A family of five wearing shorts and T-shirts are center in the photo and shot from behind looking out over a large pond full of water. The family is framed by lush green trees and other plant life.

The San Antonio Botanical Garden is one of the many places birders can watch birds in an urban setting. Photo by Will van Overbeek

The spring migration is upon us with millions of birds flying overhead nightly as they travel tremendous distances, south to north, to reach their respective breeding grounds. The arctic tern, an elegant seabird, has one of the longest migrations with its route from the Arctic to Antarctic every year, a round-trip journey that clocks in at 18,641 miles.

More than 300 species, including 53 kinds of neotropical warblers, participate in migration season, which begins at the end of March, peaks in mid-April, and extends into May. Texas is one of the flyover states and considered one of the best places for birdwatching in the country. (If you want to learn more about nightly migrations, visit Cornell’s Ornithology’s BirdCast for data about the estimated number of migrants soaring above your specific county.)

However, it’s not always feasible to make the April pilgrimage to High Island in Southeast Texas or Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge in South Texas. The good thing is there are many excellent birding spots throughout the larger urban areas of Texas. Below are some of the best spots for your next birding adventure.


Not far from the airport and downtown, Hornsby Bend, a waste-water treatment plant, is considered an internationally renowned birding site with its nutrient-rich ponds and wooded trails. (Because it is a municipal facility, all birders must present an ID to enter the property, so be sure to bring a driver’s license or other form of identification.) During a Sunday birding excursion in March, my friends and I witnessed a pair of bald eagles soaring over the tree line as well as hundreds of shovelers and other waterfowl and shorebirds.

Tips for Beginner Birders

• Sign up for a bird walk with your local Audubon chapter. Most chapters offer free weekend bird walks. “Go with other people who know more than you,” suggests Nicole Netherton of Travis Audubon.

• If possible, invest in a proper pair of birding binoculars. Netherton recommends not using your grandparents’ old opera glasses. “A lot of people who lead bird walks will have an extra pair,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be an obstacle. You can also enjoy the birds by listening to them.”

• As you explore new areas, remember to be kind and inquisitive. ”Say hello, ask locals and residents about the birds in the park,” Berri Moffett says. “Get insider tips on what one might find there. Birding in new places is a good way to make new connections within communities where people might not otherwise make connections.”

• Begin local, Zachary Tonzetich suggests: “Your home, apartment, backyard. You’ll begin to become more familiar with identifying bird species by the birds that you see every day.”

• Pick up a copy of Parking Lot Birding by Jennifer Bristol (Texas A&M University Press), suggests Danielle Belleny. “It includes many spots—literally parking spots, campuses, ferries, campsites, waste-water treatment centers—that might be close to you.”

Another popular location: Roy G. Guerrero Park, also on the city’s east side and about 10 minutes from downtown. On a recent visit, my husband and I spotted a bobcat stealing along the banks of the Colorado River in addition to several species of waterbirds, an osprey, an American kestrel, and a belted kingfisher.

On the west side, a restored 40-acre prairie on the banks of the Colorado River, not far from Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve, makes up much of Commons Ford Ranch, which supports grassland species that are under threat, like meadowlarks and painted buntings. “Unfortunately, we’ve lost about a quarter of bird species because grasslands have been incredibly impacted by human development,” says Nicole Netherton, executive director of Travis Audubon. “Since not many prairies have been conserved, it’s hard for certain species to find food and reproduce. Commons Ford gives us a fighting chance to see these kinds of birds.”

Smaller, off-the-beaten-path green spaces abound in the capital city. Netherton lives in Northwest Austin, so she frequents Beverly S. Sheffield Northwest District Park, where she often spots migrants and a nesting great horned owl. I live in East Austin, not far from the Mueller urban community, so my husband and I take weekend walks that encircle the ponds of the Mueller Greenway, where a variety of birds can be seen—from hooded mergansers and egrets to the elusive American bittern and sora.

Danielle Belleny, a wildlife biologist for a private consulting firm in Dripping Springs and one of the co-founders of Black Birder Week (May 28–June 3), enjoys regular visits to the 30-acre Evergreen Cemetery, a historic African American burial site in East Austin. “I can visit family members who are buried there,” she says, “and see some of my favorite migrants amid the tall oaks and other shade trees as well as tons of owls and hawks who nest in the cemetery.”



