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Rio Grande Valley Birds: RGV Bird Species

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More than 500 bird species live in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas at least part of the year. In this LibGuide you can find library and internet resources on the more common local bird species, RGV wildlife refuges and how you can attract these interesting creatures to your own backyard. All wildlife photos are by Beverly Pardue, all rights reserved.

Green Jay

Once you see a Green Jay, you will marvel at the rich tropical coloring of this bird. It is the avian symbol of the city of McAllen. They are easily seen year-round in local nature parks, rural areas and some residential neighborhoods throughout the Valley. They are attracted to fruit and also eat seeds.

The range of Green Jays extends southward from Texas, along the Gulf coast of Mexico to the Yucatan peninsula. They also have a small range in western Mexico. This photograph was taken at the National Butterfly Center in Mission where these raucous beauties are common.

Northern Mockingbird

This is the state bird of Texas. They live in the Rio Grande Valley year-round, through the southern US and even as far north as New York state. Their range also includes most of Mexico and Cuba. Look for birds with a slim medium-sized body with gray-brown feathers with white patches. In flight, you will notice the flash of their white wing patches and their long tails.

More notable than their color is their voice. They are excellent mimics, typically imitating 10-15 different bird songs and other sounds in a string of melody from spring through fall. During courtship season, males will sing all through the night as well, especially during the time of a full moon. They perch conspicuously, usually near the highest part of a tree, shrub or building. They defend their territory, especially if they have an active nest. If you see a gray bird fearlessly trailing a pet cat, that is probably a Mockingbird going after a cat which has threatened its nest. They will also harass grackles, hawks and other larger birds who pose a threat. Mockingbirds are adaptable and will nest in residential areas, as well as in parks and nature preserves. They primarily feed on insects and fruit, including berries and citrus fruits. This Mockingbird was photographed in an Hidalgo county residential backyard.

Clay-colored Thrush

The Clay-colored Thrush is a neotropical bird found in deep South Texas and nowhere else in the United States. Costa Ricans chose the yigüirro (their name for it) as a national symbol due to its strong and melodious song that always comes during the start of the tropical rainy season. Clay-colored Thrushes are fairly commonly seen or heard in local nature preserves and sometimes in older residential areas in the Valley. This one was photographed at the National Butterfly Center in Mission.

Altamira Oriole

This bright orange and black oriole species is found in deep South Texas, also in the tropical lowlands near Mexico's Pacific and Gulf of Mexico coasts. Like other orioles, its nest is a woven pouch-shape that hangs from a tall tree such as the Valley native Tepeguaje. Photograph taken at the National Butterfly Center in Mission.

Audubon's Oriole

Both male and female Audubon's Orioles are striking yellow birds with black hoods. Their range is limited to South Texas and Mexico. It can be a challenge to find one in the Rio Grande Valley as they prefer dense brushy habitat along the Rio Grande river. It sometimes comes to feeding stations in locations such as Salineño (Starr County), Estero Llano Grande State Park (near Progreso) and the National Butterfly Center (Mission). They are fruit, seed and, to a lesser extent, insect feeders. In Texas, besides the Rio Grande Valley, they have been seen as far north as Austin/central Texas but are most common between San Antonio and the border with Mexico. Their nests are frequently parasitized by cowbirds. This individual was feeding at the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas.

Golden-fronted Woodpecker (male)

This black and white barred woodpecker with golden and red markings is found in Texas and Oklahoma, then south through Mexico to Honduras and Nicaragua. Locally, it often nests in dead palm trees, first excavating a cavity in the trunk. They are found in residential areas, as well as in rural areas. Photograph taken at the National Butterfly Center in Mission.

Painted Bunting (male)

The male Painted Bunting has bright red, blue and green feathers that seem unnaturally bright. The females and juveniles are a plainer light green color. They are shy birds but can sometimes be seen in residential gardens, as well as in brushy areas in the summer. Their usual wintering grounds are further south in Mexico and Central America but some, such as this one at the National Butterfly Center in Mission, will occasionally winter here in the Valley.

Olive Sparrow

The Olive Sparrow lives year-round in the Rio Grande Valley and a few coastal counties of South Texas. It is also found in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Belize and Costa Rica. It is the only sparrow with an olive-colored back. Photograph taken at the National Butterfly Center in Mission.

Black-crested Titmouse

Black-crested Titmouse

The Black-Crested Titmouse is found in South Texas, Oklahoma and East-Central Mexico, living in towns and rural areas. They eat insects, berries and seeds from bird feeders. They nest in tree cavities, telephone poles, fence posts, and bird boxes. Photograph taken at the National Butterfly Center in Mission.

Plain Chachalaca

A large chicken-like bird of Mexico and Central America, the Plain Chachalaca's range extends as far north as southern Texas. It has also been introduced in the state of Georgia. You may hear its "Cha-cha-lac!" call before you see it. They live in the Valley's nature preserves, also in older residential neighborhoods with mature trees. Look for family groups of them foraging for insects on the ground, eating seeds at feeding stations and roosting in trees. This chachalaca was photographed at the National Butterfly Center in Mission.

