With a whopping 659 species, Texas is host to a stunning array of birds—a greater diversity than any other state except (alas) California. Birders here can find migratory species on their annual journey across the continent, coastal species living off rich Gulf ecosystems, rare desert birds hidden in the Chisos Mountains of West Texas, and grassland species dotting the plains. If you want to see beautiful birds, the Lone Star State is one of the best places in the nation to find them. Here are a few of the top Texas fliers that Tiffany Kersten spotted during her record-breaking Big Year.

birding bat falcon

Bat Falcon

Falco rufigularis

When to see: Rarely!

Where to see: South Texas.

Claim to fame: A black hoodlike pattern on its head shields its eyes from the sun. Until last December, the bat falcon had never been spotted in the United States.

Birding Great Kiskadee

Great Kiskadee

Pitangus sulphuratus

When to see: Year-round.

Where to see: South Texas—wooded resacas are a great place to target.

Claim to fame: The great kiskadee boldly chases out larger predators that attempt to raid its nest, but it’s also a predator itself, eschewing seeds for a diet that consists entirely of living creatures, such as bugs, fish, and reptiles.

Green Jay

Cyanocorax yncas

When to see: Year-round.

Where to see: South Texas, especially at the Sabal Palm Sanctuary in Brownsville.

Claim to fame: Tool use, a true sign of avian intelligence. Like a chimpanzee, the green jay uses sticks to pry bark loose from trees and expose insects to snack on.

birding northern flicker

Northern Flicker

Colaptes auratus

When to see: April and May; year-round in some areas.

Where to see: Statewide.

Claim to fame: Excavates holes to build its nests in trees, telephone poles, and sometimes even haystacks. Northern flickers also go wild for ants. One bird was reportedly found with five thousand of the insects in its stomach.

birding plain chachalaca

Plain Chachalaca

Ortalis vetula

When to see: Year-round.

Where to see: South Texas.

Claim to fame: Possesses both a lively name and a raucous morning and evening call. Chachalacas spend most of their time in trees, where they eat fruit, flowers, and insects, sometimes even hanging upside down to better reach their treat of choice.

birding sandhill crane

Sandhill Crane

Grus canadensis

When: November to March.

Where: Statewide, with especially large migratory gatherings along the Gulf Coast and in the Panhandle.

Claim to fame: Performs elaborate, bond-enhancing mating dances. The sandhill crane is also one of the oldest bird species on the planet, with ancestors dating back 10 million years.

birding scaled quail

Scaled Quail

Callipepla squamata

When to see: Year-round.

Where to see: The desert grasslands of West and northwest Texas.

Claim to fame: To sleep while avoiding predators, quail coveys huddle in a tight circle facing out. That caution is justified, since more than 70 percent of hatchlings don’t survive their first year.

birding smith's longspur

Smith’s Longspur

Calcarius pictus

When to see: December to February.

Where to see: Northeast Texas.

Claim to fame: Its annual migration is a marathon journey from Alaska to Texas. Then this bird starts a different type of marathon: during breeding season, a Smith’s longspur might mate more than three hundred times in a week.

birding snowy plover

Snowy Plover

Charadrius nivosus

When to see: March to mid-May; year-round on the Gulf Coast

Where to see: Gulf Coast, northwest Texas (rarely)

Claim to fame: Lines its nests with pebbles, shells, even fish bones. Snowy plovers spend most of their lives on vast, open expanses of sand.

birding social flycatcher

Social Flycatcher

Myiozetetes similis

When to see: Winter (rarely)

Where to see: South Texas

Claim to fame: Native to Central and South America and Mexico, it’s been seen only a few times in the U.S. 

birding violet-crowned hummingbird

Violet-Crowned Hummingbird

Amazilia violiceps

When to see: February and March

Where to see: Far West Texas

Claim to fame: A flock of hummers is, delightfully, known as a bouquet. (Other collective nouns for the family include a shimmer, a charm, and a tune.) The violet-crowned variety favors trees lining desert streams.

birding william's sapsucker

Williamson’s Sapsucker

Sphyrapicus thyroideus

When to see: Winter

Where to see: West Texas, especially the Guadalupe Mountains

Claim to fame: Males sport a beautiful red throat. True to their name, Williamson’s sapsuckers drill small, evenly spaced holes in trees to access the sap.

This story originally appeared in the June 2022 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “The Bird Index.” Subscribe today.

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