Nature

Bird Watching in The Texas Hill Country

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Bird Watching in The Texas Hill Country

By Ronnie Ratliff

Bird watching has become an increasingly popular recreational and social activity. The hobby satisfies many desires of outdoor enthusiast. Birds are beautiful and many have plumages that are appealing to the eyes. Their songs vary from species to species and are a treat to the ear. Birds also have a complex behavior, including feeding routines, mating dances, and their behavior is intriguing to observe.

Birds appear almost everywhere and the Texas Hill Country is flocked with many species. They are active both day and night which increases viewing opportuni­ties. Birding can be done with the naked eye, or with the use of a visual enhancement device like telescopes, bin­oculars, or spotting lenses. Bird watching often involves an auditory component as well. Often, bird species are more easily detected by ear.

Birding can be simple or complex, depending on the persons preference. The hobby takes place outside bal­cony windows, in backyards, or while traveling to exotic locations. Bird watching is also a hobby you can do while enjoying other outdoor activities such as: walking, gardening, watching the kids in the park, fishing, hunt­ing, and so on. Observing the playful activities of birds in your surrounding area can definitely brighten up the day. Slow down and take time to view the birds of the Texas Hill Country this summer.

Here is a list of birds to keep an eye out for this summer:

Vermilion Flycatcher

Bird Watching in The Texas Hill Country

Photo by Dan Pancamo

The Vermilion Flycatcher is a small bird in the Tyrannidae family. Most flycatchers are rather drab in color, but the Vermilion Flycatcher is an excep­tion, making it a favorite with birders. They prefer open areas and are found in trees or shrubs usually near water. The flycatchers feed mostly on insects such as flies, and grasshoppers. The species grows to about 7 inches in length. The males are have a crown, lower face, and underparts that are bril­liant scarlet or vermilion in color. Upperparts, nape, and the mask through the eye are blackish brown. The wings and tail are dark blackish brown. Outer tail feathers may be edged with white. They usually have a narrow white tip on their tail. Females have upperparts that are grayish brown. Their underparts are white near the throat, be­coming pale salmon or orange-ish under the tail. Breast, sides, and flanks are streaked with grayish brown. Fe­males also have a dull white eyebrow stripe and gray lines through the eyes. The wings and tail are dark grayish brown. Some may have a few pinkish red feathers on the crown or breast.

Painted Bunting

Bird Watching in The Texas Hill Country

Photo by Dan Pancamo

The Painted Bunting is a species of bird in the Cardinal family. They are medium-sized finches with stubby, thick, seed-eating bills It is found in thickets, shrubbery and brushy areas.

It is also found along roadsides and in gardens with dense, shrubby vegetation. Painted Bun­tings are shy and often difficult to observe for the human eye, though can be fairly approachable where habituated to bird feeders. They eat seeds, insects, and can often be found robbing insects from spiders nest. Males are stunningly colored with blue heads, red underparts, and green backs. Females and young buntings are a uniform, bright yellow-green overall, with a pale eye ring. With their vivid fusion of blue, green, yellow, and red, male Painted Buntings seem to have flown straight out of a rainbow.

Yellow-breasted Chat

Bird Watching in The Texas Hill Country

Photo by Emily Willoughby

The Yellow-breasted Chat is a large songbird. It is widely considered the most atypical member of the New World warbler family, thought there is some disagreement on rather it really belongs within that family.

They are found in areas where dense shrubby growth is common. Today, its habitat often consists of abandoned farmland and other rural areas where overgrown vegeta­tion dominates. They feed on berries and small insects. Yellow-breasted chats reach a total length 6.7 to 7.5 inch­es and a wingspan of 9.1 to 10.6 inches. They have olive colored upperparts with white bellies and bright yellow breasts and throats. Yellow-breasted Chats also have large white eye-rings and blackish legs. This species is unlikely to be mistaken for any other bird.

Bullock’s Oriole

Bird Watching in The Texas Hill Country

The Bullocks oriole is a medium sized songbird in the Icteridae family. A member of the northern oriole group, Bullock’s orioles were once considered the same species as Baltimore orioles. However, recent studies suggest that Bullock’s orioles are members of a distinct species that does not share a most-recent com­mon ancestor with Baltimore orioles. The Bullock’s oriole is especially fond of tall trees along rivers and streams. They mainly eat insects, berries, and nectar. Males are more brightly colored than females and adult males tend to be slightly larger and heavier than females. Adult males are have strongly contrasting orange and black plumage, a black throat patch and a white wing bar. The underparts, breast, and face are orange or yellow. The back, wings, and tail are black. A black line extends from each eye to the black crown. The wing coverts are fringed white, forming a wing patch. Although the tail is most­ly black, the outermost three or four flight feathers are tipped orange, forming a T shape. Adult females have gray-brown upperparts, duller yellow on the breast and underparts, and an olive crown. Some females may also have a dark throat patch. Females lack the black eye-line present in adult males.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Bird Watching in The Texas Hill Country

The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher is lalso widely known as the Texas |bird-of-paradise. It is a kingbird in the Tyrannus family. Scissor-tailed (Flycatchers breed in open habitats land are found around scattered trees or utility lines. They tolerate human presence well and frequently breed in towns. These birds perch on utility lines and fence lines to watch for insect prey that they feed on. They are highly territorial, and will chase oth­er birds out of their territories accompanied by loud, squeaky, bubbling calls. Scissor-tails are agile in the air, spreading their long tails wide to make abrupt turns and stalls. They are slender, stout-billed kingbirds with very long, stiff, deeply forked tails. Males have longer tail feathers than females. Adult birds have pale gray heads and upper parts, light underparts, salmon-pink flanks, and dark gray wings. Their long forked tails are black on top and white on the underside. At maturity, the bird may be up to 14.5 inches in length.

Golden-cheeked Warbler

Bird Watching in The Texas Hill Country

The Golden-cheeked Warbler is also known as the gold finch of Tex­as. This small songbird is an endan­gered species. The Golden-cheeked Warbler is the only bird species with a breeding range confined to Tex­as. Golden-cheeked Warblers nest in ash, juniper, and live oak trees in ravines and canyons. They have black throats, extending as stripes down sides of chest. They have distinctly yellow faces and black lines through they eye region. Their crowns and backs are black ad they have two white wing bars and a white belly.