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I recently had the pleasure of spending eight weeks driving across the state of Texas in my camper during spring migration. While there, I saw numerous birds for the first time. The Vermilion Flycatcher, Gold-fronted Woodpecker, and Green Heron, to name a few. I also visited multiple state and national parks throughout the Lone Star state, which did not disappoint. I’d say I’m ready to buy a pair of cowboy boots and become a full-time resident, even if only for the birds! This whirlwind of an adventure kept my eyes glued to my binoculars, only looking away to flip through pages of Sibley Birds West quickly.
Texas is a vast and diverse state with 800 miles of various biomes and elevations. From rolling plains, coastal plains, gulf prairies, marshes, and vast deserts, it is no wonder that the variety of habitats across the state is home to 660 different species of birds. Keep scrolling to read about the top 50 birds you are most likely to spot while birding in the state, and be sure to check out the Texas birding resources shared at the bottom of this article! Texas is ranked second behind California as the state with the most species of birds. California leads by only 19 species!
To fully understand the diversity of bird species that call Texas home, let’s look more closely at the many different biomes of the state. Elevation across the state of Texas ranges from 8,751 feet at the peak of the Guadalupe Mountains in the northern area of Salt Flat, Texas, to sea level at the Gulf of Mexico. Texas Parks and Wildlife describes the ten main ecoregions in-depth, but here are the highlights:
- Piney Woods: Eastern Texas pine and oak forest. Extends to Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. Timber and cattle industries are prolific throughout this region.
- Gulf Prairies and Marshes: Areas bordering the eastern Texas coast, from Louisiana to Brownsville, TX. A primary breeding zone for shrimp and fish.
- Post Oak Savanah: Transition zone between the western Blackland prairies and eastern piney woods with sandy loam falling between 300 to 800 feet of elevation.
- Blackland Prairie: Rich black soil is prominent throughout this ecoregion, giving the Blackland prairie its name. For this reason, food production is popular in the area.
- Cross Timbers and Prairies: Timbered northern and central Texas areas that vary between densely forested and mixed-grass prairies. Savannah and woodland areas are typical along this ecoregion’s eastern and southern borders.
- South Texas Brushlands: The southernmost tip of Texas is comprised of thorny trees and shrubs such as mesquite, acacia, and prickly pear. Its proximity to Mexico and subtropical woodlands in the Rio Grande Valley make it prime real estate for rare and tropical species.
- Edwards Plateau: Elevations vary drastically from 100 to 3,000 feet in this central Texas region. With many rivers, springs, and canyons, this limestone-rich area is known for its caves and aquifers.
- Rolling Plains: Characterized as a mesquite-shortgrass savannah, the rolling plains begin in northern Texas, along with many rivers and tributaries supporting various wildlife. Agricultural production is a primary industry throughout this ecoregion.
- High Plains: Home to wintering flocks of waterfowl, this region is a high plateau across northwestern Texas. Native vegetation is composed of juniper and mesquite.
- Tans-Pecos: This “extreme Western” region of the state is often described as the most diverse. This area is home to the highest peak in the state, Guadalupe Peak, featuring mountains, deserts, and plateaus. Douglas fir farming is expected throughout this ecoregion.
Texas Bird Records Committee
Now that you’ve got some background on the regions (there’s a ton, right?), it’s time to find out how birds become classified as official species of a state. In Texas, a committee of individuals from the Texas Ornithological Society forms the Texas Bird Record Committee. This committee is responsible for reviewing and validating submissions from individuals who believe in having sighted a new or variant species of bird in the state. They have a rigorous submission process before adding any naturally occurring species to the Texas state list. Naturally occurring means that the birds are non-captive free-flying birds that sustain themselves in the wild.
While species that have been sighted multiple times make up the majority of the Texas state bird list, there are about 40 species that have only one verified sighting. This makes them rare to the state, but the verified sighting gets them a spot on the list.
Bird Species of Texas
Now comes the fun part! After understanding more about the biomes and verification process that go into accepting a bird species to the state list, we can get into descriptions of the significant list toppers. Below are the top 50 birds you will most likely see throughout the state during any given season. If you’d like to review all 660 species, check out this list compiled by the Texas Birds Record Committee.
Neotropic Cormorant (Nannopterum brasilianum)
Found near the southern wetlands of Texas, you can often find this long-necked black waterbird bird perching perfectly atop the water, diving for fish, or flying in flocks throughout the sky. The Neotropic Cormorant is often hard to differentiate from the Double-crested Cormorant, so keep your eyes peeled for the Neotropic’s lengthier tail feathers. The call of the Neotropic Cormorant is described as “pig-like.” Pro tip: Scan the skies and marshes for this bird from November through January.
Double-crested Cormorant (Nannopterum auritum)
The Double-crested Cormorants can be seen in flocks with Neotropic Cormorants. They are also quickly spotted drying off on docks, branches, and rocks along the coast or inland lakes. These birds have long necks and long hooked bills. They are a deep brown to black color with orange skin that meets their thin black bill. They have aqua eyes that stand out firmly against their dark matte plumage. A double crest of black or white feathers develops during the breeding season. Pro Tip: They can usually be seen with their wings spread as they dry out from hunting small fish.
American Coot (Fulica americana)
When looking for the America Coot, locate a body of water and look for their easy-to-spot white bill, often in flocks. With a dark black body and stark white bill, the American Coot looks a bit like the product of a duck and crane’s mating experiment. Thin legs support their stout body as it floats effortlessly across the water and dives to forage for vegetation. This bird does not have webbed feet and gets a running start before taking flight. Pro tip: As the American Coot swims through the water, you will notice a significant jerk in their movement.
Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)
You can likely find a flock of white Cattle Egret within close proximity of livestock (hence the name) throughout the state of Texas. This is because they eat the insects that are agitated when cattle or horses graze on the grass. They will reside in colonies that have other species of herons and egrets. The Cattle Egret has a predominately white body with gold to peach-colored feathers on its chest, head, and back. They are commonly seen with their neck tucked, which gives it a stock and small appearance. They sit on short, thin legs and have an abruptly straight orange bill. A more definitive “S” shape is seen as they raise their neck. Pro tip: Listen for their distinctive “rick-rack” call.
Great Egret (Ardea alba)
The graceful Great Egret is a slender and sharp-looking bird. Recovering from a near extinction caused by humans (tisk, tisk!), this bird has stunning white feathers, a long “S” shaped neck, and a narrow pointy orange bill. In Texas, you will find this bird hanging out near ditches, ponds, stock tanks, and waterways. Pro tip: Seasonally, look for the Great Egret in the summertime along the coastal prairies of eastern Texas.
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)
The adaptable Great Blue Heron is the largest heron in North America. The Great Blue Heron is sometimes mistaken for a crane in flight. To avoid this common mistake, check out the bird’s neck. A crane will hold their neck straight while a heron tucks their neck in. The Great Blue Heron is typically found in marshes, swamps, and meadows throughout Texas. With slate-gray upper parts, a white head with a black stripe across the eye, and dark plumage underneath, this heron will have a blueish tint from a distance. Pro tip: You’re most likely to find Great Blue Herons anywhere fish and frogs may be.
Green Heron (Butorides virescens)
The Green Heron is one of the only herons in Texas that you are most likely to find inland instead of along the coast. I’ve been lucky enough to observe this bird in Big Bend National Park. It sat very still while stalking prey beneath the water. The bird was perched on a branch in a marsh near the Rio Grande River with its eyes intently watching the water. Their plumage is a dark green-black color that becomes more vibrant the closer you are. They are smaller than other herons on this list and have a stocky appearance with a long pointed bill. Pro Tip: If you come across a Green Heron hunting in the water, wait patiently to see if they use a fishing lure. They often utilize bait to catch fish. Isn’t that neat?
Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius)
The Northern Harrier, or marsh hawk, is a medium-sized raptor found across the state of Texas from September to May. You will spot this bird flying low over grasslands and marshes as they hunt for rodents. They have an owl-like face with a distinctive hooked bill. Females are brown with black bands across their tails, while males are gray with white underparts, black wingtips, and a white patch above their tail feathers. Pro tip: The Northern Harrier often flies in a “V” formation with its long tail following behind them.
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
The Red-tailed Hawk is found across the state of Texas except for in high plains, pineywoods, or in the lower Rio Grande Valley. It is easiest to find a Red-tailed Hawk in the state from mid-October to mid-March. Scan the skies when driving past open fields, and you will likely see this bird soaring with gusts of warm air. Red-tailed Hawks have robust bodies with large, broad, barred wings. They are mottled brown above with a cream-colored underside. Their tailfeathers are a rusty red color with a pink underside that can help easily identify them. When you can’t see their tail, look for a dark brown band across their underside. Pro tip: The Red-tailed Hawk is the most common hawk across the state and has a loud screaming “kreee-aaar” that you will instantly recognize.
Crested Caracara (Caracara plancus)
The Crested Caracara prefers coastal prairies, post oak savannah, and the Blackland prairie in southern Texas. This distinctive raptor has a black and white body with orange skin extending from its eye to its bill. It has a white neck that transitions into a black and white striped chest. They have a distinct black-capped head and white feathers under the wings visible in flight. The Breeding Bird Survey classified Texas as the largest breeding population of Crested Caracaras in the United States. Breeding season for this falcon is from January to September and occurs near sea level in brushlands, pastures, and even golf courses. Nests can be found in elevated vegetation. Adults are frequently seen perching atop utility poles, fence posts, or trees as they hunt for carrion or decaying flesh. Pro Tip: The Crested Caracara prefers to search for their food early in the morning or in the late afternoon. They will watch for vultures as indicators of a potential feeding opportunity.
