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Winter Birding on the Upper Texas Coast

By Glenn Olsen

There is so much excitement surrounding spring bird migration and rightfully so, as many colorful and interesting birds return to North America for breeding. I enjoy spring migration, but I also look forward to winter birding with equal excitement as spring! 

Resident Birds

Naturally, we have our resident birds, such as the stunning Cardinals and the Mockingbirds that serenade us even during winter. A couple of other resident birds include the Carolina Chickadee and the House Finch. While House Finches are typically a rose color, interestingly, I have seen them in variants of orange and yellow, which can be attributed to diet. December to March is perhaps the best time to see our resident Great Horned Owls, which can be heard calling after dark as they begin their mating rituals. While listening for Great Horned Owls, be sure to keep an ear out for Eastern Screech-Owls calling as well. 

Wintering Birds

There are many species of interesting birds that only winter on the Upper Texas Coast, including common birds like the Yellow-rumped Warbler, and rare birds like the Mountain Bluebird that was seen in the Katy Prairie area this year. We also have a multitude of other species that range from common to uncommon in occurrence. An early winter arrival to my feeder this year were the beautiful little Chipping Sparrows, which are always interesting to watch. They also enjoy the seed of the Bushy Bluestem and Goldenrod that I planted. We have seen a large influx of Pine Siskins this year, which typically occur in our area in smaller numbers. I have a small flock of about fifteen coming regularly to my feeder, in addition to Purple Finches, which are less common. American Goldfinches are another striking winter visitor that have been manning my feeders in good numbers. 

Look and listen for the high pitched calls of small flocks of Cedar Waxwings moving around your neighborhood. They like Pine trees and Yaupon shrubs with red berries. Sandhill Cranes are always a joy to see and hear. The chorus of a flock of Sandhill Cranes is one of the most mellifluous vocalizations of any bird that I know. Galveston Island is a good area to find these beautiful birds. The pastures along FM 2004, San Bernard Wildlife Refuge, and the Katy Prairie are other good locations to find them.

This year, we also have a number of uncommon and rare birds showing up in various habitats of the upper coast. Some of these species include Whooping Crane, Eastern and Green-tailed Towhee, Clay-colored, Henslow’s and Brewer’s Sparrow, Black Scoter, Greater Scaup, and Long-tailed Duck to name only a few. 

As you can see, winter birding on the upper coast can be very exciting! There are many other species that can be seen during winter if you go birding, so get out there!  You can also attract some of these birds to your yard by adding a feeder and a birdbath, but an even better way is to garden or landscape with native plants that provide winter food, shelter, and habitat. 

📷 Photos by Greg Lavaty

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