Where the Wild Things Are
"And the world, still so wild, called to me." – Spoon, from the song “Wild"
Each state park has its own family of wildlife that helps create that park’s natural identity. For 100 years, Texas State Parks have provided visitors the opportunity to enter our state’s vibrant wild spaces and become part of a world that includes native wildlife.
Some of the animals featured here are creatures you might see at any state park. Others can be seen only at certain parks or certain times of year. It’s a treat to see any of them. An encounter with wildlife can produce a moment of wonder, an appreciation of wild things, a reminder that the natural world continues around us.
Cathy Kiefer | Shutterstock
Texas is home to four types of foxes, but the gray fox is the one you’ll likely see. They’re found in almost every park and are active from twilight to just after sunrise. They’re the only fox that can climb , so you may spot one napping in the crook of a tree.
Eric Isselee | Shutterstock
When you first see a roseate spoonbill you might mistake it for its cousin, the flamingo. Spoonbills feed in shallow water, and their striking pink color comes from shrimp and other food they find using their spoon-shaped bill. They’re found in all coastal parks and often nest in colonies with great egrets and other waterbirds.
Rolf Nussbaumer | Minden Pictures
Raccoons are found at almost every park. Their front paws are loaded with nerve endings so they have a remarkably sensitive sense of touch. If you hear chittering sounds outside your tent at night, it’s likely raccoons searching for food. Don’t leave food or trash out overnight — it’s unsafe for you and them.
The docile porcupine can be seen climbing trees or ambling about on the ground. Keep your sweat-soaked belongings out of reach because porcupines find them irresistible — sweaty backpack shoulder straps? Yummy! These quill-covered mammals are found mostly in parks in the western half of the state,including the Panhandle.
John C. Abbott & Kendra Abbott | Abbott Photography
Many types of turtles live in state parks. Look for red-eared sliders (pictured)sunning on rocks near fresh water. If you spot a turtle with a yellow starburst pattern walking down a trail, that’s an ornate box turtle. Green sea turtles (their shells are actually brown and yellow) are found around coastal parks. Watch for them in the water near seagrass, one of their favorite snacks.
Texas is one of the few states where you’ll find armadillos. They have long, sticky tongues like their cousin, the anteater, and bony armor. Nine-banded armadillos always have identical quadruplets — watch for the pups tagging along with mom as she digs for insects. You’ll see them in parks across most of the state.
If it’s warm and there’s water, you’ll likely see a variety of dragonflies hovering, zipping about or resting on a vantage point just above a pond or field. Watch for the bright red neon skimmer and the green darner with its 4-inch wingspan — it’s one of the largest dragonflies in North America.
Jody Ann | Shutterstock
These furry lumberjacks usually come out at night to work on the dams they build out of sticks and mud. They also build lodges in the middle of ponds, where they live. Beavers use their flat tails for swimming and communication. They’re found in parks in the eastern half of Texas, mostly north of Austin.
Floridastock | Shutterstock
Bald eagles live in parks in the eastern half of the state — you’ll find them near lakes and rivers, since they eat fish. October to May is nesting season and a good time to view them — there’s a lot of activity when they have chicks to be fed. Look for their huge stick nests atop trees.
Rob Curtis | The Early Birder
Woodpeckers are found in parks across the state, but two of the largest, the 18-inch-tall pileated woodpecker and the red-headed woodpecker (pictured), are found in forested state parks east of Interstate 35. Listen for them drumming on tree trunks and watch for a bright red cap.
Javelinas look like furry pigs, but they’re not pigs, they’re peccaries. When it’s cold you may see them in early morning and late afternoon, roaming in small family groups. When it’s hot, they come out at sunset. Javelinas have poor eyesight, so they might not see you right away. They live mostly in South and West Texas.
Jay Pierstorff | Shutterstock
Roadrunners are easy to spot because they have long legs, and you’re more likely to see them on the ground than in the air. While they don’t harass coyotes like their cartoon counterpart, they do eat rattlesnakes, other reptiles and rodents. You’ll find them in parks statewide, though they are more abundant in South and West Texas.
Rob Curtis | The Early Birder
A variety of owls live in parks all over the state. Listen for calls at night to help you find one. Great horned owls are about 2 feet tall, have feather tufts on their head and call hoot-hoot. The much smaller Eastern screech owls also have the tufts, but their call is like a horse whinny. Barred owls (pictured) are mid-sized with large black eyes, and they call whoo cooks for you?
Butterfly Hunter | Shutterstock
Millions of monarchs travel through Texas each spring and fall during their migration. In spring, you’ll find individual monarchs in parks throughout Texas. In fall, they pit-stop in parks mostly west of Interstate 35 and along the coast. If you’re lucky, you may witness hundreds resting together. Watch parks’ social media (tpwd.texas.gov/socialmedia) for sightings.
Rob Curtis | The Early Birder
From spring through early fall, hummingbirds hang out at parks across the state, drinking nectar from tubular flowers or at special feeders. These tiny aerial acrobats hover like helicopters, then zip off quickly. The ruby-throated hummingbird is the most common, but you might spot the rufous — a beautiful orange hummingbird.
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