American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)
I love getting the chance to see this pint-sized murder machine. The American Kestrel is the smallest falcon in North America. Similar to the Crested Caracara, the American Kestrel can also be found perching on fence posts and utility lines in open areas. Normal behavior includes head bobbing and moving their tail up and down while perched. Males have a blue-gray head and wings with a caramel-brown body adorned with black markings. Females have brown and black wings with cream-colored underparts. The black verticle markings on their faces look similar to a Peregrine’s mustache and sideburns. They have a statewide distribution range, but you are most likely to find them among the rolling plains. Pro tip: If you attend an event at an outdoor stadium, American Kestrels are usually seen perching on stadium lights eating large insects that are attracted to the lights.
Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus)
The Loggerhead Shrike is found in the Southwest and south-central grasslands of Texas during spring, fall, and winter. Unfortunately, their numbers are dwindling throughout North America. The largest stable population resides in Texas and is currently being monitored by the Texas Shrike Force. Their goal is to observe breeding and reproductive habits within the state since the Loggerhead Shrike is presently listed as a Priority Species in Texas. This songbird is about the size of a robin with gray upperparts and a black mask across the eyes. Their wings are black with a white chin, chest, and belly. They kill their prey, primarily large insects and rodents, with their hooked bill. If they aren’t hungry, they’ll store the kill by impaling it on fences or barbed wire for safekeeping. Pro tip: See a grasshopper on some barbed wire? Sit patiently and wait for a Loggerhead Strike to return for its leftovers.
Barn Owl (Tyto alba)
You won’t find a Barn Owl above 5,000 feet elevation in Texas (or during the day), but you will find them in forested and open areas throughout the eastern region. They are most commonly sighted between October to April but can be seen with sharp eyes year-round. The Barn Owl has a uniquely beautiful heart-shaped face with a downward-facing beak positioned far below its eyes to keep its line of sight clear. Their white face is contrasted by copper-brown wings and a white chest and underwings. Pro tip: During the winter, scan juniper fields to find them roosting.
Eastern Screech-Owl (Megascops asio)
The small Eastern Screech-Owl resides year-round through the Blackland Prairies, Edwards Plateau, and Rolling Plains. They can also be found in the Trans-Pecos near Big Bend National Park and the Rio Grande Valley. This robin-sized owl has a large head and a short body. Their coloring varies from a spotted gray or rufous with intricate banding to allow them to blend seamlessly into their habitat. Their most notable features are their raised ear tufts and square tail. Pro tip: Egg-laying occurs in natural cavities found in oaks, elms, cottonwoods, and pines in central Texas from March through May.
Western Screech-Owl (Megascops kennicottii)
The Western Screech-Owl breeds in the Trans-Pecos region and lives in riparian climates throughout deserts and prairies. Their distribution often overlaps with the Eastern Screech-Owl and may be seen more frequently throughout their distribution range. They can be self-sustained in urban or suburban environments as long as nesting cavities (i.e., older trees) are available. Their body shape is nearly identical to the Eastern Screech-Owl, with plumage ranging from gray, brown, or rufous, with white speckles, splotches, and dark streaking. When living in Texas, they are usually grayer in color. They also have tufted ears, square tails, and yellow eyes. Pro tip: Preferred nesting cavities are typically found in cottonwoods, willows, oak-mesquite, and sycamores.
Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)
The Great Horned Owl is the largest owl in Texas. This owl is two feet long, which makes it easier to see than other species of owls. They have prominent feathery ear tufts that look like small horns on the top of their head, large yellow eyes, reddish brown coloring throughout their face, and a camouflaging gray body. This owl is a primary resident in the state of Texas. However, it is uncommon in the Pineywoods. Their nocturnal nature means you’ll need to be a night owl yourself if you want to catch a glimpse of one. Listen for its signature call, which sounds like “Who’s awake; me, too.” During the breeding seasons, mating pairs use abandoned Red-tailed Hawk nests. You may also see this owl nesting on a giant cactus, tree cavity, or cave. Pro tip: Attract a Great Horned Owl to your backyard by placing a nesting box before the breeding season.
Barred Owl (Strix varia)
“Who cooks for you?” No, don’t answer that, but if you hear it echoing through the forest or swamp, that’s the sound of a Barred Owl. This owl lives in the eastern forested areas of the Lone Star state, including the Pineywoods, Post Oak Savannah, and Blackland Prairies. The Barred owl has a large “two-lobed” facial disk, dark eyes, and no ear tufts. It has a wingspan of 42 inches and is 18 inches long. They are molted brown and beige throughout most of their plumage, with verticle barring on their underside. These features differentiate it from other owls in the state. Pro tip: Visit an old-growth forest located near water. There you can attempt to mimic their “Who cooks for you?” call, and they just might answer you with the same question!
