The Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail

Texas hosts more migratory birds than almost any other state and was also the first to create birding and wildlife viewing trails

Copyright © ; all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without author’s written permission; Author’s Google profile; Posted January 15, 2012.

A Roseate Spoonbill in Texas wetlands; photo courtesy Kelly Smith


The Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail stretches the length of the Texas gulf coast and is divided into three distinct sections. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department completed the trail in 2002. Since then, 400,000 birding trail maps have been distributed to nature enthusiasts.

The Upper Texas Coast Birding Trail

The upper Texas coast section of the trail begins at the Louisiana border and contains the best birding sites and migratory paths from there down southwest to Brazosport. It’s particularly accessible in the Houston and Beaumont coastal areas.

The Houston to Galveston area in particular is home to great birding opportunities during all seasons of the year. The Seabrook trail system is part of the coastal wetlands and home to many species such as Herons, Egrets, and Roseate Spoonbills.

The Spoonbills sport a flamingo-like pink color and don’t spook easily so they’re easy to observe. You can see one hunting in the photo above and several in flight below. Roseate Spoonbills in flight; photo © Kelly Smith

The Central Texas Coastal Birding Trail

The central coast section picks up at Matagorda Bay and ends just south of Kingsville. Two popular areas are Victoria and Corpus Christi. Yes, Corpus offers more than just a great spring break getaway destination and girls gone wild.

The Port Lavaca Bird Sanctuary is a popular destination during the early winter, when migration in in progress. What species might a visitor see? Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow is often spotted, as is the Seaside Sparrow and an abundance of water-oriented species such as the American Oystercatcher and the Horned Grebe.

The Lower Texas Coastal Birding Trail

This section begins at South Padre Island and continues through the Brownsville, Harlingen, and McAllen areas. It then heads west towards Laredo. There’s simply no “best time” to visit this section of the trail. Indigenous species are always viewable, but as the Mexican border is right next door, it’s a highly traveled migration corridor.

Another popular site is the Anzalduas Dam and County Park, located northwest of Hidalgo. The main reason for the popularity is the diversity of species that frequent the park. Often spotted are the Gray Hawk, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Rose-throated Becard, and Hook-billed Kite.

Neotropical migrant species are often sighted wintering here as well. They include Black-and-white warblers and Black-throated Green warblers.

The Texas Butterfly Festival

For the birder visiting the Lower Texas section of the trail in October, why not visit Mission, Texas for the Texas Butterfly Festival? At the October, 2008 festival, a record 147 distinct species were recorded!

Mission is located in the Rio Grande valley and is right in the path of the estimated 290 migratory butterfly species. The festival is held on the third week in October each year and a special learning activity called the Butterfly Bonanza is held for children.

A Hummingbird Highway

Hummingbirds, particularly the ruby-throated Hummingbird, Archilochus colubris, migrate through Texas twice a year. They generally fly south to Texas in September where they take a short break before flying all the way across the gulf to Mexico.

The fall of 2011 was crucial for migrating hummers because of the long-lasting drought. Because of the dry spell, many of the flowers they need for survival simply were not available. Fortunately, many people responded by hanging out feeders for the first time.

Monk Parakeets in Texas; photo © Kelly Smith
Texas is arguably the best state in the union for bird watching due to its location and climate. This combination allows for some quirky events.

For example, monk parakeets have been increasing in population. Texas Parks & Wildlife says, “Monk parakeets, which nest in various places throughout the state, are definitely out of their natural element.

They are South American natives, brought here for the pet trade. Some were released, some no doubt escaped, and some flew out of damaged packing crates as they were being shipped in.”.


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