Texas's Rio Grande Valley is a hot spot for bird watchers, with its world-renowned World Birding Center scattered over 9 locations in addition to other popular birding spots reviewed in this article.Attention all bird watchers!
The heart of the Rio Grande Valley, located in the southernmost tip of Texas, is a hotspot for bird watchers. Recognized as one of the world’s best birding locations, it’s here that you’ll find the World Birding Center, the super-sized, mega superstore of bird watching. Broken down, the center is a network of nine sites dotted along 120 miles of river road -- from the city of Roma to South Padre Island. The goal is to protect native habitat while teaching an appreciation of birds as well as other wildlife.
The center is a marriage of the Texas Parks and Wildlife, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and the nine communities where the sites are located. The project cost a total of $20 million to create.
The center at South Padre Island, which was the grand finale to the entire project, opened in 2009, making the entire project official. In each spot, visitors find habitats ranging from dry chaparral brush and verdant riverside thickets to freshwater marshes and coastal wetlands.
Folks in search of rarely-seen species flock here (pun intended) to catch a glimpse at some of the more uncommon birds, such as Green Jays, Great Kiskadees, Buff-Bellied Hummingbirds and the Altamira Oriole. Thanks to year-round moderate temperatures, these locations seem to house some of the most desirable species. Unexpected? Perhaps. A great find? Absolutely.
For more information about a specific site, click below to visit the website of any one of the Nine Sites of the World Birding Center:
- Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley (Mission)
- Edinburg Scenic Wetlands
- Estero Llano Grande (Weslaco)
- Harlingen Arroyo Colorado
- Old Hidalgo Pumphouse
- Quinta Mazatlan (McAllen)
- Resaca de la Palma (Brownsville)
- Roma Bluffs
- South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center
Want to visit just one place? Look to Harlingen
If you’d prefer to pick one town in this birding region rather than travel from spot to spot, Harlingen is your town.
Here are 6 locations where you’ll find bird watching at its finest in Harlingen:
1) Hugh Ramsey Nature Park
This 40-acre park off South Loop 499 includes six wildlife observation posts, plus restroom facilities, 1.5 miles of biking and hiking trails and a pavilion.
Bird Species: Great Blue Heron, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, White-tailed Kite, Red-tailed Hawk, Green Jay, Orange-crowned Warbler (winter), Common Yellowthroat, Northern Cardinal, Indigo Bunting, Green Kingfisher, Neotropic Cormorant, Couch’s Kingbird, Long-billed and Curved-billed Thrasher, Olive Sparrow, Plain Chachalaca.
2) Harlingen Thicket Nature Park
Spanning over 3 acres, this park consists of a 1.5 mile-long hiking and biking trail, a pavilion and two wildlife observation posts.
Bird Species: Harris’s Hawk, White-tailed Kite, Long-billed Thrasher, Mourning Dove, Verdin, Altamira Oriole, Bewick’s Wren, Groove-billed Ani, Olive Sparrow, Plain Chachalaca.
3) Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge
This 2,088-acre wildlife refuge was established in 1943 to protect migratory birds and is home to nearly 400 bird species, over 300 butterfly species and a variety of wildlife including the indigo snake, bobcat, coyote and endangered ocelot. Visitors find more than 12 miles of foot trails, a 7-mile wildlife drive and an 1.5 hour tram tour.
Bird species: Black-bellied and Fulvous Whistling Duck, Mottled Duck, Anhinga, Tricolored Heron, American White Ibis, Lesser Yellowlegs, Long-billed Dowitcher, Least Tern, Osprey, Broad-winged hawk, Northern Harrier, Peregrine falcon, Hook-billed kite and grey hawk.
4) Harlingen City Lake
A walking/jogging trail loops around the lake for a view from all sides, offering a canopy of dense native trees that can be quite productive during migration. No facilities.
Bird Species: Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Great Blue Heron, Tri-colored Heron, American White Pelican, Neotropic Cormorant, Green Jay, Couch’s Kingbird, Great Kiskadee, Orange-crowned Warbler, Red-crowned Parrot.
5) Lon C. Hill Park
Covered in native trees with butterfly and hummingbird gardens. Restrooms, picnic tables, and playgrounds.
Bird Species: Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Curved-billed Thrasher, Mourning Dove, Black-crested Titmouse,
6) Arroyo Colorado Hike & Bike Trail
This trail sits along the banks of the Arroyo Colorado and offers covered picnic tables, water fountains, a playground, handicapped-accessible parking and walking trails.
Bird Species: Great-blue Heron, Black-bellied Whisling-Duck, White-tailed Kite, Red-tailed Hawk, Green Jay, Orange-crowned Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Nornern Cardinal, Indigo Bunting, Green Kingfisher, Neotropic Cormorant, Couch’s Kingbird, Long-billed and Curve-billed Thrashers, Olive Sparrow, Plain Chachalaca.
Bonus: A Feathery Festival:
Harlingen is home of the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, which happens in late fall. For more information visit their website at rgvbf.org.