HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — The winter birding season in the Rio Grande Valley has produced a few notable rare bird alerts recently.
“Every winter is a little different,” said Justin LeClair, of Harlingen, who is one of two people managing a private birding group chat group of about 150 local birders. “There’s different rarities that show up [each year].”
This year, three species have created a small flap, gaining the attention of committed birders: tropical parulas, rose-throated becards, and hook-billed kites. But LeClair points out that there are several other birds of various rarities throughout the Valley now.
“These are all things that people traveled to the Valley to see,” LeClair said, “and you never see everything the Valley has to offer. So there’s always something something more to see the next time you visit as a birder.”
Here’s a little bit of information about the three species birders are excited about this winter:
With a stunning breast of yellow and a patch of yellowish olive on its bluish back, the tropical parula has been making a literal splash recently. It’s been spotted in bird baths—and flitting through the canopy of trees at local wildlife refuges.
“That’s one of the Valley’s big draws is these rare Mexican strays that come to South Texas to the subtropical area of the states. The tropical Peru is definitely one of the more regular ones that goes up here,” LeClair said. “They actually will breed a little bit further west up river or up on some of the ranches of the coast as well. King Ranch is known for having some tropical rulers breeding on it in the summer.”
The National Audubon Society states this bird is “very similar” to the northern parula, which has white marks above and below its eyes and a dark streak across its chest.
Where to look: There have been a handful of sightings in Cameron County in recent days. Two have been spotted at Resaca de la Palma State Park, one at the Laguna Vista Nature Trail, two others at the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, and some spotted at the Sabal Palm Sanctuary, LeClair told ValleyCentral.
The rose-throated bacard lives up to its name with a patch of dusty red beneath its beak. The National Audubon Society states the medium-sized tropical bird is common in Mexico and Central America, but can reach the Rio Grande Valley in winter months.
“Quiet and inconspicuous, it is easily overlooked as it perches high within the canopy of the trees, occasionally fluttering out to pick an insect from the foliage,” Audubon states online. “Its massive, football-shaped nest, swinging at the end of a dangling branch, is often the first clue that becards are present.”
Where to look: The rose-throated bacard has been spotted at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park in Mission.
This winter, hook-billed kites have been spotted quite often in Mission, according to local birders’ reports.
“It’s been a really good winter for them,” LeClaire said. “As many as seven or eight individuals have been seen in a single day, which is really, really good.
This raptor with a hook-shaped bill has bluish-gray feathers and a flash of yellow above its eyes, set almost like angry eyebrows.
The birds feed and forage on tree snails. “High numbers of tree snails may be most important aspect of habitat,” the Audubon Society states online.
LeClaire said he didn’t know how many snails are at the refuge this winter, but the number of kites there is impressive.
“It’s a really unique species that feeds on these tree snails, and that’s all it eats are the little snails,” LeClaire said. “The little white snails that you’ll see climbing up trees, basically.”
Where to look: Several hook-billed kites have been spotted at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park in Mission.