Help Unlock New Secrets – Become a Citizen Scientist

Citizen science data helps unlock new secrets every day about the birds we love. It makes conservation success stories possible. And now, whether you’re a beginning birder or have years of experience, it’s even easier to get involved in citizen science at any level.

The participation and popularity of citizen science events has grown to new heights with more opportunities to get involved, more birds benefiting from the data and easy-to-use technology available just beyond your binoculars.

Citizen Science Makes Strides for Conservation

Throughout the entire Audubon network, citizen science data is helping our biologists understand the health of birds and provides a road map to guide protection efforts for generations.

Golden-winged Warbler (Photo by Todd Arcos)

Golden-winged Warbler (Photo by Todd Arcos)

This year, citizen science data helped put working lands to work for priority species like the Golden-winged Warbler. Last month, Curtis Smalling, Aimee Tomcho and a team of enthusiastic volunteers canvassed Appalachia – a climate stronghold for Golden-wings – to spot and record Golden-wings and find new areas where their breeding habitat could be restored.

What a team! Photo by Richard Broadwell

What a team! Photo by Richard Broadwell

The result was incredible. Spotters identified more than 10,000 additional acres where Golden-wings could benefit from habitat restoration. With new regions to target, this citizen science project allowed the team to create a detailed road map for conservation.

Later this year, they’ll begin to engage an entirely new group of public and private landowners to convert their land to Golden-winged Warbler habitats. And this is just ONE example of citizen science data leading the way to conservation for the priority birds that need our help. 

Get Started

Numerous opportunities are available to birders ready to make the jump to the science of conservation.

Photo by Margaret Fowle.

Photo by Margaret Fowle.

Ready to get counting? There’s an app for that! Whether you’re new to citizen science or an experienced birder, eBird is a great digital resource to explore data or submit your own findings. As partners with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in eBird, Audubon has helped transform citizen science into an everyday activity for tens of thousands of birders.

Observations reported online anytime and from anywhere throughout North America provide an ongoing assessment of bird populations that is fast becoming an invaluable resource for conservation. Visit the eBird website and create an account to start submitting your own data.

Want to find more citizen science opportunities to try for yourself? Visit the Audubon website to learn more.

Happy Hummers Get Wild for White Flowers

Launched in 2013, Audubon North Carolina’s Bird-Friendly Communities initiative is a partnership program involving more than 20 organizations with a vision for creating a more bird-friendly North Carolina. This vision statement guides the goals and projects of the group: “Bird-friendly communities give birds the opportunity to succeed by providing connected habitat dominated by native plants, minimizing threats posed by the built environment, and engaging people of all ages and backgrounds in stewardship of nature.”

Please welcome guest blogger Beth Davis, the communications chair for the Southern Piedmont Chapter of the North Carolina Native Plant Society. Beth holds a Native Plant Certificate from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She is a team member of Audubon North Carolina’s Bird-Friendly Communities program. 

With its white blossoms, Virginia Sweetspire might not look like a hummingbird magnet, but you can bet it is! Hummers love this bird-friendly native plant, making it the perfect addition to your Bird-Friendly Native Plants of the Year collection.

Itea virginica by Will Stuart.

Itea virginica by Will Stuart.

Hummingbirds are more flexible about flower color than we think sometimes. They can get nectar from a variety of plants in addition to the ones with red or orange tubular flowers, like the crossvine and trumpet creeper. Some are white like Sweetspire; some are purple or blue like Phlox.

Virginia sweetspire is generally easy to grow and serves as a semi-evergreen colonial shrub. When considering this addition to your landscape, remember these bird-friendly growing tips!

  • Needs sun (for best flower show), but it can tolerate shade
  • It’s a spreading shrub, 3 to 5 feet tall, which colonizes
  • Flowers are white 4-inch spires appearing in late spring
  • It attracts butterflies
  • In fall, it will brighten up your garden with red, purple or yellow leaves
  • It’s common in wet, moist soil, but will tolerate drier locations
  • For landscape uses, try a hedge, mixed border, massing or bank stabilization

Where to Plant

Because it is native to creeks, swamps or pondsides, this is a prime shrub for lower or wet places in the landscape, providing erosion control around streams. It is even at home in standing water, providing shelter for birds in the area.

Ecologically, sweetspire provides pollen for native bees, nectar for hummingbirds and butterflies and food for caterpillars. Selections include Henry’s Garnet, Merlot, Saturnalia and Little Henry, which is more compact.

