Bald Eagle, Other Birds of Prey, Shorebirds, Songbirds, & Sparrows

Southern Bald Eagle
                           (Our National Emblem)

October through May

Although the Southern Bald Eagle, a threatened species, nests throughout the state, the vast majority of nesting takes place in the cypress swamps of Southeastern Louisiana. Eagles nest in sturdy cypress trees adjacent to open water where they hunt for fish. As of the 2004-2005 survey season, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries reports 351 nests were found state-wide and 256 were known to be active. A full 57% of the total nests for the state are located within the four coastal parishes of Terrebonne (89), St. Martin (41), Assumption (37), and St. Mary (33). These parishes lie within the Barataria-Terrebonne Estuary (Loop 8) and Atchafalaya Basin St. Mary (Loop 6). Good sites to view wintering eagles include Victor Guarisco Lake End Park (site 6-9), Brownell Memorial Park (site 6-10), Eagle Walk at White Kitchen Preserve (site 12-8), and Stephensville Rd. (site 6-11).

Various Raptors

Late October through March

Late October to March is a great time to observe birds of prey soaring overhead, flying low over fields, or perched looking for food. In open agricultural areas in the western portion of the state (Loops 1-4) Red-tailed Hawk and American Kestrel are especially numerous and can be seen perched on telephone wires and posts along roadsides. Northern Harrier can be seen coursing low over agricultural fields. The Sabine Loop 1 in the vicinity of Fabacher Road (1-3) is an excellent area, and you may also have a chance to see Crested Caracara, a rare resident in that area. Rare visitors to the state, such as Golden Eagle and Ferruginous Hawk have also been found there.

Anywhere there are large concentrations of shorebirds, you may also encounter their predators: Peregrine Falcon and Merlin. Peregrine Falcons can be seen perched high on water towers or building ledges, sometimes venturing into urban and suburban areas in search of Rock Pigeon. A flushing flock of maneuvering shorebirds often alerts the observer to the presence of a Peregrine or a Merlin, as shorebirds try to flee from capture. Cooper’s Hawk and Sharp- shinned Hawk are particularly common in smaller woodlots or broken forest where they hunt birds. Osprey and Bald Eagles, which also both nest in Louisiana, are found in areas with open water where they can capture or scavenge fish. Short-eared Owl is an uncommon winter visitor to the rice fields. Owls roost by day, often in small groups, in grassy fallow fields and do not usually become active until after dusk. Owls are often found in areas that had high numbers of Northern Harrier during the daytime; try along the Lacassine Loop 3.

Shorebirds

Late October through March

Shorebirds that can be seen in rice fields in winter including Long-Billed Dowitcher, Dunlin, Greater Yellowlegs, Western and Least Sandpipers.

White Pelicans are large and conspicuous winter visitors. They return to Louisiana from breeding areas across Canada and in the mountain states of the West. White Pelican often winter in large groups. To watch them feed as a group, herding fish and scooping them up in their throat pouches is a sight to remember. White Pelicans often feed at dusk. They can been see along the coast at Cameron East Jetty (site 2-10) and Grand Loop 9 (site Fourchon Rd. (site 9-1) and Grand Isle State Park (site 9-10) and inland at the lakes surrounding the LSU campus in Baton Rouge.

Songbirds

Late October through March

Just as there is a suite of birds that come to Louisiana to nest, there is a completely different suite that comes to Louisiana to spend the winter. Arriving in fall, these species settle into our bottomland and upland hardwoods, forest and field edge thickets, swamps, fields and hedgerows, and coastal marsh. Concentrations of some species can be quite amazing. One of the most abundant species is the Tree Swallow. Hundreds of thousands of individuals often roost together in the marsh or sugar cane fields. These swirling aggregations form living tornadoes as they settle into a field or marsh in the evening. Best places to see huge numbers of Tree Swallow, or the “swallow tornadoes” is in Cameron Parish, on the Creole Loop 2. Another good place is Lacassine NWR (site 3-3).

In winter, forests and woodlands fill with birds not seen at other times of the year: House and Winter Wrens, Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets, Hermit Thrush, Orange-crowned and Yellow-rumped Warblers. Large numbers of Eastern Phoebes also move into the southern portion of the state, especially numerous in the early winter. A few Vermilion Flycatchers are found each winter. Lacassine NWR Pool drive (site 3-3) and along the gravel road to the refuge are good places to look for that colorful winter visitor.

Other wintering songbirds prefer backyards where seed or fruit are more available: American Goldfinch and Cedar Waxwing. Many American Robins arrive from the north to augment our small breeding population. Just as there are spectacular Tree Sparrow roosts, the occasional American Robin roost, usually in scrub or sugar cane can tally a thousand individuals or more.

Sparrows

Late October through March

There is an entire group of birds that use field or marsh during the winter. Probably the most abundant is Savannah Sparrow where hundreds can be seen crossing the maze of small back roads individually or in small groups in the rice-growing areas. These areas are also good to look for less common White-crowned, Vesper and Field sparrows. Wet grassy fields inland and on the immediate coast are winter sites of LeConte’s Sparrow. Although Sharp-tailed Sparrows are occasionally found inland during migration, they prefer the coastal salt marshes where they join the Seaside Sparrow for the winter. White-throated Sparrow can be found in thickets along the road, forest edge and urban areas, where you might also kick up a Fox Sparrow or a Dark-eyed Junco. Swamp and Song sparrows are common in a variety of habitats from grassy fields to coastal marshes.

The bare grounds of fallow rice fields provide good winter habitat for Lapland Longspurs, Horned Larks and American Pipits. The Sprauge’s Pipit prefers short grass (rural airplane runways, moved edges to fields, or vegetation on upper beaches) and is found in the rice-growing areas and on the coast.

In addition to the common winter visitors, Louisiana is a great place to look for winter rarities. Venice is a famous area, as is coastal Cameron Parish.

Christmas Bird Count

Between December 14 and January 5, several Christmas Bird Counts are run across the State, many in the vicinity of WETLAND loops. These counts offer opportunities for interested birders to participate as observers. For more information visit http://www.audubon.org/bird/cbc/

 

 

   
   
photo credit/caption:U.S Fish & Wildlife Service by Dave Menke