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Texas is the second largest state in the United States which means it can be tricky knowing what the best spots are if you are planning a bird watching trip. The state is very rich in bird species not only due to its large size but the range of habitats it has. Which are the best bird watching spots?
The best bird watching spots in Texas are in the western part of the state at Big Bend and Guadalupe parks, and in the south along the coast at High Island, Boliver Flats, Aransas, and Anahuac. Good spots also include those on the Mexican border such as at Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park.
A table giving the most interesting birds you can see at each of my top 12 birding spots in Texas:
|PARK||INTERESTING BIRDS YOU CAN SEE HERE|
|Big Bend National Park||Roadrunner and Lucifer Hummingbird|
|Guadalupe Mountains National Park||Canyon Jays and Says Phoebe|
|High Island||Scarlet Tanager, Baltimore Oriole, and Hooded Warbler|
|Bolivar Flats||Skimmers and Royal Terns|
|Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park||Chachalaca and Green Jay|
|Falcon State Park||Green Kingfisher and Ringed Kingfisher|
|Aransas National Wildlife Refuge||Seaside Sparrow and Least Bittern|
|Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge||Clapper Rail and King Rail|
|Lost Maples State Natural Area||Black-capped Vireo and Green Kingfisher|
|Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge||Golden-cheeked Warbler and Blackpoll Warbler|
|Big Thicket National Preserve||Red-cockaded Woodpeckers and Pileated Woodpeckers|
|Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge||Snow Goose and Gadwall|
Read on to learn about what my best bird watching spots are in Texas and discover the best times to visit and what equipment you need.
TIP: If you want to check out the best pair of binoculars for bird watching, we recommend a pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars (Amazon link).
Best Places to Bird Watch in Texas
The best places to watch birds in Texas include spots that cover the range of habitats available. The greater the diversity of habitats and vegetation, the more wildlife an area can support.
This holds true for birds as well. In fact, at least 640 species of birds have been recorded within the state of Texas. A further benefit is that the state borders Mexico, so the occasional Mexican specialty like the Clay-colored Thrush can be found just over the border in Texas.
1. Big Bend National Park
You can’t go wrong visiting Big Bend National Park. This is found in the western part of Texas and consists of mountainous terrain, desert, and semi-desert scrub. The best way to experience Big Bend is to spend a couple of days staying over in the park.
Over 450 bird species have been recorded in the park at one time or another. You are likely to hear and see arid/semi-arid habitat specialties like the Cactus Wren and Scaled Quail and don’t be surprised if a Roadrunner bursts out of the bush in front of you.
Up in the montane woods, you can see the interesting Acorn Woodpecker, and looking upwards you may spot a Zone-tailed Hawk flying overhead. You are sure to add to your life list, and besides, you may even get lucky like me and spot a Mountain Lion while watching a Lucifer Hummingbird!
2. Guadalupe Mountains National Park
This is another great park to visit to see birds found in the western part of the state. You can expect to see desert specials such as Canyon Towhees, White-winged Doves, Pyrrhuloxia, and Say’s Phoebes.
There are various campsites in the park where you can stay overnight. The area is rich in bird life and scenically beautiful. I would suggest visiting this park as well as Big Bend to see the greatest range of arid and semi-arid loving birds.
3. High Island
No bird watching trip to Texas is complete without spending a few days at High Island, preferably in April during Spring migration. This is the absolute best time to see warblers, grosbeaks, tanagers, vireos, and orioles as they arrive on the Texas coast.
The parks on High Island are run by the Houston Audubon Society and are well-organized. During spring migration, you can expect there to be guided tours available as well as the chance to meet several other birding experts.
There is also a rookery where you can find Roseate Spoonbills, Cattle Egrets, Sacred Ibises, and an assortment of heron species.
4. Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary
Bolivar Flats is on the shores of Galveston, Texas. The close proximity to High Island makes it easy for you to bird watch both areas on the same day or over a couple of days. Bolivar Flats has beach, ocean, and marshes. This sanctuary is popular among birders looking for shorebirds. These include waders, gulls, terns, and skimmers.
To see and correctly identify all the birds out on the shores jutting out into the ocean may require using a spotting scope. This is why it is a good idea to either have a scope or find out if there will be an Audubon trip to the area where there will be guides who have spotting scopes you can use.
The Audubon society does sometimes have trips you can go on leaving from High Island during Spring migration. You can watch a video on High Island and Bolivar Flats to learn more:
5. Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park
This is a terrific park to camp at and another must-visit bird watching site. What makes this park so good is that it borders Mexico and has South Texas specialties like the Green Jay and Chachalaca.
Some people who camp in this park regularly put out feeders filled with grape jelly or slices of oranges so you can expect to walk along the road and spot Baltimore and Orchard Orioles feasting at a feeder.
6. Falcon State Park
This may seem an odd choice if you have never lived and birded in Texas but Falcon State Park and its dam are worth a trip. This is one of the few places in the entire United States where you can see all three kingfisher species, the Belted, Green, and Ringed Kingfisher.
The park is located on the Mexican border and is known for the usual South Texas bird species like Green Jays. Several species of water birds, hawks, and birds of semi-arid conditions have been recorded here.
7. Aransas National Wildlife Refuge
Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is the spot on the Gulf coast you should go to find Whooping Cranes and Sandhill Cranes. Besides the endangered species, the Whooping Crane, Aransas is home to about 400 species of birds. You can find many other species in the refuge.
The refuge has a variety of habitats including marshes, grassland, several salt marshes, and other ponds. You can expect to see spoonbills, egrets, herons, waterfowl, and an assortment of migrating species during migration time.
8. Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge
This is another wetland refuge that is worth a visit if you are a bird watcher. Both Clapper and King Rails have been spotted in the wetlands of Anahuac. A variety of waterfowl consisting of several ducks and geese can be observed in the refuge.
Driving around you may spot a Least Bittern in the reeds. Anahuac is a good location to try to see the Seaside Sparrow. This little bird specializes in salt marshes along the coast where it flies from patch to patch of thick grass.
9. Lost Maples State Natural Area
Lost Maples is a good place in central Texas to see some uncommon birds like the Black-capped Vireo and Green Kingfisher. The wooded areas provide excellent habitats for several kinds of bird species.
About 300 bird species have been recorded in Lost Maples State Natural Area. You can camp in the park and spend some time exploring the woods and looking for migrating warblers and species like Downy Woodpeckers and Northern Flickers. The area is also close to Austin, Texas, which is convenient if you want to visit the city.
10. Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge
This wildlife refuge is a good spot to visit if you are looking for the endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler, which nests here. The threatened Blackpoll Warbler has also been sighted in the woods of this refuge. This refuge is in central Texas and is part of what is known as the Hill Country.
Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge is located in Marble Falls, Texas, and is just northwest of Austin. A good plan is to combine a trip here with a trip to Lost Maples. You can see many migrating species and shorebirds in the wetland areas of the refuge.
11. Big Thicket National Preserve
This is a large area that includes the hardwood and pine forests of East Texas. Besides being scenically beautiful, the area provides a habitat for an assortment of birds. One big reason you should visit the Big Thicket is to look for the elusive and endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker.
Even if you don’t see this woodpecker, there are 300 species recorded in the area, 74 of which nest in the Big Thicket. Although there is a lot of forest in the preserve, there are areas of grassland and wetlands where you can look for birds typical of these habitats.
12. Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge
Moving north you may wonder what spots you should visit in Texas to see birds. Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge is definitely a good place to visit. This area is located north of Dallas. A visit in winter is recommended for this refuge because you can see thousands of Snow Geese and many waterfowl species.
You can visit this refuge outside of winter and you will still see many species of birds including birds in the water and surrounding vegetation. However, winter is when you can expect the highest numbers of waterfowl here.
Best Time to Bird Watch in Texas
It is up to you when you want to visit Texas to look for birds. If you want to catch sight of Whooping Cranes then visiting between November to March is recommended. However, the absolute best time for bird watching in Texas is during migration, and for this, Spring migration is optimal.
You can bird watch during Fall migration but the warblers will not have their breeding plumage, making the identification of individual species much more challenging.
I personally prefer Spring migration for visiting places like High Island. This is where you can see 20 to 30 species of warblers in breeding plumage in late April. Identification of species and activity peaks at this time.
If you are keen on seeing waterfowl, then winter is the optimal time. This is when you can see thousands of migrating geese and ducks.
Below is a table summarizing what the peak times/seasons are for seeing particular types of birds that are migratory.
|TYPES OF BIRDS||SEASON|
|Warblers and tanagers||Spring, particularly late March to late April|
|Waterfowl||Winter, from December to late February|
The Texas State Bird
The state bird of Texas is the Northern Mockingbird. This bird is very abundant, occurring throughout the state. It has adapted well to city and suburban life but also occurs in natural habitats such as the edges of woodlands.
The mockingbird is in the bird family Mimidae, which includes mimic thrushes. The Northern Mockingbird is a clever mimic and can copy an assortment of sounds.
The mockingbird is easy to recognize with its gray upper parts and pale under parts. The white patches on the wings and on the edges of the outer tail feathers are also obvious when the bird takes flight.
Bird Watching Laws in Texas
There are laws in Texas that protect birds. The laws pertain specifically to indigenous and migratory birds that reside in and travel through Texas. You are not allowed to possess any indigenous bird or have in your possession, the eggs of these birds.
The laws are in place to help conserve the birds. Control measures can be used against certain birds under particular conditions.
A person can control the numbers of cowbirds, Red-winged, Brewers, Rusty blackbirds, crows, and all grackle species if they pose a threat of damage to livestock or crops. Protection is not granted to exotic or introduced bird species including the Feral Rock Dove, House Sparrow, and European Starling.
My Favourite Equipment for Bird Watching
Bird watching is one of the least expensive hobbies out there, but you still need some equipment to get the most out of it.
The essential equipment to start bird watching is a pair of binoculars. My preference is 8 X 42 binoculars. The number 8 is how much the magnification is, while 42 is the field of view in millimeters of the lenses.
A pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars on Amazon is an excellent choice for both beginners and experts.
In time, you can choose more expensive models and also opt to buy a spotting scope like the Celestron Ultima 80 on Amazon.
These are a lot more expensive compared with binoculars though, so if you are only a beginner, start with binoculars first. A spotting scope is only helpful for birds far away, such as out on a pond or seashore.
Bird Watching Ethics
There are a few rules or guidelines you should abide by as an ethical birder. These are listed below.
- Do not enter private lands without prior permission from landowners.
- Follow all the rules in refuges and reserves, including cleaning up any garbage from your campsite.
- Do not disturb birds on nests.
- Do not use apps and play songs to call up birds when they are hungry, tired, and breeding during spring and summer.
Texas is definitely a state you must bird watch in whether you currently reside in the United States or are simply planning a bird watching trip there. The large size of the state and its variety of habitats means you can see many species of birds.
The only drawback is that the state is big and travel distances can be great. Focusing your efforts on my best bird watching spots and knowing what time of year to visit, means you can save time and money and still see and add many new bird species to your life list.