Better With Friends

Companion plants are bald cypress (Taxodium distichum)coastal doghobble (Leucothoe axillaris), wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera), buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), inkberry holly (Ilex glabra) and titi (Cyrilla racemiflora).

Itea is a good source of nectar and cover for wildlife and makes an excellent substitute for nandina, a commonly planted invasive exotic species.

This article also appears in the May 2015 newsletter of the Southern Piedmont Chapter of the NC Native Plant Society, as the Bird-Friendly Native Plant of the Month, which is a joint effort between Audubon North Carolina and the North Carolina Native Plant Society.

Virginia Sweetspire made our list of Bird-Friendly Native Plants of the Year for 2015. Find this and other plants at your local participating retailer.

Lea Hutaff Nesting Update – Late June to Early July

For more than 25 years, Audubon North Carolina has managed a network of coastal sites along our state’s coast offering a haven for nesting beach-nesting birds. By protecting the specialized habitats that birds need, shorebirds have a chance to thrive. Read on to learn more about nesting updates from important birding area Lea-Hutaff Island, and the coastal team who protects them.

Please welcome guest writer Sharna Tolfree.

Now that it’s late summer, nesting on Lea-Hutaff is tapering off. The majority of the Least Tern nests have hatched, and the chicks are growing up—learning the skills they need to from their parents. Many fledglings are stretching their wings, taking practice flights around the colony, and practicing fishing in the shallows.


Recently hatched Least Tern chicks. By Sharna Tolfree.

A few late bloomers:

But not everyone’s ready to fly! Four American Oystercatcher pairs are still nesting. One nest hatched two chicks July 1, and the remaining nests are due to hatch before the end of the month. We’ll be monitoring them closely, and they will receive the best possible protection, as all birds do on Lea-Hutaff Island.

The remaining oystercatcher pairs on the island have finished nesting and spend their time performing territorial displays with neighboring pairs.

Black Skimmers and Common Terns have faced some predation this summer, which has been a limiting factor in the success of many nesting birds on the island. In addition to raccoons and foxes, the arrival of coyotes threaten the survival of eggs and chicks.

Don’t forget the sea turtles:

Birds are not the only wildlife nesting on the island, though. Nesting sea turtles depend on healthy beaches just like birds and Lea-Hutaff Island is no exception!

Sea turtle crawl and nest. The white bucket is next to the nest. The bucket was used to relocate the eggs to higher ground. By Sharna Tolfree.

Sea turtle crawl and nest. The white bucket is next to the nest. The bucket was used to relocate the eggs to higher ground. By Sharna Tolfree.

Sea turtle activity on the island is picking up too. We now have three confirmed loggerhead sea turtle nests. Audubon’s policy is to leave all sea turtle nests in place and protect them from marauding predators that want to eat their eggs But on the rare occasion that a nest is clearly in imminent danger of being flooded by tides or otherwise lost, it is relocated to a more suitable area following the guidelines established by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

The first nest of the season, which contained 120 eggs, needed to be relocated in order to avoid overwash from high tides and it was also at risk of being buried by collapsing dunes.

Sea turtle nesting will continue through July-September. We expect to see turtles hatching in early September.

Learn more about Audubon North Carolina’s conservation efforts to protect the seas and shores our birds need to thrive. 

Oystercatcher Banding Day Part 2

Bird banding is a valuable tool in the study and conservation of many bird species. In this series, we’ll explain bird banding practices and explore insights gleaned from the observation of banded birds here on North Carolina’s coast and beyond. Our latest blog post details the exciting and unpredictable process of actually getting these valuable bands on our favorite birds! See part one here!

Please welcome guest writer, Katharine Frazier

As the canned oystercatcher audio blared, the real oystercatchers approached the decoys rapidly, their heads bent low like feathery charging bulls. We watched as the birds came closer and closer to the decoy, our excitement growing with every step the oystercatchers took. Our trap was going to work!

However, the oystercatchers had other plans.

As soon as they were within just a few inches of our cleverly disguised traps, they turned around and headed back down to the water, as if they’d been able to sense that something was amiss. Then, from the water’s edge, the oystercatchers surged forward again before deciding against engaging the decoys in battle. The two went back and forth between the beach and their nest a few times, each time lifting our hopes a little bit before dashing them again.

