Jekyll Island is one of Georgia's premier sites for identifying birds. Since the island is on the Atlantic Flyway (and is one of the 18 sites along the Colonial Coast Birding Trail), it's visited by a variety of feathered fliers migrating, like snow birds, to better climes.
The best times for identifying birds on Jekyll are the spring and fall seasons. A particularly good time is in October, during the Jekyll Island Birding and Nature Festival.
What type birds can you see on Jekyll Island? There are several prominent species that either visit the island or make it their home. This list, while not comprehensive, provides tips for recognizing some of the island's winged visitors.
- Wood Storks – these large wading birds (part of the stork family) are mostly white, with brown heads and black faces. When these birds are in flight, look for a strip of black on the trailing edge of their wings. Their long, down-curved bills are yellowish.
- Sandhill Cranes – the Florida subspecies of this crane sometimes drops in on Jekyll Island. Sandhills are tall, long-legged birds colored gray overall, with white cheeks and bare, red-colored foreheads. These cranes are sometimes confused with the Blue Heron. Sandhill Cranes, however, fly with their necks outstretched; herons fly with their necks curved into an "S" shape.
- Blue Herons – another large wader, herons have slate-colored feathers, reddish-brown thighs, and white heads adorned with a pair of distinctive black plumes trailing from just behind the eyes to the back of their heads.
- Egrets – there are several different kinds of egrets, but most are white with gray legs and orange bills.
- Gulls – several dozen species either visit or live on Jekyll Island. Their sizes range from medium to large. For the most part, they have white and gray feathers with black markings on their heads and wings. Gulls like to hang out at the beach, and sometimes rare gulls will make an appearance.
- Piping Plovers – this is an endangered bird species. Piping Plovers are sand colored, and about the size of sparrows. Adults have yellow-orange legs, with black, visor-like bands across their foreheads stretching from eye to eye. They also have black rings around their necks.
- Ospreys – hawk-like raptors, ospreys grow about 2 'long. They're brown on their upper bodies, and are grayish on their heads and undersides. Osprey's wings are black, and they wear black "masks".
- Bald Eagles – these majestic birds (our national symbol) have been spotted around the causeway, along Jekyll Creek and on Raccoon Key. They're large, with black bodies, white heads and necks, and strong, curved, yellowish-orange beaks.
- Songbirds – include the Yellow Warbler; Cardinals; Tanagers; Grosbeaks; Mockingbirds; and many more.
There are way too many species to mention in a short article. Your best bet for correctly identifying birds on Jekyll Island is to bring a good field guide, like the Peterson Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern and Central North America.
You'll also need a quality pair of binoculars or a spotting scope. A good digital camera is a must, as well as a journal to note down the birds you identify.
Identifying birds is easy on Jekyll Island, and you'll always have plenty of winged subjects to practice on. But do not get cocky – you can not call yourself a real birder until you learn to recognize a bird by its song.
Being able to name a bird your looking at, however, lends a whole new dimension to bird watching. It will leave you with a great feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment for years to come.