By: Heather Valey
Every spring and fall, over 400 species of birds migrate through Texas skies. Most of them are embarking on an incredible long-distance flight from their northern breeding areas in spring to their winter homes in South & Central America. Why such a long, arduous journey every season? Birds migrate in order to move to more agreeable environments with resources for building nests and raising their young in the spring. In the fall they move to where there is more of an abundance of food in the winter. Other contributing factors motivating this journey include the decreasing amount of light hours in the north and the colder winter weather.
When is fall migration in Texas?
Fall migration in Texas starts as early as July. You may have noticed that in August you weren’t seeing some of our early spring birds, such as the Purple Martins, Barn Swallows and Golden-cheeked Warblers. They had already made their way south toward their over-wintering grounds. Other birds migrate a little later. For example, by late August we start seeing more hawks moving into the area from the north, peaking by the second week of November. Whooping Cranes generally start their trip from Canada to their wintering ground in Texas around October. Different species of birds seem to have different environmental and physical factors that motivate them to migrate at different times, so the exact time a species migrates may vary from year to year.
How can you see migrating birds in Austin?
According to Shelia Hargis, President of the Texas Ornithological Society, “there are numerous places around Austin to go see specific types of migration, but I think Hornsby [Bend] is the best place to see several different types of migration – shore bird migration, hawk migration and passerine migration…” She also recommends Commons Ford Prairie for witnessing hawk & passerine migration. Also, you can get lucky just by remembering to look up occasionally wherever you are, as you are driving, working in the backyard or walking in a park.
Is there a way I can find out what is migrating now?
Yes! As a matter of fact there is! Cornell scientists created an online tool called BirdCast that uses weather radar networks to track birds on their migration routes in the spring and fall. The map uses near real-time data to forecast bird migration in the US. It is designed to help keep you informed so you know what to expect in the few days ahead, in order to plan your bird watching trips. To help you learn to read the BirdCast map and use the tool to your benefit, Cornell has created an online “how to” guide.
Fall and spring migration can be a great time to see birds that aren’t normally in our area. You can go out birdwatching at our local parks or be more of a casual birder looking to the skies. Technology can help you get a better idea of where and when to look. Remember to log your migratory bird findings in e-bird, and happy birding!
Pictured above: Swainson Hawks spotted North of Austin – October 2018 – © 2018 Heather Valey
Arnold, Keith A., “The Texas Breeding Bird Atlas: Golden-Cheeked Warbler”, Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, txtbba.tamu.edu/species-accounts/golden-cheeked-warbler/
Oder, Tom, “With these maps, you can track migratory birds in near real time”, Mother Nature Network, 22 August 2018, www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/stories/cornell-updated-birdcast-maps-track-bird-migrations
Powell, Hugh, “Here’s How to Use the Migration Forecast Tools From BirdCast”, All About Birds, Cornell University, 3 April 2018, www.allaboutbirds.org/heres-how-to-use-the-new-migration-forecast-tools-from-birdcast/
”The Basics of Bird Migration: How, Why, and Where”, All About Birds, Cornell University, 1 January 2007 www.allaboutbirds.org/the-basics-how-why-and-where-of-bird-migration/
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