Archive for the 'Birding' Category

Vultures: Nature’s Clean Up Crew

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015
Black vultures shown use their sense of sight to find their meals, whereas turkey vultures use their sense of smell.

Black vultures (shown) use their sense of sight to find their meals,
whereas turkey vultures use their sense of smell.

This is Passport to Texas

Vultures get a bad rap: maybe it’s because they aren’t “pretty birds”, or because they eat road kill. Texas Parks and Wildlife non-
game Ornithologist, Cliff Shackelford, says they deserve our respect as they are a helpful, interesting species.

15-Vultures have a role to play, what we call “ecosystem services”. These are benefits to us; it’s unfortunate that our
cars hit animals, but think about what’s left behind. The vultures are cleaning up all the mess and we have to commend
them for that.

How do vultures eat decaying carcasses and not get sick?

08- Vultures don’t get sick because they have certain bacteria and other flora in their guts that help them break down these

Although a migratory species, vultures live year-round in Texas. When road kill freezes up north, those vultures
travel south.

10- Because of our location, we not only host a lot more vultures in the winter season, we see a lot more passing
through in the spring and fall migration.

Vultures are social birds and roost together, preferring tall structures that allow an easy entrance and exit.

09-They like cell phone towers, rocky outcrops and ridges, an old tree that’s standing up really high. They like the tallest roof
in the area.

Yet, they nest on the ground under fallen trees, and are excellent parents. Now that you’re better acquainted, we
hope you’ll view vultures in a new light.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti.

Texas Vultures

Monday, June 15th, 2015
Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture: “I’m king of the world!”

This is Passport to Texas

Some people call them buzzards, but Cliff Shackelford says the correct ornithological name for the large black birds that dine on road kill is: vulture.

03–We have the turkey vulture and the black vulture.

Shackelford is a non-game ornithologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife.

11- And the best way to tell them apart when they’re perched and sitting on that dead deer carcass on the roadside, is: look at the color of the head on the adults. The black vulture has a gray head and the turkey vulture, a red head.

Vultures circle high above the land in search of a meal.

21- The turkey vulture uses the sense of smell, and they’ll smell their prey. The black vulture, though, uses sight, they’ll look for prey, but they’ll also cheat. They’ll also look for where the turkey vultures are circling–[and decide] I’m going to bump in line. And with their numbers, usually the black vulture can overcome the turkey vulture and get the first little bites.

Other interesting facts: vultures defecate on their legs to cool off–using evaporative cooling; and, when threatened, they vomit.

15-This is a defensive mechanism. They don’t have fangs like a rattlesnake; they don’t have claws like a bobcat. So, their best defense is to throw up what’s in their stomach that was lying on the road for the last three days. And guess what? You’re going to turn away; it’s a great defense.

We learn more about this big bird tomorrow.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti.

Conservation Hero: Bessie Cornelius

Thursday, June 11th, 2015
"Miss Bessie" Cornelius

“Miss Bessie” Cornelius. Image courtesy

This is Passport to Texas

When she was alive, Bessie Cornelius was an avid birder and staunch conservationist. During an interview with Ms. Cornelius in 1999, she recalled a time when the endangered Brown Pelican was an abundant species along the Gulf Coast.

41-When we first came in fifty-six, you could see the pelicans all lined up on the pilings, right there at the ferry. You could just go anyplace and see them. There were a lot of brown pelicans. They were using DDT then, and before that was banned, brown pelicans began to disappear. And the reason for that, they learned later, was that DDT eventually ran off from the farms into the streams, and streams into the gulf. And the shells of their eggs were very thin and the birds would be killed, you know, before they could hatch.

Cooperation between individuals like Ms. Cornelius, conservation organizations, and government, led to protections being enacted for the Brown Pelican.

During her lifetime Ms. Cornelius helped preserve important bird sanctuaries in the state.

Find more Conservation Heroes at

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti.

Urban Wildlife Biologists

Monday, June 8th, 2015

This is Passport to Texas

Wildlife biologists, like Kelly Simon (SEA-mah) specialize in–city critters–and their habitat in Central Texas.

09-I’m a wildlife biologist who happens to work in an urban area; just like all of our biologists, I deal with the issues that are important to their counties and their areas.

Like her rural counterparts, Simon meets with landowners to provide technical guidance regarding land use.

12- I also deal with municipal ordinances, and councils of government, and all the different landowners that have a stake in the wildlife and wildlife habitat for their urbanized area.

Outreach and public meetings round out her work.

05- [I] just try to help folks understand, and enhance the wildlife habitat that they have all around them.

This doesn’t mean developing downtown habitat suitable for mountain lions, but it does mean creating a balanced wildlife habitat for appropriate species.

18-So, what I do is I try to help people make decisions that will increase the diversity and balance of wildlife habitat, so that we have things like chickadees and titmice and owls and frogs and toads and lizards–and things that are important for ecological balance and biodiversity–and also appropriate for an urbanized area.

Find your county’s wildlife biologist when you log onto the Texas Parks and Wildlife website. The Wildlife Restoration program supports our series.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti.

Texas’ 12 Most Beautiful Birds

Friday, May 8th, 2015
Scissor-tailed flycatcher; photo by Robert Bunch

Scissor-tailed flycatcher; photo by Robert Bunch

This is Passport to Texas

No parent wants to openly admit they have a favorite child, just as ornithologist, Cliff Shackelford, hesitated to reveal his picks for Texas’ 12 most beautiful birds in an article for Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine’s May issue. He called it a 639 way tie.

07—The 639 is how many birds are documented in Texas; and to me, they all have some beauty in one form or another.

Cliff said his picks were not the “obvious choices.”

22— I kept out—purposefully—birds that most people would agree are super gorgeous and super obvious; things like: Northern Cardinal, Cedar Waxwing, Painted Bunting… You can’t be a ‘shoe in’. And I think some of these birds are considers a shoe in, but [sigh] too much bling, too much gaudiness, like in a painted bunting—to me—kept it off the list.

In fact, the color of a bird’s plumage had less to do with it making the list of beautiful birds than did its behavior.

20— And I pointed that out in the article. Some birds maybe didn’t have the jazziest colors, but they excelled in other ways. Like, the Swallow-tailed Kite is a very simple black and white
bird, but the Swallow-tailed Kite makes up for it with its graceful flight—very effortlessly soaring against a blue sky—is just, to me, breathtaking and beautiful.

Which birds made Cliff Shackelford’s list for most beautiful? Find out in the May issue of TPW magazine. What’s on your list of beautiful Texas birds? Tell us at

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti.