Kiawah, Birding Hotspot ~ for Birders and Birding Research

Kiawah Island has long been known as a birding hotspot but since 2009 it has also been a hot spot for birding research.  For the past 4 years, Town Biologist, Aaron Given has been conducting bird research on Kiawah.  His research focuses on 4 main components: seasonal point-counts, seasonal bird banding, breeding bird survey, and beach bird nest monitoring. During winter, one of his main projects is Marsh Sparrow banding

Bird banding involves attaching a small, individually numbered metal band to the leg of a wild bird. This enables the individual bird to be identified should it later be recaptured or recovered.  Scientists can then use this information to learn more about migration, life-span, survival rates, reproductive success, population growth and much more. 

 Recording bird info


For the Marsh Sparrow banding on Kiawah, Aaron is specifically interested in three different species of marsh sparrows that winter on Kiawah: 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 spatially restricted. This group may be particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise and loss of salt marsh habitat. The objectives for this project include determining habitat requirements, site fidelity, relative abundance, and the distribution of the species.

Birding Photo b

Birds are captured from December to early April during high tide when the birds are forced into smaller higher patches of habitat. Mist nets are then placed in areas around these high grounds. Aaron and volunteers (such as our Naturalists) line across the other end and begin to move towards the net, clapping and making noises to startle the birds to hopefully fly or run toward the high ground and nets. As the team gets closer to the nets, they move faster and faster to rush the birds into the net. This is quite the work out, running in thigh high water with waders! Each bird is identified, banded, and measured. Listed below are the results from this past winter:

Birding photo c 

New Birds

  • Seaside Sparrow 106
  • Saltmarsh Sparrow 28
  • Nelson’s Sparrow 9
  • Swamp Sparrow 1
  • Clapper Rail 3
  • Sora Rail 1
  • House Wren 1
  • Marsh Wren 3

Recaptured Birds

  • Seaside Sparrow 116
  • Saltmarsh Sparrow 10
  • Nelson’s Sparrow 10
  • Clapper Rail  1

 One of the most interesting captures from this season was a Saltmarsh Sparrow that was banded in Parker River National Wildlife Refuge in Massachusetts on August 3, 2011. Aaron has caught this bird at the same site every winter since it was banded.

To learn more about Kiawah amazing bird species, join our naturalists on a Back Island Birding or Birding for Beginners.