North America

Birdwatching in Texas – over 640 species to look for

If you’re considering a birdwatching trip in the United States, there are many areas of the country where you’ll see some notable species. However, if you can only visit one area, you may want to consider the state of Texas.

 As one of the biggest states in the country, Texas also has some of the most famous birding sites. You’ll find over 640 species (native and migratory) of birds in the diverse habitats around this state, which include everything from desert areas to freshwater bayous and hundreds of miles of coastline. Did you know that you can spot almost two-thirds of all North American birds in Texas?

Keep reading to get acquainted with some of the most popular and beautiful birds to look for when you have the chance to visit Texas, including the best areas to visit to go birding in this great state.

A Little Bit More About This Big State

You’ll find the state of Texas in the South-Central region of the United States. After Alaska, it’s the second largest state in the country, with more than 29 million residents and 695,662 km2 of land.

Map showing the location of TexasSince it shares a border with Mexico to the south, Texas has a diverse and wonderful culture. However, it was also ruled by France and Spain in the past, and you’ll find traces of those influences still there.

 As far as wildlife goes, in addition to the marvelous birds in this state, you’ll also find a wide range of other animals. Texas has 65 mammals, 213 species of reptiles and amphibians, and many different types of insects, including many species of wasps.

The Best Birding Spots in Texas

No matter what time of year you visit this great state, you’ll have the opportunity to view some incredible avian creatures. Because the state is so big (you can fit some entire European countries into this one state), it’s pretty challenging to narrow it down or provide a list of the must-see areas. There are so many of them that it would be impossible to fit them into one trip. 

State Parks

Almost any of the State Parks in Texas provide excellent opportunities for birdwatching. Here are a few that you might want to consider visiting.

 Goose Island State Park

This state park in Corpus Christi, Texas, provides a great opportunity to see some wonderful coastal birds, especially during the springtime, when migration happens.

It’s not a large park so you can cover it in its entirety relatively quickly. Some notable birds you’ll see here include the Whooping Crane, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Common Loon, and Red-Breasted Merganser. In the springtime, you’ll also see the Wood Thrust and more than 25 species of Warbler.

Pedernales Falls State Park

Pedernales Falls State Park
Pedernales Falls State Park

If you want to see Golden-Checked Warblers or Painted Buntings, you’ll want to make your way to Pedernales Falls State Park in Austin. You’ll find the Painted Buntings singing everywhere from late April to May. The Golden-Checked Warblers arrive a bit earlier, usually mid-March. The only place in the United States where you can see this bird is in this area, so if you get the chance to spot one, it’s worth it.

Brazos Bend State Park

A mixture of wetlands and hardwood forests, this park near Houston provides excellent birdwatching at any time of the year. Since it’s close to the coast, you’ll see many water bird species here and can even regularly spot the Bald Eagle, especially in the winter months (Nov- March). Some other notable birds you’ll see here include the Fulvous Whistling Duck, Wood Stork, Purple Gallinule, and Vermillion Flycatcher.

Wildlife Refuges

Of course, numerous wildlife refuges exist in the state also, and they provide excellent opportunities for seeing many species of birds. Here’s a sampling of some of the best ones for birdwatchers.

Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge

This refuge is considered one of the primer spots for birding in the United States and consists of 34,000 protected acres of woods, marsh, and prairie. You’ll see so many different birds here that you could likely visit many times and always experience something new. Some examples of birds you’ll spot here include the Roseate Spoonbill, Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher, Common Gallinule, Seaside Sparrow, and Neotropic Cormorant. There are dozens of other species of shorebirds, songbirds, and other notable species.

Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary

This coastal location provides an excellent opportunity to find shorebirds and wading birds. You’ll find numerous species of pelican, heron, sandpiper, gull and much more congregating in this area. Numerous migratory birds also pass over here, and it’s great to visit any time of the year.

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge

This refuge in the lower Rio Grande Valley (just south of the Alamo) has wetlands and woodlands that provide excellent birding opportunities. Visitors from all over the world come here to see birds like the Plain Chachalaca, Buff-Bellied Hummingbird, Clay-Colored Thrush, Gray Hawk, Elf Owl, Green Kingfisher, and much more. It’s a great place for birdwatchers to explore.

Birding Trail

The Great Texas Wildlife Trail

Texas is home to the first birding trail concept, developed in the 1990s. This drivable trail system consists of nine different areas that you can use to plan your birdwatching adventure. Select the area of Texas that you are visiting, and you’ll see an interactive map of where to explore the best places for wildlife viewing in the region.  