Killdeer (Charadrius vociferous)
The Killdeer is a common and prolific breeding species throughout east Texas, with dwindling population numbers throughout west Texas due to its aridity. This shorebird is adaptable and can be found in parking lots, perched on rooftops, and relaxing on golf courses. Water is not necessary for a flock of Killdeer to flourish. An area with low vegetation is perfect for insect foraging. The Killdeer’s signature call is “kill-deer” and is frequently accompanied by circling flight. They are small robin-sized birds with tall skinny legs. They have large heads, abruptly short bills, and large eyes. Brownish gray upper parts are met with a white chest featuring black baring. They have a black ring around their necks and a verticle black stripe between their eyes. Pro tip: Find this bird year-round on Texas’ eastern coast. Populations are greatest in late summer to early fall.
Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus)
It’s hard to miss the vibrantly colored Red-headed Woodpecker. Their distribution range is limited to eastern Texas and the state’s panhandle, with some occurrences in the Rio Grande Valley. When I was in Texas, I saw this beauty at Big Bend National Park. The Red-headed Woodpecker has a black and white checkerboard body with a crimson red head. Their chest is white, and they have a prominent gray-brown bill. When searching for this bird in Texas, look for nesting sites on utility poles, hardwood, and coniferous trees, and focus on branches with minimal bark (these are their favorite!). Pro tip: Attract Red-headed Woodpeckers to your yard by filling winter feeders with acorns, pecans, and suet. They like a variety of fruits such as blackberries, grapes, and pears.
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)
The Northern Flicker is a woodpecker most active in the state of Texas during migratory and breeding seasons. The Texas Breeding Bird Atlas found that the species breeds in the northern panhandle and Trans-Pecos Mountains from early April to late July. Open woodlands, mature pine forests, orchards, and farms are prime real estate for the Northern Flicker. The colors displayed by this bird depend on its range. They are “yellow-shafted” in the east and “red-shafted” in the west. This color can be seen on the underside of their wings. Their bodies are large, and plumage is a gray-brown color throughout. They have a black bib at the top of their chest. Their undersides are dotted with black polka-dots, and the back of their wings are lightly barred. Yellow-shafted Flickers will have a red crescent below a gray crown and black mustache stripe. Red-shafted Flickers have a brown crown with no crescent below the crown and a red mustache stripe. Pro tip: In the Trans-Pecos, look for this bird in minimally wooded foothills, canyons, and mountain slopes. Their abrupt “peah” call is usually followed by “wik wik wik.”
Golden-fronted Woodpecker (Melanerpes aurifrons)
you can also find this mesquite-loving woodpecker in sparse dry juniper woodlands, riparian cottonwood, willow, and cypress forests. They forage for insects along tree trunks and on the ground. The Gold-fronted Woodpecker is standard across the state, with focused populations in the western Trans-Pecos and southeastern Texas. Medium in size, the Gold-fronted Woodpecker is smaller than the Northern Flicker and has a gray underside and head with barred black and white black. Golden yellow napes and nasal tufts are the showstopping features of this bird. Males will have a bright red crown. Pro tip: Typically perched on utility poles and dead trees, they sit perfectly still for minutes. They feed on prickly pear cactus fruit when available, so be sure to seek thorny pear-rich areas out while on your quest.
You won’t find the Ladder-backed Woodpecker in the Pineywoods, but you will find it in dry western mesquite scrublands. This woodpecker is well adapted to the desert and excavates yuccas and giant cacti to make suitable nesting sites. The Ladder-backed Woodpecker is small in size and has a black and white striped back with checkerboard wings. Males will have red crowns that extend from their eyes to the back of their heads. Females have black crowns. The largest recorded population of the species occupies Kendall and Llano County on the Edwards Plateau. Pro tip: During the breeding season, these desert dwellers can be found south of the Nueces River in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)
Ordinary to the state, the Eastern Phoebe is a flycatcher that you can easily spot in the north central plains, the Edwards Plateau, and farmlands across the northeast. Their breeding season in the state occurs from mid-February to late July, and nests can be found under bridges, culverts, eaves of houses, or farm structures. The limestone cliffs of the Edwards Plateau are also commonly used. This small songbird has a distinct “fee-bee” call. They have slender bills with a brownish-gray head and a light gray body. Their underparts are beige, and they have yellow plumage on their bellies during the fall. Pro tip: The Eastern Phoebe is a fan of woodlands and can usually be seen near the edges of the water.
Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus)
The Vermillion Flycatcher is a frequent sight in the dry climate of Texas. I’ve sighted a few flying from tree to tree in the Rio Grande Village. Thriving in the southern region of the Trans-Pecos, the Edwards Plateau, and throughout south Texas, this bird likes arid grasslands, pastures, and scrubby desert near the water with mesquites, and cottonwoods, willows, or oak trees. Like most bird species, the male is the flashy one. He will have a vibrant orange-red head and chest, with a brown stripe across the eyes extending to his short but sharp bill. His wings and back are brown and a little larger than a sparrow. The female has a brown and gray body with a white chin and peach-toned plumage on her underparts. Pro tip: If you’re near a pond, river, or stream in the Southwest, look for insects flying over the water or buzzing near the banks. Wait patiently, and it’s probable you’ll see the bright red Vermillion Flycatcher swooping for insects.
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)
The Blue Jay is a widespread bird that is found year-round in the eastern two-thirds of Texas. The Blue Jay breeds in the Pineywoods, Post Oak Savannah, Blackland Prairies, eastern Edwards Plateau, and the northern Coastal Prairies. They’ve also been spotted in the northern panhandle of the state. The only areas where you won’t find this bird in the Trans-Pecos. These acorn lovers are found in forests and suburban areas like parks. The Blue Jay is similar in size to a robin. They have white underparts with rich blue feathers on top that are assorted shades. Their tailfeathers have horizontal black stripes against the blue gradient. Their heads have a powder blue crown with a black ring extending from the back of their head to their neck. Pro tip: The loud and recognizable call of a Blue Jay sounds like “jeeer.” Venture into wooded parks and check coniferous trees for nests 10 to 25 feet above the ground.
Western Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica)
The Western Scrub-Jay is sometimes confused for a western bluebird at first glance, but take a closer look, and you’ll notice that the Western Scrub-Jay has a whitish throat and gray belly instead of a rufous stomach. Their white throats have speckling, and their heads, wings, and tail feathers are a rich blue. You can find this bird breeding from early March to late June. Breeding areas include juniper scrub throughout the Edwards Plateau region, pine in the Trans-Pecos, and juniper and oak brushwoods in the panhandle. Pro tip: If you’re in the panhandle or Trans-Precos areas, Western Scrub-Jays have been sighted eating ticks and parasites off the backs of mule deer.
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
The American Crow is an underrated bird, in my opinion. They are so curious and intelligent. Prolific throughout most of the United States, look for the American Crow in the Pineywoods, Coastal Prairies, Post Oak Savannah, and Blackland Prairies. These large black birds are not strangers to human-inhabited areas like cities, towns, campgrounds, landfills, sporting arenas, parking lots, and cemeteries. In the wilderness, you’ll find them in sparse or open woods. Their signature “caw caw” can be heard as they fly through the sky with long legs and broad rounded wings. Their tails are short and squared, and their feathers are lustrous black. The entire bird is jet black from bill to feet. They are smaller than a raven (up next) by about one-third. Pro tip: These birds nest in cottonwood trees in the panhandle of Texas. They are scarce in the Trans-Pecos and Edwards Plateau regions.
Chihuahuan Raven (Corvus cryptoleucus)
Formerly known as the White-necked Raven due to their base layer of rarely seen white neck feathers, the Chihuahuan Raven is larger than the American Crow but a little smaller than a Common Raven. They have heavy black bills and a “graaak” call. They are well adapted for life in the desert and prefer dry scrubby areas. American Crows prefer the moisture of the state’s northeastern region, while the Chihuahuan Raven thrives in the arid climate of south Texas. Breeding is expected in the High Plains, Trans-Pecos, and Edwards Plateau from March to July. The lower Rio Grande River valley makes an excellent home for the Chihuahuan Raven due to the density of yuccas, mesquites, and cacti. They are absent from Pineywoods. Pro tip: If you’re struggling to tell the difference between an American Crow and Chihuahuan Raven, wait for the wind to ruffle the neck feathers of the bird. If they are gray at the base, it’s an American Crow. If they are white, it’s a Chihuahuan Raven.
Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis)
“Chick-a-dee-dee-dee,” said she! This little round bird has a gray body with white cheeks and a black cap and bib and is standard across eastern Texas. The Carolina Chickadee was discovered breeding in the Pineywoods, Post Oak Savannah, Blackland Prairies, Rolling Plains, and Edwards Plateau in 1992. They can be found in swamp forests that have oak, sweetgum, cypresses, or black gum trees. They also thrive in riparian hardwoods. Pro tip: Attract Carolina Chickadees to your feeders by filling them with peanuts, suet, and sunflower seeds. Bring feeders in when it’s raining to avoid mold growth. Warblers follow closely behind migrating Chickadees, so keep an eye or ear out during spring and fall, and you might get a bonus sighting!
Black-crested Titmouse (Baeolophus atricristatus)
The Black-crested Titmouse is a year-round resident of its breeding range, which is prominent in the Edwards Plateau. This bird will be larger than a Caroline Chickadee and has a characteristic black crest that looks a bit like a slicked-up faux hawk haircut. Its body is gray, fading to black on the outside of its wings. Its underbelly is a creamy white to beige. They like wooded mesquite areas and oak scrubs; however, you may also find the Black-crested Titmouse at elevations of 750 feet. Pro tip: The Texas Breeding Bird Atlas estimates that there are 10 to 30 Black-crested Titmice per 25 miles route year-round throughout the Edwards Plateau.
Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)
The Tufted Titmouse is present in the eastern woodlands, coastal prairies, southern brushlands, the Edwards Plateau, and the north central plains. They interbreed with the Black-crested Titmouse, where their range overlaps in central Texas from February to June. This small bird has a gray back and head with a tall bushy crest. A small black patch is between their eyes, right above the bill. Their chin and underside are white with light brown at the flanks. Pro tip: Tufted titmice are regulars at backyard feeders during winter months, and they love sunflower seeds. Listen for their song “peter-peter-peter” in the tree canopy.
Verdin (Auriparus flaviceps)
A tiny desert jewel, the Verdin has a greyish-silver body with a bright yellow head and brownish-red colored shoulder patches. This bird lives exclusively in the harsh climate of the scrubby and thorny desert. It has been recorded by the Texas Breeding Bird Atlas in the Rio Grande River, Trans-Pecos, Edwards Plateau, South Texas Brush Country, and Coastal Sand Plains. They are absent from Pineywoods and rare in Oaks and Prairies. Other than Texas, you’ll find the Verdin in Mexico and in the arid southwestern United States. Their chosen nesting sites are near arroyos with juniper, ironwood, mesquite, and smoke trees. Pro tip: Verdin are most active in the morning before the heat of the desert day becomes overwhelming. Listen for their call to spot their surprisingly camouflaged bodied. Males will have a “tseet-tsor-tsor” song that sounds similar to a chickadee.
Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)
Often described as “feisty,” the Carolina Wren flourishes in the Pineywoods, Post Oak Savannah, Blackland Prairies, eastern Rolling Plains, Coastal Prairies, and eastern Edwards Plateau. This bird is most commonly seen from mid-February to late August. Smaller than a sparrow, this little bird has a voice that packs a punch. You’ll hear males singing their signature “teakettle, teakettle, teakettle” song in a very repetitive tone before switching it up. The Carolina Wren is round with a large head and short neck. Males and females are a rufous, or reddish-brown color with a white chin and throat met with a buffy-orange underside. They have long tails with white speckles mixed in. Pro tip: This little bird enjoys hiding in densely vegetated areas. They will visit backyard feeders that have suet available during the winter months.
Bewick’s Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus)
The busy Bewick’s Wren and its nineteen subspecies live throughout the Rolling Plains, Edwards Plateau, South Texas Brush Country, and the Coastal Sand Plain Region. Bewick’s Wren can be found in Texas year-round and breeds from early February to mid-August. Semi-arid, brushy, and hilly climates are preferable for the medium-sized, long-tailed Wren. This bird has mousey brown-gray plumage with thick white stripes above both eyes. These stripes resemble bushy and furrowed eyebrows. Bewick’s Wren has a white-gray underside with a black-barred tail. Both sexes have white spots along the tip of their tail feathers. This bird is only found in western North America, and its vibrant singing and vocalizations will precede any sighting. Bewick’s have a raspy call used to defend their territory and whistling trills and warbles when looking for a mate. Pro tip: You will not see this bird hanging out in the open. Peer into thorny and intertwined bushes when on the hunt for a glimpse of this distinguished-looking Wren.
House Wren (Troglodytes aedon)
You’ve likely seen this unassuming little brown bird in your backyard. Their distribution range spans North American, Central America, and South America, so if you aren’t able to spot this bird in the Rolling Plains or Trans-Pecos region of Texas, your chances are still high elsewhere. Listen for its quick and bright “chek” song. The House Wren is small with a long beak and raised tail. It has dark brown barring throughout its upper parts and has a subtle beige eyebrow. Pro tip: Find the chipper House Wren on restaurant patios, in your backyard, or in open forests. They are usually seen hopping around foraging in the open or along branches.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Corthylio calendula)
“Di-dit” is the sound of the tiny Ruby-crowned Kinglet. While the males’ namesake ruby crowns are rarely seen most of the year, you may see one ruffled during late spring and summer breeding. This songbird is roughly the size of a hummingbird and has a large head with white eyerings. Its olive green coloring is seen throughout, meeting lighter underparts. Its wings are black and green with a white wing bar. The Ruby-crowned Kinglet is a winter resident of Texas, arriving in the fall and departing by early May to seek out warmer temperatures and suitable thickets. Pro tip: Don’t bother looking for their elusive ruby crowns when attempting to spot this small and fast kinglet. Instead, take note of rapid wing-flicking along roadsides and within flocks of warblers.
Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)
Staying close to the eastern half of Texas, the Eastern Bluebird can be found in the open areas of the Pineywoods, Coastal Prairies, Post Oak Savannah, Blackland Prairies, and eastern Rolling Plains. They breed statewide except for in the Texas panhandle. The Eastern Bluebird is royal blue with a cinnamon-colored breast and white underside. Their whistle sounds like “tu-wheet-tudu.” Pro tip: To avoid confusion with the Western Bluebird, note the differences between the two. The Eastern Bluebird has a red-brown throat and white belly, while the Western Bluebird has a blue throat and gray stomach.
Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus)
Just a little smaller than the American Robin, the medium-sized Hermit Thrush has a robustly round body and head. The Hermit Thrush is a winter resident that can be found statewide aside from in the Trans-Pecos region, Texas panhandle, and the South Plains. Some migrants arrive as early as September, while the majority aim for late October to late November. They leave by mid-May. Dark smudgy spots on pale throats and breasts are the easiest way to spot the Hermit thrush. To narrow it down further from a Wood Thrush, remember that the Hermit Thrush will be smaller. Pro Tip: Find the Hermit Thrush near berry bushes while hiking in open areas of the state. Described as “flute-like” by All About Birds, their melodic song sounds like “oh, holy holy, ah, purity purity eeh, sweetly sweetly.”
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)
The American Robin is the most common bird to spot and the first bird, many of us, learned to identify. Whether you’ve seen it in your front yard foraging or nesting in a nearby park, it’s a sure thing one has crossed your path. They have gray backs and rusty orange breasts. Their black heads have white eyerings and a lower white patch beneath the tail feathers. Their large bills are orange, and they occupy Texas year-round. Breeding occurs in the state from March to August in Blackland Prairies, Pineywoods, and Post Oak Savannah ecoregions. Pro tip: The American Robin becomes more prolific in the state during winter as northern migrants head south.
Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)
Northern? I thought this was the Southwest we were talking about. Interestingly enough, the Northern Mockingbird was declared the official state bird of Texas in 1927. It is found in every ecoregion throughout Texas, which is how it received the honor. Arkansas, Mississippi, Florida, and Tennesee have also all given this bird the same title; however, it is more common in Texas than in any other state. You can find the Northern Mockingbird living in southern brushlands, eastern pine forests, open farmlands, and dense thickets. In the winter, fruit is the species’ primary concern, and they will migrate to berry-rich areas like parks and gardens. True to its name, the medium-sized Northern Mockingbird can learn a repertoire of 200 songs throughout its lifetime. This bird has a small round gray head with a black slash through its eye extending to its thin black bill. It has buffy white underparts and a gray back. Its wings are short and have two white wing bars each. Pro tip: If you hear dozens of birds within a short span, there is probably a Northern Mockingbird nearby. They enjoy perching on utility pokes and only frequent open backyards with fruit-bearing shrubs and trees.
Orange-crowned Warbler (Vermivora celata)
While Orange-crowned Warblers are present in Texas year-round, numbers increase during spring and fall as they migrate for warmer winters, vacating by mid-May. In the Trans-Pecos and Guadalupe mountains, the breeding season lasts from May to mid-August. Similar to the Ruby-crowned Kinglet, you will not be able to spot the male’s hidden orange crown unless he is excited and purposefully raises it. It is roughly the same size or larger than a Ruby-crowned Kinglet and has a short tail and wings with a distinctly sharp bill. The body is olive green, fading into a lighter yellow-green chin, breast, and belly. Pro tip: It will be easiest to find this bird in elevations ranging from 820 feet to 4,100 feet in low but dense vegetation.
White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys)
A typical winter bird, the White-crowned Sparrow can be found across the United States except for the west coast and western mountains. In Texas, the first sighting of this large sparrow occurs in November until the last sighting in April along the upper Texas coast. They prefer rural areas with dense vegetation in the winter and breed in open shrubby fields. The White-crowned Sparrow has a long tail, short yellow bill, and flat head. Their heads have distinctive skunk-like black and white stripes that are met with gray chins and breasts. Their bellies are gray-brown, and their backs are brown with chocolate brown and white tipped accents. Pro tip: Juveniles and immature White-crowned Sparrows have tan and light brown striping that is subtle and easy to miss!
White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis)
Like the White-crowned Sparrow, this close relative is a frequent winter visitor in Texas. A yellow patch differentiates it between the eyes and bill, and a white patch on the chin and throat. The yellow patch is less flashy in females and juveniles, and other color variations of the bird have tan and dark brown heads as opposed to starkly striped black and white heads. The White-throated Sparrow is easy to find near the forest edge, along pastures or foraging on lawns across the upper Texas coast. Pro tip: Their “Oh Sam Peabody Peabody Peabody” song is one you’ve subliminally heard dozens of times.