Groove-billed Ani

An odd-looking black bird with a long tail and a large, curved, grooved bill, the Groove-billed Ani is a tropical species that reaches the United States only in pasturelands and open country of southern Texas. This one was photographed in lantana at the National Butterfly Center in Mission.

Great-tailed Grackle (male)

There are three species of grackles in the Valley, similar looking but differentiated mainly by the size and shape of their tails. Perhaps the most common is the Great-Tailed Grackle. In nature, they feed on fruit, seeds, even small frogs or fish. In town, they will feed on what is available, even discarded french fries or tortillas in parking lots. Great-tailed Grackles are also known to roost by the hundreds in Valley sugar cane fields. Their range includes all of the Southwestern U.S., throughout Mexico and Central America, southward to the Caribbean cost of South America. This big, bold, loud blackbird is difficult to miss.

Buff-bellied Hummingbird

This Valley native is notable for its large size and red bill. It lives in south Texas and the Gulf coast of Mexico to the Yucatan peninsula year-round. It can also be found in Louisiana and sometimes other Gulf coast states during the cooler, non-breeding season. This individual was photographed in a cluster of Firebush (Hamelia patens), a shrubby blooming plant that is well adapted to Valley conditions, in a residential garden in Hidalgo County.

Northern Cardinal (male)

Bright red male and more subtly colored female Northern Cardinals are common in many parts of the U.S. but not so common in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. They are more numberous in the cooler months, feeding on black oil sunflower seed at feeding stations in local nature parks. Occasionally you may find a pair in residential neighborhoods. Listen for their 'chip, chip' call and see if you can spot one in the upper areas of trees. This male Northern Cardinal was photographed at the National Butterfly Center in Mission.

Red-winged Blackbird

The Red-winged Blackbird travels in flocks which are often heard before they are seen. They live throughout the US, much of Canada, through Mexico and Guatemala. Their bright distinctive call is a sound often associated with the arrival of Spring. They will come to neighborhood trees and backyard feeders (especially if sunflower and other seeds fall to the ground), eat their fill then move on to another spot. Females are brown and beige with a streak breast, similar to a large dark sparrow. Adult males have the brilliant red and yellow epaulet-like feathers on their wings. Juvenile males look almost like females. This adult male was photographed at the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas.

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Many species of ducks and other water birds spend their winters in the Lower Rio Grande Valley but Black-bellied Whistling Ducks live here year-round. They were formerly known as Tree Ducks, due to their habit of perching and nesting in trees, rather than on the ground. They are colorful and really do make a whistling sound as they call. Their range includes south Texas, Louisiana, peninsular Florida and parts of Arizona, then along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of Mexico and Central America, to Columbia, Venezuela and Ecuador in South America. Locally, you may see them in or near irrigation canals (where this pair was photographed), irrigated fields, golf course ponds and even home swimming pools.

White-tipped Dove

The White-tipped Dove is the most widespread dove in the Americas. In the United States, it occurs only in southernmost Texas, frequenting woodlands along the lower Rio Grande Valley. It is an unobtrusive bird typically found on the ground in woodlands, walking on the ground or foraging in low plant growth for fallen seeds and berries, such as from native Sugar Hackberry trees. Unlike many other doves, it does not flock. You will like see these alone or in pairs. Their low cooing, like the sound humans make when blowing on the mouth of a glass bottle, is often heard before they are seen. This pair of White-tipped Doves was photographed in the bird feeding area of the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas.

White-winged Dove

These doves are commonly seen (and heard) throughout the Rio Grande Valley. During their spring courtship season, they coo nearly incessantly between sunrise and sunset while perched in trees. They forage on the ground in small groups seeking seeds (food), perch on bird feeders (especially the flat/platform style feeders) and nest in large shade trees. They’re a delicate tan color when perched, but in flight they become quite striking, with long white wing stripes setting off dark outer wings. Look closely at their faces for their orange eyes and sky blue "eye shadow" marking around their eyes.

Their usual range includes south, central and west Texas and westward through the desert Southwestern US. They also live in most of Mexico. Central America and the Caribbean islands. Their range is expanding so individuals have been seen as far north as Maine and Ontario, and places between here and there.

This White-winged Dove was photographed in a local residential backyard.

Inca Dove

This small dove has tan feathers with a dark edge, giving them an attractive scaly look. Inca Doves are not shy and do not require special habitat so they are common in many parts of the Southwestern United States. In the Valley, they can often be seen in cemeteries, city parks (look in the drier areas where their coloration may camouflage them) and in residential neighborhoods. They will feed at backyard bird feeders, preferring to dine on seeds that have fallen to the ground. Their gait is rather distinctive as they move their heads back and forth with each step. Their call sounds like "no hope" but don't lose hope, you will probably see one of these tiny beauties eventually. This pair was photographed at the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas.

Lesser Goldfinch

Lesser Goldfinches differ from American Goldfinches in that the males keep their brilliant yellow color throughout the year. Texas is the furthest east that they are commonly found, being more of a Western bird species. Look for them in mixed flocks that include Pine Siskins (seen in the RGV only occasionally) and other Goldfinch species.

