring. Ponds and marsh.

Notes

When threatened, they can sink into the water without making a ripple.

Anhinga_Schell

Anhinga


Large, water bird with long neck and sharp, needle-like bill. Males are black with whitish back. Females and immatures have brown necks and breast.

Where to see

Migratory, breeder, uncommon year-round. Ponds.

Notes

Also called “snakebird” because only its head and neck are visible when swimming.

cormorant

Double-Crested Cormorant


Large, duck-like water bird with an orange, hooked bill. Adults appear black overall. Immatures are brownish with a pale breast and neck.

Where to see

Migratory, common in fall, winter, and spring. Ponds and ocean.

Notes

Eats primarily fish, often works together to “herd” fish against shorelines.

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Clapper Rail


Brownish-gray in color with dark gray cheek patches and contrasting dark and light stripes on flanks and belly. Long, orange bill.

Where to see

Resident, breeder, common year-round. Marsh and ponds.

Notes

Clapper Rails inhabit dense marshes and are more often heard than seen. Distinctive long, extended clattering call.

Common Moorhen (2)

Common Moorhen


Dark overall with a thin white line along the side. In summer, the bill turns bright red with a yellow tip.

Where to see

Migratory, breeder, common year-round. Ponds and marsh.

Notes

Often seen along densely vegetated shorelines but will forage in open water by picking food from the surface.

BKingfisher2

Belted Kingfisher


Blue above, white below with a blue breast band. Head is blue with a shaggy crest. Females have a rusty-colored belly band.

Where to see

Migratory, common in fall, winter, and spring. Ponds and tidal creeks.

Notes

Forages by hovering and plunging head first into water after fish.

White Ibis

White Ibis


Medium-sized wading bird. Adults are entirely white. Immatures are brownish. Long, pink, down-curved bill. Pinkish legs.

Where to see

Migratory, uncommon year-round. Marsh and ponds.

Notes

Usually seen in large flocks. Feeds by probing or picking food from grass or shallow water. Glossy Ibis are also present on Kiawah but are dark, reddish-black in color.

Wood storks

Wood Stork


Large wading bird. All white with black along the sides. Head unfeathered, wrinkled with a heavy bill.

Where to see

Migratory, uncommon year-round. Ponds and marsh.

Notes

State endangered. Forages in small isolated pools by moving a partially opened bill back and forth in search of fish.

Forest

lshrike

Loggerhead Shrike


Large-headed, chunky songbird. Grayish above, white below with a black mask, wings, and tail.

Where to see

Resident, breeder, uncommon year-round. Shrubland, dunes and Ocean Course driving range.

Notes

Because it lacks strong talons, it impales prey on sharp objects, such as thorns, before eating it.

Chuckwills_KIGR

Chuck-Will’s-Widow


Large, nocturnal nightjar. Cryptically-colored, brown overall.

Where to see

Migratory, breeder, uncommon in spring, summer, and fall. Forested areas and shrubland.

Notes

Recognized by loud, insistent call of the bird’s name: “Chuck wills WI-dow” given at night.

Hermit Thrush2007_02_18_121754

Hermit Thrush


Medium-sized, spot -breasted songbird. Brownish above, whitish below with bold dark spots. Tail deep rust color.

Where to see

Migratory, uncommon in winter, fall, and spring. Forested areas and shrubland.

Notes

Habitually jerks its tail and flicks its wings.

Pine Warbler 20101215-135602

Pine Warbler


Fairly large warbler. Greenish-yellow above, yellowish below. Dark wings with two white wing bars.

Where to see

Resident, breeder, uncommon year-round. Forested areas, typically associated with pine trees.

Notes

Usually found high in the tops of pine trees in summer. May visit bird feeders during the winter.

CHSP_1158_em_a

Chipping Sparrow


Small, slender sparrow. In winter, brownish above, grayish below with some reddish highlights in crown. In summer, reddish above, clean gray
below with a bright chestnut cap.

Where to see

Migratory, uncommon in winter, fall, and spring. Open forests and golf courses.

Notes

Commonly seen at feeders.

treeswllw046_em2

Tree Swallow


Iridescent blue-green above, pure white below. Tail square with an indistinct notch.

Where to see

Migratory, common in winter, fall, and spring. Ponds, beach, and dunes.

Notes

Commonly seen over the dunes and beach in huge flocks numbering in the thousands during the winter.

Barnswallow

Barn Swallow


Small, aerial songbird with a long, forked tail. Iridescent blue above, orange below with a dark-orange throat.

Where to see

Migratory, breeder, common in summer, spring, and fall. Ponds, beach, golf courses.

Notes

Nests under bridges and docks at some of the ponds on Kiawah, including Bass Pond.

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Red-Winged Blackbird


Medium-sized blackbird. Males are black with bright orange and yellow shoulder patches. Females are brownish-gray and heavily streaked.