With its myriad byways and bayous, the heart of Houston offers up vast opportunities for birding in and around the city. For example, Berri Moffett, sanctuary manager at Houston Audubon, likes to bird at Bane Park. Off US 290 by Beltway 8, it’s not far from her house in the Oak Forest West neighborhood of Houston.

“Unlike most of the parks around here, this one has a bit of wetland area, so you can see pie-billed grebes, bald eagles, and herons,” she says. “There is also a wooded area, which is great for sighting warblers. The loop is paved, so the park is extremely accessible. There is also ample parking.”

Moffett also recommends Edith L. Moore Sanctuary. “On a good day, I saw 52 species, 15 warblers, and five woodpeckers there,” she says. “Some of the region’s best birders come here on a daily basis.”

Closer to downtown, visit White Oak Bayou Greenway, a 16.5-mile trail system that is paved, making it accessible for multiple users, including pedestrians, cyclists, and individuals in wheelchairs. Moffett suggests parking at Leo Castillo Community Center and walking along the bayou toward the University of Houston downtown, where you can see ospreys, bald eagles, roseate spoonbills, and other wading birders. In addition, birders are likely to spot the red-vented bulbul and the scaly-breasted munia, both non-native species that now breed in Houston. Along Buffalo Bayou, Moffett also recommends checking out muralist Jane Kim’s Confluence, which illustrates Houston’s waterways and dazzling birdlife.

In the historically Black neighborhood of southern Houston, explore E.R. and Ann Taylor Park, a 26-acre park and its groves of ancient oak trees, where a variety birds can be sighted. Another possibility: Margaret Jenkins Park, where the robust birdlife of Sims Bayou can be explored (Moffett once spotted 75 sandhill cranes flying overhead there).


Tips to Help our Feathered Friends

• During the spring migration, turn off the exterior lights of your home or apartment. Most migratory birds fly at night, and the building lights attract and disorient these migrants, causing collisions or exhausting them and leaving them vulnerable to threats on the ground.

• Create a backyard habitat with a birdfeeder and a water source.

• Keep your cat(s) inside.

San Antonio

In the downtown area, visit San Antonio Botanical Garden, where you’ll find a variety of warblers due to the pristine mix of habitat. The city is also developing an extensive 82-mile network of accessible, paved paths in its linear green parks, a series of greenways that involve Leon Creek, Salado Creek, Medina River, according to Zachary Tonzetich, former vice president and board member of the San Antonio Audubon Society.

“Unlike the large parks, these linear parks run right through the city,” he says. “You can see a lot of bird diversity even though they are hemmed in by housing developments.” Within this network, he likes to bird along the Leon Creek Greenway, off of Babcock Road, where there’s a small pond and the Buddy Calk Trail.

Being a professor of chemistry at the University of Texas at San Antonio, Tonzetich says there are protected green spaces on the UTSA campus, where he has spotted up to 100 species. “It’s not an area that you would associate with birding, but it offers a lot,” Tonzetich says.

On the east side of the city, Belleny enjoys visiting the San Fernando Cemetery. She also recommends Crescent Bend Nature Center, which is about 25 miles outside of San Antonio, and features graveled trails and birding blinds.


Dallas/Fort Worth

Explore the Village Creek Drying Beds, a waste-water treatment plant, where the neotropical migration flutter amid the willow trees and grasslands. Common migrating shorebirds include American avocets, sandpipers, and yellowlegs.

At the Heard Museum in the DFW suburb of McKinney, birders can discover a large population of prothonotary warblers as well as 200 other species due to its five diverse habitats. Or check out Dogwood Canyon Audubon Center in the Cedar Hill neighborhood in South Dallas, suggests Jake Poinsett, program manager at Trinity River Audubon Center. A part of the White Rock Escarpment, this canyon is one of the few places where birders can see a black-chinned hummingbird of West Texas nesting in the delicate dogwood trees of East Texas.

Lastly, head to Trinity River Audubon Center (located just 10 miles south of downtown Dallas and initially built on a former illegal dumpsite), where birders are likely to find up to 300 species.

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