Bird Research

Kiawah Biologists conduct a variety of research projects involving Kiawah's diverse bird population.  Capturing birds and banding them with a unique identifier gives biologists insight into the health and demographics of our island’s bird population.  Important information on the productivity, survivorship, and movements of many species can be attained through a banding program.  The Town of Kiawah has initiated several projects that use banding as the primary tool to study populations of different birds.  Click the buttons below to learn more about our exciting bird research projects.

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Fall Migration Monitoring

Banding is conducted each fall to monitor songbird populations during their migration. Kiawah Island provides important stop-over habitat that migrating birds rely on to rest and refuel before continuing their journey to their wintering grounds.

Banding occurs daily from August 15-November 30 at two locations on Kiawah Island.  Since 2009, banding has taken place at the western end of Kiawah on Captain Sam’s Spit.  A second location was added at the eastern end of Kiawah on Little Bear Island in 2015.  

Birds are captured in up to 30 mist nets starting around sunrise each morning.  The nets are checked for birds every 30-40 minutes for 5-6 hours.    

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Winter Banding

Banding is conducted during the winter months to monitor wintering songbird populations. A large population of Yellow-rumped Warblers spend the winter on Kiawah Island which allows a unique opportunity to study many aspects of their wintering ecology.

Winter banding is conducted annually from December through March at the west end of the island on Captain Sam’s Spit. The nets are operated about once every 7-10 days.

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Painted Bunting Banding

Painted Buntings are banded each summer for a long-term project studying their movements, distribution, survival, and population trends.  Painted Buntings readily come to feeders offering white millet and the birds are easily captured in a specially designed cage with a feeder placed inside.  Banding occurs from May-August at Kiawah Island’s resident’s homes.  If you are a resident of Kiawah Island and want to participate in this study please contact Town Biologist, Aaron Given.

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Marsh Sparrow Banding

Three species of coastal “marsh” sparrows winter in the salt marshes of Kiawah Island - Seaside Sparrow, Nelson’s Sparrow, and Saltmarsh Sparrow.  This group is considered species of high conservation concern due to their specialization of habitat that is considered spatially restricted.  It appears that this group may be particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise and loss of saltmarsh habitat along their wintering grounds along the southeast United States. 

Each winter from December – March, sparrows are captured in mist nets placed in suitable saltmarsh habitat.  The nets are deployed to coincide with high tide which concentrates the sparrows into smaller patches of habitat.  The project’s objectives are to determine habitat requirements, site fidelity, relative abundance/population size, and distribution of these three species.

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Wilson's Plover Banding

Wilson’s Plover nest on our beaches each spring and summer and are vulnerable to disturbance by beachgoers and predation. Biologists conduct annual surveys for plover nests and protect these areas from disturbance.  In addition, a sample of Wilson’s Plovers are captured and fitted with numbered bands to track their movements and nesting success.

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MOTUS Bird Tracking

MOTUS consists of a network of coordinated and automated radio-telemetry stations that track the movements of tagged animals throughout terrestrial and coastal environments. Launched in 2013, Motus has grown to more than 700 active receiving stations. The receiving stations listen around the clock for passing animals wearing a digital “nanotag” tracking device. Nanotags are lightweight, digital VHF radio transmitters that enable hundreds of individual animals to be monitored simultaneously on the same radio frequency. Receiving stations log tag detections in real time, and in favorable conditions animals can be detected up to 15 km away.  

Kiawah has two Motus stations – one on Little Bear Island and another on the roof of the Timber Resort.  Biologist are involved with a study using Motus to track migratory routes of Painted Buntings.  Kiawah’s Motus stations have also detected many other bird species tagged by other researchers across North America.

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Breeding Bird Survey

Between May 20 and June 5, 238 point-count surveys are conducted annually on Kiawah Island. The points are located across the island from Captain Sam’s Spit to Little Bear Island in all major upland habitats.  For logistical convenience, most of the points are located on secondary and tertiary roads and trails, however in areas where roads or trails are not present points are located off-road.  The minimum distance between point-count stations is 250 meters to reduce the possibility of recording the same bird twice.  All individuals heard or seen within a 5-minute period are recorded.  Birds flying over the area are recorded separately from all other birds.  The point-count survey is divided into 9 separate routes with each route consisting of 15-34 points.  One route is conducted per day during the count period with each route beginning at sunrise and ending no later than 11:00am.  Each route/point is conducted in the same order and during the same time each year.

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