10 of the Best Birds to Look for in Texas 

As mentioned, Texas is a must-see spot in the United States for the birdwatching enthusiast. It’s the most bird-diverse state in the United States. Depending on the region of Texas you visit, your birdwatching experience will be different. There’s so much to explore regardless of where you are in the state. 

Here are just a few of the most exciting birds that you can find in the great state of Texas. 

Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-headed Woodpecker

The Red-Headed Woodpecker has a bold red head and black and white body. It’s also known as the “flying checkerboard” because of its patterns. You’ll find it in the Eastern part of the state and along the coastlines, although it can sometimes be hard to find because it’s growing more uncommon here. 

The Neotropic Cormorant is common in Central and Southern Texas and is very common near Mexican border areas. In the winter, you’ll primarily find them more towards the state’s south, where it is warmer. 

The Great Horned Owl is the largest owl in the state of Texas (and in North America as a whole). It’s bigger than half a meter tall (2 feet). You’ll find it throughout the state any time of the year, and you’ll often find them in pairs, as they tend to mate for life. Their two ears stick up like horns, which gave them their name. 

An interesting-looking bird that you’ll find in the Eastern and Southwestern Texas panhandle is the Lesser-Prairie Chicken. They live on the plains’ short dry grasses and are considered a threatened species because it has dramatically declined due to the disappearance of their natural habitat. You’ll find them in this area during all seasons, and they nest during the spring. 

Ferruginous Hawk
Ferruginous Hawk

The Ferruginous Hawk has a giant wingspan and is the most prominent hawk in the genus Buteo. You’ll find it in the Western part of Texas. However, it has a threatened status; currently, there are thought to be less than 4,000 pairs left in the United States. Look for it sitting in open fields or swooping down to catch its prey, which consists of rabbits, snakes, squirrels, and other similar types of small animals. 

For a beautifully colored bird, look for the Purple Gallinule. This multi-colored bird has purple, green, blue, red, and yellow hues. Even its beak is multi-colored. It’s similar to a duck and likes to swim on the water’s surface and walk across lily pads. Its long toes allow it to walk across them without sinking. Find it in the wetlands along the Gulf Coast of Texas and along the rest of the Eastern part of the state. 

The Vermilion Flycatcher is another brightly colored bird you’ll find throughout South Texas. When breeding, you’ll also spot them in the Central part of the state. The male of the species is considered one of the reddest colored birds in the world. Their bright coloring makes them exceptionally beautiful. Find them near the water, such as along streams and ponds. 

The Great Egret is a beautiful shorebird that you’ll find all around the Gulf Coast area. Its impressive wingspan of up to 1.2 meters (60 inches) makes it stand out in flight. Look for them in marshes, creeks, and inland lakes. You’ll even spot them wandering around on golf courses in the area.  

The Green Jay remains one of the most sought after birds in Texas because of its beautifully bright-colored plumage and tropical look. Find it in the South part of the state, primarily on the southern tip in the dense native woodlands. They often travel in family flocks, so you’ll likely get to spot multiple simultaneously if you spot one. 

Painted Bunting
Painted Bunting

The Painted Bunting is one of the most colorful birds in North America. You’ll see these great-looking birds all around Texas, especially during the summer, when it’s breeding season. The male has brighter, more rainbow-hued colors, but the females are also notable, having more lemon-lime coloring. Look for the males high up in the trees or perching in the sun.

How To Make the Most of Your Texas Birdwatching Trip

Birdwatching in the United States is very easy to do without a dedicated guide. With an abundance of state parks and wildlife refuges, it’s easy to coordinate a birdwatching trip to the state of Texas. 

Since the state is so large, you’ll likely only focus on the area you’re visiting. Make a list of the birds that you want to see most in that area and map out the places where you can spot them. You can then drive around to the different spots and look for the birds of interest. Of course, you can also join a birdwatching tour or trek, and you’ll find many companies offering these all throughout the state.

Final Thoughts

If you have to choose one location in the United States to go birdwatching, the state of Texas makes an excellent choice. It’s one of the most diverse birding places in the country, and you’ll see a sampling of over 640 species during your trip there. It has numerous state parks and other wildlife areas that provide ample birdwatching opportunities, making it an accessible place to view some beautiful and unique birds. 

 

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