After we’d watched this process several more times, we knew that our trap wasn’t going to work on this particular pair of oystercatchers. We removed the trap and carefully replaced the eggs in their nest. It was disappointing to walk away from this nest unsuccessful, but we knew that there was another one on the island that we could try.

Take Two: 

We quickly set up a trap at the second territory and waited to see if our work would pay off. Unlike the first, we had results almost instantly—the two oystercatchers attacked the decoys immediately, and one became ensnared in the loops!

Measuring an oystercatcher after capture. Photo by Michelle Frazier.

Measuring an oystercatcher after capture. Photo by Michelle Frazier.

We moved in quickly, secured the oystercatcher and worked together to band and measure the bird. In just a matter of minutes, we attached the standard U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service band, as well as the green field-readable American Oystercatcher Working Group band.

Once the bands were on, we recorded both of the bands’ numbers and took some measurements, which will help determine if the bird is a male or female. After releasing the oystercatcher back out onto the beach, we headed for the boat to continue on to the next island.

Finishing up at Shellbed Island: 

From there, we set course for Shellbed Island, setting up our traps and hunkering down to see if they’d work. They did: we trapped three more oystercatchers—two at the island’s northern end and one at the southern end!

Considering all the work that goes into capturing and banding each and every oystercatcher, I’d call that a pretty successful day. Though we were all exhausted and sweaty after a long morning out on the islands, it was worth it.

Now, thanks to the bands, ornithologists and citizen scientists up and down the coast will be able to follow the lives of our four oystercatchers for years to come!

Learn more about Audubon North Carolina’s conservation efforts to protect the seas and shores our birds need to thrive.

Oystercatcher Banding Day Part 1

Bird banding is a valuable tool in the study and conservation of many bird species. In this series, we’ll explain bird banding practices and explore insights gleaned from the observation of banded birds here on North Carolina’s coast and beyond. Our latest blog post details the exciting and unpredictable process of actually getting these valuable bands on our favorite birds!

Please welcome guest writer, Katharine Frazier

 Recently I had the exciting opportunity to accompany Audubon coastal staff and volunteers on a banding trip out to some of the Cape Fear River islands. American Oystercatchers nest on these islands, which are monitored and protected by Audubon. We set out early from Carolina Beach State Park with the goal of stopping by several of these islands and, hopefully, banding a few oystercatchers.

Setting Traps at South Pelican Island: 

Our first stop of the morning was South Pelican Island, where several pairs of oystercatchers have nests. Along with several others, I was sent to set up traps. Setting up traps isn’t too difficult, but I learned quickly that there are quite a few steps to the process.

First, we carefully placed two realistic oystercatcher decoys nearby. The sight of two enemy “oystercatchers” would serve as an incentive for the real oystercatchers to defend their territory.

The trap consisted of three rectangular wire grids, which we placed in a triangular formation. Each of these grids was outfitted with small loops of fishing line, which would serve as the actual trapping devices.

As we covered the grids with sand to camouflage them, we arranged the loops so they stuck up out of the sand, almost like the hoops used in croquet. When an oystercatcher enters the area to defend its territory, it will step through a loop, and when it takes the next step, it will pull the loop closed around its foot.

Setting up the traps. Photo by Walker Golder

Setting up the traps. Photo by Walker Golder


 There’s an app for that: 

Once we’d buried the grids and secured the loops, it was time to put the final (and perhaps most important) part of the trap in place: sound.

We got out a portable call device, similar to smaller call devices or apps that allow users to play the sound of a bird’s call out in the field. We placed the unit a few feet away from the decoy, concealed behind a bit of vegetation, and then turned on the oystercatcher call.

Almost immediately, the high-pitched shrieks of oystercatchers filled the air and we scuttled a few hundred feet down the beach to see if our trap would work.

The parent oystercatchers, which eyed us warily from the water’s edge as we set the trap, sprang into action at the sound of the Hellfire’s pre-recorded oystercatcher calls. The two assumed attack position—bowed heads, puffed chests—and began to run up the beach in the direction of their nest, looking ready to reclaim their territory from the decoys.

From down the beach, we watched the whole scene through our binoculars with bated breath. Would our trap work?

Read our next installment in our bird banding series to find out here!

Learn more about Audubon North Carolina’s conservation efforts to protect the seas and shores our birds need to thrive.