Grab your binoculars and guide. Winter on the Texas Coast is a great time for bird watching.
With more than 600 species of birds documented in Texas, an afternoon outside in the Lone Star State can easily provide a rewarding bird watching experience for all. Whether you’re a novice or have decades of experience, bird watching offers something for everyone from an excuse to spend time outside, travel more or practice your photography skills. More than 20 million Americans enjoy this hobby; now might be just the time to try it out yourself.
In 2016, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported that 45 million people nationwide purposefully watched birds, making roughly 1 out of 7 Americans birdwatchers
Consider yourself warned, though; birding can be addictive. “Birders” spend $41 billion annually on travel, lodging, food and equipment. Many travel great distances just to see that one elusive species, plan vacations around migration patterns, trek through difficult landscapes, and invest in the best equipment. If you’re new to bird watching you probably aren’t ready to splurge on high end binoculars or hop on a plane at a moment’s notice to chase a lead. Don’t despair, there are plenty of opportunities to view our feathered friends at your own pace and price. Simply walking outside and observing can offer plenty of reward.
That said, a few simple tools will make your birding more effective, even a cheap pair of binoculars will make a big difference. As leaves fall off of trees, take advantage of the bare branches which provide great perches for resting birds. What’s that? A small red bird, with a black mask, hopping from branch to branch. Can you identify it? Take some photographs or write down details, like size, color and distinct markings or make a quick sketch in a notebook. Identification apps like Merlin Bird ID and Audubon Bird Guide are great tools for identifying birds and collecting data that can then be shared as part of citizen science efforts. Now that you’ve identified your red bird as a male northern cardinal, you are officially a birdwatcher!
If you build it, they will come
Birdwatching can be as simple as observing with the naked eye. It’s fun as an individual or with groups. And it can range from casual hobby to fierce passion. When you‘re ready to go beyond just ‘watching’ know that there are several ways to actively bird right in your own community.
Create a bird-friendly environment in your yard, patio or balcony. Providing food, water and shelter for winged visitors provides an ecological benefit while also creating great birdwatching opportunities right outside your window. Depending on the species you wish to attract, the habitat should include a variety of trees, grasses, and shrubs to create an inviting space for birds to live, hunt, and raise their young. A general rule of thumb is “more native plants mean more insects, which leads to more birds” (ecology professor and author, Doug Tallamy). If using pesticides in your garden to control the insect population, you are removing the main food source for many birds. Adult bluebirds will eat up to 2,000 insects in one day and gather more when they have a nest of chicks to feed. A yard full of insects is like an all you-can-eat buffet for birds.
Providing shelter and food are two very important considerations if you are hoping to attract specific species to your yard. For example, did you know that red-bellied woodpeckers are attracted to suet feeders? For more tips on attracting local birds to your yard, check out this article on the Environmental Services blog. Looking for the right bird house to attract purple martins? Plans to build the perfect birdhouse to attract your favorite feathered friends can be found here.
Beyond the back yard
Filled with local and migratory birds in search of winter sustenance, southeast and coastal Texas offers a number of prime bird watching spots, several within a short drive of The Woodlands. When you’re ready to venture out, be sure to check with the Houston Audubon’s Bird-Friendly Map for nearby birding hotspots.
Hit the road early to enjoy a full day of birding and be sure to remember the essentials for a day of birdwatching: binoculars, sunscreen, hat, water, snacks, a notebook and pen.
Don’t forget that the annual Texas Christmas Bird Count takes place December 14, 2019 – January 5, 2020. For more information on how you can participate and take part in this long standing holiday program that collects data from around the state, be sure to check out this year’s event page.
The Woodlands Township Environmental Services Department presents ‘An Introduction to Bird Watching in The Woodlands’. Join us Thursday, November 14 at 6 p.m. at Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC) for a presentation by Alisa Kline, naturalist at Buffalo Bayou Park. To register online, view here.