Archives for February 2016

Black-bellied Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis)

Black-bellied whistling duck at the San Antonio Zoo - Photo © Justin W. Moore

Black-bellied whistling duck at the San Antonio Zoo
Photo © Justin W. Moore

Many birders travel to Texas to glimpse the black-bellied whistling duck, a year-round resident of the lower Texas Gulf Coast and other portions of the state. The whistling duck is also found in Mexico, Central and South America and occasionally in Arizona, California and Louisiana, as well.

Known for its high-pitched whistling call, the whistling duck’s long legs and neck are reminiscent of a goose. Males and females are identical in appearance, body rust-brown with a black belly and tail. The face is gray, with a white ring around the eye, and a bright red bill and legs. In flight, the bird’s white wing-patch is visible as a stripe. [Read more…]

Coyote (Canis latrans)

Coyote at Rocky Mountain National ParkPhoto © Justin W. Moore

Coyote at Rocky Mountain National Park
Photo © Justin W. Moore

Also known as the “prairie wolf,” the coyote is Texas’ most frequently viewed large carnivore. Characterized by a dog-like body and a long, bushy tail, the coyote weighs an average of just thirty pounds. Their thick coat is grayish in color, with reddish tinges to the legs and ears, and a lighter-colored belly and nape. Coyotes have yellow eyes which reflect as greenish-gold at night. Extremely vocal animals, the coyote’s mournful howls and yapping barks often fill the night with haunting songs.

Coyotes are extremely intelligent, curious, and adaptable creatures, inhabiting diverse habitats throughout Asia, Europe, and western North America, including Texas. In contrast to the now rare timber or gray wolf (Canis occidentalis), coyotes prefer open terrain. Classified as opportunistic carnivores, coyotes readily eat fish, rabbits, rodents, deer, and carrion, as well as birds, plants, insects, and even small domestic animals. Coyotes are extremely wary of humans, although they can become habituated to people if fed. Like the raccoon, coyotes are clever and determined scavengers; they have been known to haul full ice chests away from unsuspecting campers under the cover of darkness.

Coyote life is extremely precarious; less than one half of all juvenile coyotes live to reach adulthood. Those that do manage to survive have a life expectancy of ten to fifteen years.

One Texas location in which to view coyotes is Padre Island National Seashore near Corpus Christi. Pay specific attention to the grassy roadsides, sand dunes, and sheltered freshwater ponds. Coyotes are most active at night and in the early morning.

American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)

American alligator at Brazos Bend State Park.Photo © Justin W. Moore

American alligator at Brazos Bend State Park
Photo © Justin W. Moore

Attaining a length of six to eight feet at adulthood, the American alligator is North America’s largest flesh-eating reptile. The alligator’s thick and powerful tail, used for propulsion and defense, accounts for half its body length. Similar in appearance to the endangered American crocodile, the American alligator has a stockier build and broader head and snout; unlike crocodiles, alligators’ teeth are not visible when their jaws are closed. [Read more…]