Tiny birds like to call Lowcountry home - if we'll let them

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comMarch 12, 2013 

I brake for tiny birds.

This time of year, I have to.

The streets where I live seem to be full of small birds meandering, socializing, flitting, perhaps even playing chicken with the motoring public.

We may get whiplash, but they never lose a feather.

What are they thinking?

I called Barry Lowes, formerly of Sea Pines and now of Moss Creek. He has been watching birds here, and around the globe, since binoculars were made of brass.

He said they are yellow-rumped warblers, and they come by the thousands to Beaufort County each winter.

The gray, black, white and yellow birds would be no match for a rickshaw, much less a car. If they were on a football team, the sparrow would be out toward the end of the line, Barry said, while the warbler would be the smaller, quicker, darting halfback.

They're smart enough not to migrate any farther south, like other warblers do, because they don't have to. They have the uncanny ability to digest our bayberries and wax myrtle berries.

It's hard to get a good look at them. Barry said it helps to have binoculars, and to look at them from the back. When they fly away, you can see the yellow blotch on their rumps. He said some people rudely call our little guests "butter butts."

In a week or two, they'll be gone. Their plumage is turning more colorful now, getting ready for the grand wedding ceremonies they'll soon have in the forests of far off places like Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ontario.

The most amazing thing is that these tiny birds in my street will fly more than 1,000 miles, and return to the same branch of the same tree to build a nest.

As Barry observed from the top of the food chain: "We couldn't find our way out of a subway."

In their northern summers, the warblers will have babies and plump themselves up on mosquitoes and black flies.

But why do they hang around in the street? Barry said they're eating. What they're eating is the question. It's not insects or berries. Barry thinks they're grabbing tiny specks of pollen.

He said we really don't have to slam on brakes. But they do need something from us. They need natural underbrush. They need the safety of wax myrtles and low bushes, where they scoot to safety and spend the night.

In other words, they need what people in the Lowcountry today mow down and replace with store-bought pinestraw.

"It's all about habitat," Barry said. "It's as if you knocked down all the houses in a neighborhood and then said, 'Not as many people live here anymore.' It's the same with birds. It's sad what you're seeing."

Leaving nature alone would be a better way to brake for tiny birds.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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The yellow-rumped warbler

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