Western Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma californica)

Western scrub jay | Photo credit: Msulis

The Western scrub jay is a member of the Corvidae family to which various crows, ravens, and jays belong. Like its fellow corvids, the western scrub jay exhibits a loud, harsh call and enjoys a varied diet of insects, seeds, carrion, and fruit. Birdfeeders stocked with peanuts in the shell, dried corn kernels, and black oil sunflower seeds can attract these birds for leisurely viewing.

Western scrub jays measure up to eleven inches in length and are characterized by blue above with a white eyebrow and throat, a grayish-white underside, and a band of gray-brown on the back and behind the eyes. A year-round resident throughout West and Central Texas, the western scrub jay inhabits scrub oak and juniper woodlands as well as wooded suburban areas.

Often heard before they are seen, western scrub jays are easily observed throughout West Texas and the Edwards Plateau region. Parks such as Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Lost Maples State Natural Area, and Choke Canyon State Park, among others, reliably offer encounters with these vocal and attractive birds.

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)

Peregrine Falcon on final approach | Photo credit: Paul Balfe

Nearly decimated in the 1970’s by widespread use of the pesticide DDT, the peregrine falcon population made a slow comeback as a federally-protected endangered species (it was delisted as an Endangered Species in 1998.) A relative of the eagle, peregrines are crow-sized birds of prey known for their swift and agile flight. One of the world’s fastest birds, these adept hunters take their prey “on the wing”, in flight; the peregrine’s long, slender wings can propel it to speeds up to 200 miles per hour when diving in pursuit of prey.

Peregrine falcons are found on every continent except Antarctica, enjoying the widest range of all bird species. During April, May, October, and November, peregrine falcons migrate along the Central Flyway from Canada to the Texas coast; there, the falcons spend several weeks resting and feeding in preparation for flight further south along the coast.

Songbirds, shorebirds, waterfowl, and seabirds comprise the peregrine falcon’s diet. Peregrines usually hunt in open areas with cliffs or other high vantage points above rivers and coasts. Occasionally, peregrines may nest on bridges and buildings, as well. Peregrines measure sixteen to twenty inches long, with a wingspan up to forty-six inches. Characterized by a black head with a white neck patch and throat, a blue-gray back, and a pale white underside marked with black bars, the peregrine is a distinctive sight. Male and female peregrine falcons are identical in appearance, although the female is slightly larger.

Two good locations to observe peregrine falcons in Texas are Matagorda Island State Park and Padre Island National Seashore. The falcons are often seen hunting above the dunes.

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…]