Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine   


April cover image


By Emily Moskal

Whether in our own backyard or at a state park, the beauty, behavior and songs of birds inspire us to don binoculars for a closer look. This spring, the Great Texas Birding Classic is celebrating its 20th year, providing an annual outlet for our birding fever. From April 15 until May 15, hundreds of birders across Texas will venture out in a competitive search to record the highest number of observations in a multitude of categories. Deadline to register is April 1, so don’t delay! Sign up at

Want to join in but need a little help getting started? Birding is an easy activity for everyone, but a few basics will help you find success and have fun.

Birds like to breed, migrate and eat, so think like a bird to find popular hangouts. Look for birds at rookery breeding sites during the spring, along migration routes in spring or fall or on the coast year-round. Get out during dawn or dusk to catch the most traffic. Don’t want to leave your backyard? Birding can be done anywhere. In fact, cities harbor 20 percent of the world’s total bird species.

Racking up numbers on your life list can be difficult when the most common view you get is a flyby, so learn how to distinguish birds on the fly. Tune your focus to distinguishing features and remember that the appearance of a species varies by sex, season and age.

Lucky for us Texans, we live in one of the country’s top birding destinations. Of the 338 species that are listed as nearctic-neotropical migrants in North America (north of Mexico), a whopping 98.5 percent of them have been recorded in Texas. Another way to look at it: 53 percent of the 629 species of birds documented in Texas are migratory birds. Texas is important to these migrants, and these migrants are important to Texas.

Gear Up

Life list: A life list is a list of every species of bird an individual birder has seen, or heard, in the world. Create your own list, or use the American Birding Association’s ready-to-print checklist.

Field guide: Get a field guide that is local, heavily illustrated in color and lightweight. The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America (or Western North America for West Texas) and A Field Guide to the Birds of Texas and Adjacent States (Peterson Field Guides) are favorites among birders.

Bird calls: Train your ear with smartphone apps or CDs. The Sibley eGuide to the Birds of North America and Birding by Ear: Eastern/Central North America (Peterson Field Guides) are great starters.

Binoculars: 7x to 8x magnification and 35mm to 42mm objective lens sizes are recommended. Larger lenses aren’t always better. Remember you’ll be carrying these binoculars around your neck. Weigh your options.

Telephoto lens: Can’t get close or remember the color? No problem. Nikon and Canon, with focal lengths up to 800mm, remain the most popular lenses among bird photographers.

Notebook: Rite in the Rain all-weather notebooks and a pencil are great for recording sightings and observations in unexpected weather and can survive dips in the lake.

iNaturalist account: Share your photos and notes with other bird lovers in The Birds of Texas project.www.inaturalist.org/projects/birds-of-texas


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