Tag Archives: South Carolina birds

South Carolina trip provides excellent viewing opportunities to observe one of nation’s most colorful birds

PaintedBunting-Male (1)

Photos by Bryan Stevens                                                          A male Painted Bunting feeds on millet seed at a feeder at Huntington Beach State Park in South Carolina.

I enjoyed a recent excursion to coastal South Carolina, which provided me a change to look for birds at such locations as Huntington Beach State Park and Brookgreen Gardens. These two attractions are two of my favorite places to bird when I get an opportunity to a stay at Pawleys Island in South Carolina.


The male Painted Bunting is one of the most colorful birds in North America.

Southwest Virginia, Northeast Tennessee and Western North Carolina share some colorful species of birds, including rose-breasted grosbeak, Baltimore oriole, scarlet tanager and indigo bunting. The vibrant blue plumage of a male indigo bunting makes it one of the most coveted birds at feeders. One of my earliest bird memories is one that recalls summer sightings of “blue birds,” or indigo buntings, perched in the same blue spruce tree with “yellow birds,” or American goldfinches. It’s very likely that such memorable childhood sightings set me on the path to becoming a birding and nature enthusiast.

It’s fun to speculate that I might have traveled that path even sooner if I’d observed in that blue spruce one of the relatives of the indigo bunting. The painted bunting, which I saw frequently during my South Carolina vacation, is often described as one of the most colorful birds in the United States. A male painted bunting’s plumage is an almost shocking blend of blue, green, yellow and red feathers, which make males appear almost too tropical for a bird that makes its home for part of the year in the United States. The color pattern for the male painted bunting consists of a blue head, a red eye-ring, red underparts and a green backs. Females and immature birds are a uniform, bright lemon-green overall, with a pale eye-ring. Two years are required for a male painted bunting to acquire the vibrant plumage that has given the bird its common name.


It’s easy to see how the male painted bunting acquired its reputation as one of North America’s most colorful birds.

The painted bunting is a specialty bird of the southern United States, as well as some locations in the southwestern United States, including southern Arizona and New Mexico. A thriving population exists along the Atlantic Coast in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. These colorful birds also occur in Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Some other common names for this bird include painted finch and rainbow bunting. Early French colonists to the New World named this songbird “Nonpareil,” which means “without equal.” That neatly sums up the amazing appearance of this bird.

Bird feeders help this bird overcome its shyness in the presence of humans. Huntington Beach State Park in South Carolina maintains several feeders filled with millet, which is a small seed favored by buntings, as well as some sparrows and finches. The feeders located at the park’s Nature Center are a popular destination for people hoping to get a good look at a painted bunting. Of course, the buntings share the feeders with other birds, including chickadees, cardinals, house finches, brown-headed cowbirds and red-winged blackbirds.


Female and immature painted buntings are greenish-yellow birds that are eclipsed by the more vibrant adult males.

Away from feeders, however, it can be difficult to find painted buntings. Males sing from elevated perches in spring and early summer, which can simplify the effort of locating them. The greenish females blend well with their surroundings and can be a much bigger challenge to observe. Once I learned to recognize the male’s song, finding painted buntings away from feeders became easier.

Before federal protections were put into place, painted buntings were often captured and caged as exotic pets. Although such practices are now illegal in the United States, these birds are still captured in some Central American locations for sale as a pet caged bird. I’ve always believed that it’s much more enjoyable to observe any bird free to fly, sing and live out its life in the wild.


A female Painted Bunting decides to visit a hummingbird feeder.

The population of painted buntings has declined, particularly on barrier islands off the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina. Destruction of habitat has been a major factor, but these birds are also victimized by brown-headed cowbirds. The female cowbirds slip their own eggs into the nests of unsuspecting birds, which often raise the young cowbirds even at the expense of their own young.

Painted buntings do show up in some unexpected places, but there are only a few records for the region. In November of 2015, a male painted bunting showed up at Prospect Park in Brooklyn, New York, of all places. That particular bird lingered until Jan. 3, 2016, before it was last seen prior to a cold front moving into New York. The surest way to see a painted bunting is to visit some of its strongholds along the southern Atlantic Coast or the other regions in the United States where this technicolor dream of a bird ranges.


Indigo Buntings are fairly common songbirds in much of the eastern United States.

Until then, enjoy the painted bunting’s much more common, at least in this region, relative. The indigo bunting usually returns to the region in April and lingers into early October. Indigo buntings are also fond of visiting feeders for offerings of millet or sunflower seed.

Besides indigo buntings, other related birds include the lazuli bunting, varied bunting and blue bunting. Other birds named bunting, but not as closely related, include the snow bunting and the lark bunting. The term “bunting” when used with a bird basically refers to various seed-eating birds with stubby, cone-shaped bills.


