The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Sunday, June 10, 2007

How Many Kinds of Birds Are Nesting in Our Area? By Ro Wauer

I have just completed two breeding bird surveys in our area, driving various backcountry roads, stopping every half-mile for three minutes to record all the birds seen and heard. A route includes 50 stops. Each began at 6am, at dawn when bird song was most abundant and ended four hours later. One of my two routes started near Schroeder, north to Mission Valley, onto the Lower Mission Valley Road, and looped back to SH 264. My second route started off Stanton Road near Yoakum, southwest toward Cuero, past the prison and north across the Guadalupe River, and onward toward Cheapside.

On the two routes, I recorded a grand total of 55 bird species, 49 on the Yoakum route and 45 on the Schroeder route. What species was most abundant? Probably because their songs are so constant and easily identified, cardinals were far and away the most detected, with a total of 271 individuals. The second most abundant species was the mourning dove, with 136 individuals. And the third most abundant species, and one of our most attractive of our neotropical nesting birds, was the painted bunting, with 92 individuals. Other common species, in descending order of abundance, included American crow, northern mockingbird, Carolina chickadee, white-eyed vireo, and Carolina wren.

But some of the less abundant species are some of the most interesting, because they are either new or more abundant to these annual counts that I have been doing for several years. The one new species was the Eurasian collared-dove, a large dove that has, only in the last ten years or so, moved into all our South Texas areas in numbers. It is now breeding throughout most of Texas. Four species that have increased dramatically on my counts include the golden-fronted woodpecker, blue-gray gnatcatcher, northern parula, and summer tanager. The woodpecker is a bird of the more southern and drier habitats, like the Lower Rio Grande Valley, but has gradually been moving northward in recent years. Finding nine individuals this year suggests it is now a breeder. The three other species have been expected in preferred habitats in very small numbers in the past, but each was recorded on numerous occasions this year, probably due to the greater amount of rainfall this year that produced more suitable conditions.

For a few species, numbers were lower than normal, again maybe because of the different weather pattern this year that might have induced breeding earlier than normal. Those birds, finished with courting and less active, may have been present but not so readily detected. Lower than normal numbers of the black-bellied whistling-duck, wild turkey, red-shouldered hawk, crested caracara, barred owl, chimney swift, and purple martin were recorded.

Additional bird species recorded on my two counts, not mentioned above, included northern bobwhite; great blue and green herons; great and cattle egrets; blue-winged teal; black and turkey vultures; white-tailed kite; killdeer; Inca dove; common ground-dove; yellow-billed cuckoo; roadrunner; red-bellied and ladder-backed woodpeckers; great-crested, brown-crested and scissor-tailed flycatchers; Couch's kingbird; blue jay; cliff and barn swallows; tufted titmouse; Bewick's wren; eastern bluebird; European starling; lark sparrow; red-winged blackbird; eastern meadowlark; brown-headed cowbird; and house sparrow.

Breeding Bird Surveys are part of a nation-wide effort to document species during the breeding season throughout North America. Started in 1966, the surveys form a significant database that provides important information about populations changes over time. Those in South Texas are especially worthwhile because they are documenting the changes that are taking place as a result of climate change.


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