Where to see

Migratory, breeder, common year-round. Shrubland, marsh, ponds, and dunes.

Notes

Male’s “conk-la-ree” call is very commonly heard in summer near marsh.

RTHU_miller

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird


Tiny with a long, narrow bill. Greenish above, white below. Males have a dark chin that glows red in sunlight.

Where to see

Migratory, breeder, uncommon in summer, spring, and fall. Rare in winter. Forested areas and shrubland.

Notes

Only hummingbird commonly found in the East. Drinks nectar from flowers. Attracted to sugar-water feeders.

RB Woodpecker

Red-Bellied Woodpecker


Medium-sized woodpecker. Black back with white barring. Underparts pale brown. Red crown on male extends from the bill to the back of head. In females the red is limited to the back of the head.

Where to see

Resident, breeder, common year-round. Forested areas and shrubland.

Notes

Will come to bird feeders and eat seeds and suet.

PB Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker


Large, crested woodpecker. Black overall with white stripes on the side of head and neck. Bright red crown. In flight, shows a contrasting black and white pattern.

Where to see

Resident, breeder, uncommon year-round. Forested areas.

Notes

Often heard making loud drumming noises on trees or even homes.

GCFlycatcherweb

Great Crested Flycatcher


A noisy, medium-sized songbird with a large head and bill. Brownish-red above, yellowish below.

Where to see

Migratory, breeder, common in spring, summer, and fall. Forested areas and shrubland.

Notes

Aggressively pursues flying insects often catching them in mid-air. Nests in cavities of dead/dying trees.

Birds of Prey

Black Vultures

Black & Turkey Vultures


Both species are black with unfeathered heads. Turkey Vulture has red head, Black Vulture’s is black. In flight, Turkey Vultures show white extending along the entire length of the wing. Black Vultures have white in the wing-tips only.

Where to see

Resident/migratory, breeder, common year-round.

Notes

Usually seen feeding on carrion along the roadside or soaring above.

GHOwl_KIGR

Great Horned Owl


A large, bulky owl with long ear tufts. Brownish-gray with orange face.

Where to see

Resident, breeder, uncommon year-round. Forested areas and shrubland.

Notes

Opportunistic predator that consumes a wide variety of prey from mice and raccoons to woodpeckers and hawks.

Screech Owl

Eastern Screech-Owl


A small, stocky owl with prominent ear tufts. Gray and red color phases. Red is most common on Kiawah.

Where to see

Resident, breeder, uncommon year-round. Forested areas.

Notes

Two distinctive calls given at night include a low, rolling trill and an eerie descending whinny. Eats insects, rodents, and birds.

coopers-hawk_em

Cooper’s Hawk


A medium-sized raptor with long tail. Adults are slate-blue above, orange below with crisp horizontal striping. Immatures are brown above, creamy and brown-streaked below.

Where to see

Migratory, breeder, uncommon year-round. Forested areas, dunes.

Notes

Very skillful flyer. Eats small to medium-sized birds. Often hunts around bird feeders.

N Harrier_Miller

Northern Harrier


A medium-sized, marsh-hovering raptor with a white rump. Adult males are gray above, white below with a dark gray head. Females and immatures are dark above, creamy and streaked below. Owl-like face.

Where to see

Migratory, common in winter, fall, and spring. Marsh.

Notes

A common sight during the winter flying low over Kiawah’s marshes.

Red-shouldered Hawk on a pole 2007-12-31 17_01_551

Red-Shouldered Hawk


Medium-sized raptor. Adults are dark above with white spotting, reddish below with thin white stripes. Immatures are brownish above, creamy below with pale spots.

Where to see

Resident, breeder, uncommon year-round. Forested areas.

Notes

Call is a repeated, loud “kee-ahh” lasting about a second.

Red-Tailed Hawk 20100708-063528_edited-1

Red-Tailed Hawk


Large, soaring raptor. Brownish above, whitish below with a distinct dark belly band. Adults have rusty-red tails.

Where to see

Resident, breeder, uncommon year-round. Forested areas and marsh.

Notes

Prefers to hunt in the open from a high sturdy perch. Call is a hoarse, descending scream lasting 2-3 seconds.

Osprey

Osprey


Large raptor. Dark brown above, white below. White head with a prominent dark eye-stripe.

Where to see

Resident, breeder, common year-round. Forested areas, ocean, beach, river, marsh, and ponds.

Notes

Primarily feeds on fish captured by hovering high over the water then plunging in feet first.

Bald Eagle - P. Cohen

Bald Eagle


A large raptor with a thick yellow bill. Adult is dark with white head and tail. Immatures are dark overall with some to no white in head and tail.

Where to see

Migratory, breeder, uncommon in winter, fall, and spring. Forested areas, beach, river, and marsh.

Notes

Takes 5 years to attain adult plumage.