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)
Being from the Eastern United States, I didn’t realize how lucky I was to see Northern Cardinals every day. Luckily there was no shortage of this beautiful bird during my time in eastern Texas. This humidity-loving bird enjoys dense marshes, shrubs, and overgrown areas. They will readily visit backyard feeders and prefer black oil sunflower seeds. The male Northern Cardinal has a tall crest, bright red feathers, and a black face that extends through its orange bill and chin. Female Northern Cardinals are light brown with reddish red accents on their crest, wings, and tails. They have a subtle black face and bright orange bill. Pro tip: If you’re within their distribution range but haven’t had luck attracting them to your feeders, try placing the feeder near trees and shrubs. Cardinals like dense vegetation and will feel more secure while snacking.
Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta)
The Western Meadowlark is a New World blackbird that lives in the western Texas panhandle and western Edwards Plateau. During the winter, they will migrate and breed in the Trans-Pecos region to the Blackland Prairie. Wide open spaces with low grasses are ideal. The Western Meadowlark is easy to see with its yellow chin, throat, and belly. This robin-sized bird has a distinct black bib that forms a “V” across its breast. Its upper parts are buff with brown and black markings across its back and white tailfeathers most noticeable in flight. Its long slender bill is slate-gray and pointy. Pro tip: The Western Meadowlark can be seen in mixed flocks with starlings and blackbirds during winter.
Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)
The Common Grackle is a medium-sized blackbird that you can find in north Texas and east Texas. The most significant population numbers occur in north central Texas and the northern panhandle. It is slightly taller than other blackbirds and has a longer bill and tail. Their plumage is black with an iridescent sheen that changes based on the viewing angle. The Common Grackle is absent from the western Edwards Plateau, Trans-Pecos, and Coastal Sand Plain regions. Listen for their raspy “readle-eek” and “chack” songs which are more like croaks. They prefer swamps and marshes but are often seen foraging in flocks across lawns, farmland, and golf courses. Pro tip: The Common Grackle has longer tails than any other blackbird.
Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)
The Brown-headed Cowbird is found in every ecoregion of Texas. In the winter, there are astonishing flocks of up to 2 million Brown-headed Cowbirds seeking grasslands for foraging. The Brown-headed Cowbird is often referred to as a brood parasite or nuisance bird due to its infamous proclivity to lay several dozen eggs each summer in the nests of other unsuspecting bird species. This behavior forces other species to raise the Cowbird nestlings at the expense of their own. The Cowbird has been listed as responsible for the declining numbers of songbird species such as Kirtland’s Warbler and Black-capped Vireo. Texas implemented a Cowbird trapping program in 2014. The Brown-headed Cowbird has a finch-like body with black plumage throughout and a deep brown head. Pro-tip: If you would like to encourage songbirds to nest in your yard, seek out tube feeders with short perches and no basin to deter Cowbirds from visiting.
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)
Male Red-winged Blackbirds are so striking to see. Their stocky stark black bodies have scarlet red and yellow patches on each shoulder that make them impossible to miss. Females are a streaky brown with light yellow around the bill and muted crimson shoulder patches. Large populations of Red-winged Blackbirds can be found in the Texas panhandle, along the Gulf Coast, Blackland Prairie, and Post Oak Savannah regions. Floodplains, swamps, and pastures are their preferred breeding areas from March to July. Pro Tip: The Red-winged Blackbird travels in large winter flocks of blackbirds, often stopping at wetlands along the way.
Texas Birdwatching Resources
If you’re looking to plan a trip to Texas to see many of the beautiful birds featured in the article, consider any of their stunning state parks, or become familiar with birds by ecoregion when you browse through their collection of free publications. Visit the website of the Texas Ornithological Society for information on favorite birding locations and a list of Texas bird festivals.
Answer: The Northern Mockingbird was named the state bird of Texas in 1927. It is a medium-sized songbird with a gray body, light gray underparts, and white wing patches. This bird can learn and mimic up to 200 songs from birds, insects, and amphibians.
Answer: The most common bird sighting report in the entire state of Texas is the Northern Cardinal. This familiar backyard bird is easy for beginner birdwatchers to spot due to the male’s bright red plumage. Females are tan with red streaking.
Answer: Patience and attention to detail are essential qualities when it comes to identifying birds. Use the Audubon identification app along with a field guide for backyard birds in your region. Note the four key IDs: Size and Shape, Color Pattern, Behavior, and Habitat.
Cornell Lab of Orinthology. (2015). Online bird guide, bird ID help, life history, bird sounds from Cornell. Retrieved from All About Birds website: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/
Tweit, R. (n.d.). The Texas Breeding Bird Atlas | Teaching, Research, Extension and Service. Retrieved from txtbba.tamu.edu website: https://txtbba.tamu.edu/
Texas Birds Introducing Texans to Common Birds. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://tpwd.texas.gov/publications/pwdpubs/media/pwd_br_w7000_1673a.pdf
TBRC – Texas State List. (n.d.). Retrieved from www.texasbirdrecordscommittee.org website: https://www.texasbirdrecordscommittee.org/texas-state-list
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