The Lazuli Bunting takes the place of Indigo Buntings in the western half of the United States. This male was photographed in Utah.

Perhaps some day in the future I’ll glimpse a migrant painted bunting that has strayed off course and has ended up in southwest Virginia or northeast Tennessee. Until that hypothetical day, I’ll continue to look for this dazzling bird any time I am in the Low Country of South Carolina. In addition, I’ll simply enjoy the electric blue plumage of the adult male indigo buntings that visit my feeders almost daily during the summer months.


Bryan Stevens lives near Roan Mountain, Tennessee. To learn more about birds and other topics from the natural world, friend him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ahoodedwarbler. He is always posting about local birds, wildlife, flowers, insects and much more.


This male Painted Bunting visits feeders at Huntington Beach State Park in South Carolina.

May brings Grand Strand birding adventure


Photos by Bryan  Stevens                                       Among cypress knees in a flooded forest on Huntington Beach State Park, this Prothonotary Warbler made his presence known with his loud, ringing song.

I’ve been vacationing on Pawleys Island, S.C., so this week’s post will be a pictorial tour of some fun birding away from the mountains of East Tennessee.

As much as I like my mountain birds back home, it’s always great to get back to South Carolina. This trip has even managed to add a few new species to my South Carolina State List, including Prothonotary Warbler and Blue Grosbeak.

My favorite birding spots during my stay have included daily visits to Brookgreen Gardens and Huntington Beach State Park.

The 2,500 acre-Huntington Beach State Park rewards visitors with a diverse selection of birds, including shorebirds, wading birds, songbirds, raptors and almost every other feathered friend you care to name.


A sculpture of geese titled “Flying Wild Geese” by Marshall M. Fredericks at Brookgreen Gardens. The bronze sculpture was cast in 1967.

The park is located roughly 15 miles from Myrtle Beach, but it offers a much slower pace than the commercially driven tourism of the famous beach.  More than 310 species of birds have been reported from Huntington Beach State Park since 1966. Helping increase bird diversity is varied habitat, including 1,060 acres of salt marsh, 750 acres of woodlands, 90 acres of freshwater/brackish marshes, 400 acres of maritime shrub thicket and 200 acres of sandy beach and dunes.


An American Anhinga preens its feathers after taking a swim.

In addition, I have been delighted by the numbers of birds I have found within Brookgreen Gardens, which is a 9,100-acre sculpture garden and wildlife preserve. The attraction offers several themed gardens as a lovely backdrop for American figurative sculptures. There’s also a Lowcountry Zoo, as well as nature trails through a variety of habitats, including old rice plantation fields. Brookgreen Gardens was founded by Archer Milton Huntington, stepson of railroad magnate Collis Potter Huntington, and his wife, Anna Hyatt Huntington. The attraction displays some of the sculptures completed by Anna and her sister, Harriet Hyatt, along with other respected American sculptors. Brookgreen Gardens, which opened in 1932, is built on four former rice plantations, taking its name from the former Brookgreen Plantation.

So, enjoy this week’s pictorial essay on my latest birding trip to South Carolina. I hope you’ll find something to your liking.


A trio of young mockingbirds follow a parent in hope of a morsel of food.


Little Blue Heron in a former rice field at Brookgreen Gardens.


Pileated Woodpecker climbs on a live oak tree at Brookgreen Gardens.


Dowitchers feed on a tidal flat at Huntington Beach State Park.


Painted Buntings are quite prominent at Huntington Beach State Park.


Female Painted Buntings lack the showy feathers of males.


Three male Painted Buntings co-exist at a feeder at the Huntington Beach State Park Nature Center.


The male Painted Buntings is one of North America’s most vibrant songbirds.


Great Crested Flycatcher perches atop a pine tree at Brookgreen Gardens.


A second-year male Orchard Oriole in a pine tree at Huntington Beach State Park.


A male Northern Parula explores beneath the leaves of the woodland canopy at Brookgreen Gardens.


A Red-bellied Woodpecker visits a nest cavity in a dead tree at Brookgreen Gardens.


A Great Egret takes flight from a marsh at Huntington Beach State Park.


A Semipalmated Sandpiper brings up the rear as it tries to catch up to a flock of Sanderlings, one of its larger relatives.


Cuckoos, such as this Yellow-billed Cuckoo, are more often heard than seen, but they will occasionally cooperate for a photograph.


Tropical Storm Ana dumped a lot of rain on Huntington Beach State Park. Flooded lawns areas provided temporary foraging grounds for migrating shorebirds, as well as resident Boat-tailed Grackles.


A dowitcher uses its unique bill to probe for food in the mud of a tidal flat.


Lesser Yellowlegs and Least Sandpipers forage in a puddle created by the rains of Tropical Storm Ana.