Coastal Breeding Birds
COASTAL BREEDING BIRDS
April through July
The entire Louisiana coast is edged by marsh. These marshes generally change from freshwater marsh to brackish, then salt marsh as one approaches the Gulf. This area is rich with bird life including many heron rookeries. However, this marshy area is one of the most imperiled in the United States due to coastal erosion and wetland loss. Therefore, important habitat for breeding birds is endangered. In addition to marsh, sandy beaches occur in a few areas along the shoreline, primarily on the western coast, with a few isolated patches elsewhere. There are many barrier and smaller islands with expanses of sand or shell. Offshore islands support large numbers of breeding wading, shorebirds and seabirds. These too are at risk by erosion and loss of natural sand sources and the continuing assault by tropical storms and hurricanes.
Freshwater marshes provide breeding habitat for water birds such as Pied-billed Grebe, King Rail, Purple Gallinule and Common Moorhen. Also common is Least Bittern, a small solitary-nesting heron. Mottled Duck is common, preferring marshes nearest the coast, but birds continue to expand their range further inland to nest. Blue-winged Teal and American Coot occasionally nest in marshes of Cameron Parish. Osprey also nests in marsh edge along the coast where there are large trees or other structures to support their huge stick nest. Marsh Wren and Common Yellowthroat build their nests in cattails and bulrushes. Brush and trees along the marsh edge provide breeding sites for Eastern Kingbird and Orchard Oriole. Freshwater marsh is traversed by several of the WETLAND loops: Creole Loop 2, Vermilion Loop 3, Lacassine Loop 3, and southerly portions of St. Mary Loop 6, Terrebonne Loop 8, Orleans Loop 7, and Barataria Loop 10. Fulvous and Black-bellied Whistling ducks are most easily observed at Lacassine Pool (site 3-3). An introduced population of Canada Geese breed at Rockefeller NWR (site 2-7). Rarely do individuals wander farther than the Creole marshes (site 2-5) or marshes north of the town of Cameron.
Mixed marsh types
Killdeer nest on dry ground and along roads throughout the area, as do Common Nighthawks; Black-necked Stilt nest on raised areas within the marsh itself. Red-winged Blackbirds and Boat-tailed Grackles nest in fresh and salt marsh; Great-tailed grackles prefer larger trees at the edge of freshwater marsh. Sabine Loop 1 and Creole Loop 2
Species diversity changes as salinity increases, with Clapper Rail and Seaside Sparrow the common nesting species in salt marsh. Look for these species on the Creole Loop 2 (Rutherford Beach, site 2-9 and Cameron East Jetty Road (to site 2-10).
Beaches accessible to the public generally have few breeding birds but are good places to see birds resting. Most of Louisiana’s breeding seabird species can be observed along the beaches of the Sabine( Loop1) or Grand Isle (Loop 9) loops: Brown Pelican, Laughing Gull, Caspian, Royal, Sandwich, Forster’s, Gull-billed, Least terns, and Black Skimmer. Scattered pairs of Wilson’s Plovers breed along beaches in Cameron Parish (Sabine Loop 1) and on Grand Isle ( Loop 9). Breeding Least Terns are scattered along the coast with a breeding colony currently accessible near Port Fourchon (Grant Isle site 9-1), Least and Gull-billed Terns, and Black Skimmer also nest on flat rooftops near Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans.
Most of the fantastic seabird colonies of terns, gulls, skimmers, and Brown Pelican occur offshore on the state’s barrier islands, and chiefly those without terrestrial predators such as raccoons. Nearly all of the American Oystercatchers that breed in the state nest on islands. One pair can usually be observed at Sabine Pass Swing Bridge site(1-11). Most if not all Reddish Egrets, and a large percentage of the state’s Wilson’s Plover nest on barrier islands. The state’s small breeding population of Sooty Tern is only found on the southern Chandeleur Islands. Rarely are Sooty Terns seen on the mainland, only those usually associated with tropical storms or hurricanes. Barrier islands are accessible only by boat from the terminus of Terrebonne Loop 8 ( Isles Dernieres and Terrebonne islands), Grand Isle Loop 9 ( Queen Bess Island), and Barataria Loop 9 ( Chandeleur Islands). Arranging a charter to see breeding colonies between May and July can be well worth the effort.