They will eat Nyjer thistle seed and sunflower hearts from hanging feeders. They are also fond of wild sunflower seeds. Look for them in areas of densely growing sunflowers, including on the banks of irrigation canals and the edges of farm fields. They can also be found in trees, particularly near the top of taller trees, singing their wheezy songs. They have a dipping flight pattern that makes them easier to identify than other small birds.

This male Lesser Goldfinch was photographed in an ebony tree at the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

This tiny but long-tailed active bird is found along the lower Atlantic coast, all along the Gulf of Mexico coast and into the desert regions of the Southwestern U.S., plus much of Mexico. In Texas, it is a year-round resident of South Texas.

Blue-gray Gnatcatchers do feed on gnats and other small insects which it rouses with sideway flicks of its tail as it forages in trees and other dense foliage. It is in nearly constant motion as it feeds.

This individual female was photographed in an anacahuita (Mexican WIld Olive) tree at the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas.

Great Kiskadee

Kiskadees are members of the flycatcher family. They have a distinctive call that gives them their name, "Kis-ka-dee!" Although they are the most widespread of flycatchers in the Western hemisphere, South Texas is the only place in the United States where you will find them. It isn't hard to locate one. Look for  boldly colored birds about the size of a robin, but with a bright yellow breast, chestnut brown wings and a black mask-like marking over their eyes. They are not shy birds, they will announce their presence with their call.

Look for them in both rural and residential areas of the Valley. They will dart from their perch to catch flying insects and will also eat fruit, such as citrus. If you feed a pet outdoors, kiskadees may help themselves to the kibble. This individual was photographed in the back 70 acres of the National Butterfly Center in Mission, on the banks of the Rio Grande river.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Scissor-tailed Flycatchers have distinctive tails and impressive acrobatics when they are pursuing insects on the wing. They breed in savannas with scattered trees, shrubs, and patches of brush in the south-central U.S. and just over the border into northern Mexico. They are also seen in towns, farm fields, pastures, and landscaped areas like golf courses or parks—areas with a mixture of feeding perches, open space, and trees for nesting. This individual was photographed along Military Highway in Mission, Texas.

Great Crested Flycatcher

These large yellow flycatchers migrate through the Valley to and from Central and South America during the fall and spring seasons. Their breeding range includes most of the eastern and midwestern United States.

They are insect feeders but will also eat fruit, often swallowing the fruit whole then regurgitating the seeds. Look for them high in the treetops where they forage for flying insects. They are unlikely to be seen on the ground. 

This Great Crested Flycatcher was photographed at the National Butterfly Center in Mission.

Vermilion Flycatcher

The male Vermillion flycatcher is perhaps the most brightly colored of the flycatchers in North America. Females have a dark/brownish back, white breast and a pink/reddish colored belly. They perch in tall shrubbery or small trees in the open, waiting for the small flying insects that are its primary food. They are small and quick, darting out so quickly that photographing it is a pleasant challenge. Its range includes the southwestern US, and southward through most of Mexico and Belize. This male visited a home garden in Hidalgo County in the winter months. 

Orange-crowned Warbler

These small, cute and inquisitive birds spend winters here in the Rio Grande Valley. The orange crown is not usually visible unless the birds are excited. They visit home gardens, nature preserves and rural areas. They feed on small insects and fruit so you may find them visiting garden plants, citrus trees and hackberry tres. This Orange-crowned Warbler was photographed at the National Butterfly Center in Mission.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warblers live in our area and southward throughout Mexico and Central America during the winter months. Their coloration is more subtle in the winter but, as you see with this individual (photographed in January) even their winter coats are pretty.

Look for them feeding on berries, such as hackberries, and flying out from tree branches to nab flying insects. They are small, fast and fun to watch. Try attracting them to your home bird feeders by offering sunflower seeds, peanut butter, raisins and suet.

This individual was enjoying the early spring sunshine near a water source at the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglets are fairly common in the Rio Grande Valley during the colder, non-breeding season. Their winter range also includes much of the southern and western United States, plus most of Mexico.

They are active little birds and seem to  have endless energy as they dart through lower shrubs and trees hunting for insects. They flash their wings as they hunt and that may catch your eye. The ruby crown, a cluster of magenta feathers at the top of the head, is not commonly seen unless you encounter an excited or threatened male.

This individual was photographed in a Sugar Hackberry tree at the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas.

American Kestrel

American Kestrels are the smallest of the falcons. They are also one of the most colorful raptors with slate blue heads and wings, and reddish-brown back. Look for them perching on fence posts and utility lines, especially in rural areas. During football games and other nighttime activities, watch for them near stadium lights as they go after moths. Day and night they will hover in the wind as they focus on prey below, diving for such animals as lizards and small rodents in fields.

They live in the Rio Grande Valley mainly during the non-breeding season so you can see them in the cooler months, especially near farm-to-market roads connecting smaller towns. They also seek prey near cultivated fields. They will stow away the extra small animals that they've killed, saving it in tree crooks, clumps of grass or cavities for leaner times.

This Kestrel was photographed in rural Mission, Texas in winter.