Bird-watching on St. George Island

 

While I like to think of myself as a wildlife enthusiast, I really don’t know my small songbirds at all. On a November camping trip to St. George Island State Park, however, I couldn’t help but notice the beautiful variety of birds flitting around our campsite so I settled in my chair one morning before my teens awoke to try to photograph a few.

Well, let me just say I have a renewed appreciation and admiration for the birders who actually manage to capture clear crisp images of these little guys. They do not stop moving!! No sooner would I finally get one in my sights than it would hop to a new branch or disappear completely in the brush. I won’t tell you how many blurry photos of half-birds or deserted branches I managed to take but even the ones of complete birds I’m willing to share below led me to another problem… what was I even looking at?

It turns out St. George Island is a premier birding location. In fact, ebird.org lists an astonishing 291 species of birds identified at St. George Island State Park! There are, of course, the usual suspects I can actually easily identify as most people probably can, such as great blue herons, cattle egrets, bald eagles, osprey, brown pelicans, cardinals, and some sort of hawk (that one was actually flying too fast for me to identify). We also heard a late-night owl and an early-morning woodpecker. So there’s no doubt this is a great location for birders of any level to come and spot a few entertaining specimens.

Here are a few of the smaller birds I learned a bit more about on this trip:
 
 
The Eastern Phoebe
 
 
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This quick little flycatcher was actually the first banded bird in North America – banded with silvered thread by none other than John James Audubon himself in 1804. The oldest known Eastern Phoebe was at least 10 years and 4 months (banded in Iowa in 1979 and found in Alberta in 1989)! Learn more about them here.

The Gray Catbird
 
 
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The Gray Catbird is known for its song which can last up to ten minutes. They also imitate the sounds of other species. The oldest known Gray Catbird was at least 17 years and 11 months when it was recaptured and rereleased in New Jersey. I was excited to find one of these visit my own garden after this trip and happy I could identify it! Learn more about the Gray Catbird here.
 
 
The Eastern Towhee
 
 
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I thought this one was a stunner. What pretty colors, and look at those long nails! I know I keep mentioning ages here but I’m frankly surprised at how long all these small birds live. The oldest known Eastern Towhee was a male in South Carolina, and he was at least 12 years and 3 months old. But apparently they’re not the brightest when it comes to protecting their nests. According to allaboutbirds.org:
 

“Eastern Towhees are common victims of the parasitic Brown-headed Cowbird. Female cowbirds lay eggs in towhee nests, then leave the birds to raise their cowbird young. In some areas cowbirds lay eggs in more than half of all towhee nests. Towhees, unlike some other birds, show no ability to recognize or remove the imposter’s eggs. Female cowbirds typically take out a towhee egg when laying their own, making the swap still harder to notice.”

Read more here.

 
The House Wren
 
 
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This bird has a huge range and is very common. It only weighs about as much as two quarters, but make no mistake, they are fierce! They will harass and peck at much larger birds, sometimes even dragging eggs and young out of a nest site they want! And I know you now want to know how old these birds get: the oldest recorded House Wren was at least 9 years old when it was recaptured in New York. Check them out here. 
 
 
The Male Cardinal
 
 
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We have these beautiful birds in our yard as well. They are unmistakable, have a distinct song and are fun to watch. Lucky for us, we even had a successful nest this year. We never did track it down but we got to see their four fledglings visit our feeders every day.
 
The Female Cardinal
 
 
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In addition to the songbirds, there were also numerous shorebirds. I always enjoy watching these guys.
 

So if you’re headed to St. George Island, bring those binoculars or a camera and lots of patience, and enjoy the beautiful birding opportunities that await you here!

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