Archive for the 'Birding' Category

Birding: Finding a Christmas Bird Count Near You

Thursday, December 4th, 2014


Le Conte's Sparrow,  image by Greg Lavaty, from

Le Conte’s Sparrow, image by Greg Lavaty, from

This is Passport to Texas

Counting birds at dawn during the Christmas Bird Count guarantees you’ll see lots of them. Yet, a big bunch of birds can lead to confusion.

04—Especially if you get into a big flock of robins or grackles; you just have to start estimating numbers. But, it’s really fun when you start getting big numbers of species. You know, you’ve only been out for an hour and you already have 30 species of birds; that’s really fun.

Cliff Shackelford is a non-game ornithologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife. This year’s count is December 14 through January 5.

07—There are over a hundred Christmas Bird Counts in Texas; so, chances are there’s one in existence in your area.

Counts take place inside 15-mile radius circles. Cliff says the best way to find a nearby count is online.

09—Search for Christmas Bird Counts in Texas, and figure out which one is nearest you. Also, you’ll see who the compiler is, and you can get phone number or email and start coordinating with that person.

Compilers act as “captains” of their circles, and relay data from the count back to Audubon, which analyzes it. Birders of all skill levels are welcome.

23—And what they’ll do [if you’re a novice] is stick you with some seasoned vets, and that’s really good because you learn a lot when you’re out in the field with someone whose been doing this awhile. So you go out with this team of observers and you basically beat the bushes and try to see as much as you can see. It’s a lot of fun.

The data volunteers collect help researchers better understand trends as they relate to our feathered friends.

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

Birding: Making Birds Count

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014


Christmas Bird Count -- the early years.

Christmas Bird Count — the early years.

This is Passport to Texas

The name “Christmas Bird Count” is a bit of a misnomer.

04—It doesn’t happen on Christmas Day. It happens in a period around Christmas.

That period is December 14th through January 5th. And it’s when volunteers go into the field to count birds.

04— You just have to pick a day in that three week period to do the count.

Cliff Shackelford is a non-game ornithologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife. Volunteers count birds in teams within a 15-mile radius circle with oversight by a count compiler who rules the roost.

11—And those people [compilers] decide on a day, and they divvy up the pie of where these teams can go look for birds in this fixed radius circle, and you count birds within that circle.

The time-frame for the count is 24 hours – midnight to midnight. You might wonder “who” takes the early shift.

10—A lot of people want to know about owls [for example]; so, they get up early. Three A.M., maybe, and go listen for owls. And that’s pretty valuable. But, most people do just the daylight hours.

Cliff recommends the earliest daylight: dawn.

12—That’s when you get the best bird diversity at dawn. Everybody’s waking up: singing, calling and foraging and activity is the greatest right at dawn. Because, birds have slept all night and they’re hungry for something to eat.

Compilers collect the volunteer’s data and submit it to Audubon, which analyzes it.

Find more information about the Christmas Bird Count at

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

Birding: Evolution of the Christmas Bird Count

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014
Inauspicious beginning to the Christmas Bird Count, image from

Side Hunt participant, image from

This is Passport to Texas

In the 1800s, an annual competition called The Side Hunt pitted teams of hunters against one another to see who could bag the most feathered and furry things. With growing conservation consciousness, the Side Hunt evolved into The Christmas Bird Census in 1900, and eventually into the Christmas Bird Count – where the only thing people kill nowadays is a thermos of coffee.

11—We’re now in the 115th year, which makes it the longest running citizen science project in the world. Which is pretty impressive, and it started right here in the US.

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

06—You go out into a fixed area and count birds. And the neat thing is, if you stick with that area like you should, and you do it for 10, 20, 30, 40 years…you start seeing trends.

Trend spotting is the true value of the bird count.

26—Those counts that are very old, that have forty plus years of data, we can start seeing things. And we are. We’re seeing things like the American Tree Sparrow is not coming down to Texas much anymore. I don’t think they’re rare, they just don’t need to come all the way south for –maybe –climate change. Maybe it’s not so cold up north; they don’t need to come down. That’s the beauty of the Christmas Bird Count – you can look at it continentally… and see where the changes are in the bird life.

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

Birding/Conservation: Bird-Friendly Coffee

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

Bird Friendly  Coffee Seal

Bird Friendly Coffee Seal

This is Passport to Texas

Coffee is an agricultural crop that thrives in the tropics.

14—These areas oftentimes are coincident with biodiversity hot spots; that is, areas of really high biodiversity, whether in birds, or insects, amphibians—what have you.

Dr. Robert Rice works with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, which certifies coffees “Bird Friendly” when growers meet certain stringent criteria. Studies suggest shade grown coffee offers the greatest benefit as habitat.

15—Where coffee still is managed with a shade cover of the kind that we like to see and have defined with “bird friendly” criteria, then coffee oftentimes is some of the last remaining canopy cover—even though it’s not forest—it’s acting very much like a forest.

With habitat loss from deforestation, shade grown coffee estates serve as refuge for neo-tropical migratory bird species that travel through Texas, including the Black and White Warbler, the Baltimore Oriole, the Cerulean Warbler and others.

15—So, they just hang out there. They might be running around with mixed species flocks, and trying to stay alive and ultimately fatten up before they make the trip back north again. So this quality habitat becomes quite important for them in terms of making the trip back.

So next time you order a cup of coffee, you might ask your server if it’s for the birds.

That’s our show for today… Funding provided in part by Ram Trucks. Guts. Glory. Ram

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

Wildlife Research: Banding Mourning Doves

Monday, September 1st, 2014

Mourning dove in Texas

Mourning dove in Texas

This is Passport to Texas

Mourning doves are the focus of an ongoing, nationwide banding study.

17—We’re banding mourning doves to determine harvest rates or percent of fall population taken by hunters. We’ll also determine survival rates, and where they go, and when they get there and when they leave.

Jay Roberson, wildlife research supervisor, said returned bands also help estimate population size – which ties directly into the national harvest strategy. He invited me to observe as he banded doves.

07—And we’re going to go and take some birds out of the traps and see what we’ve got and put the right band on the correct leg.

The trapped bird flapped excitedly as we approached. Jay covered the cage with an old blanket to calm the animal. Taking it from its cage, he brought it to a picnic table for banding with a small silver ring that fit easily around the bird’s leg.

14—Those are the bands for the adults and the unknown age birds. Now I slip the open band in the pliers over the lower leg. And now I’m going to crimp that pliers down until it closes.

After Jay determined the animal’s age, he transcribed the number of the band, the date and location into a book, and then released the bird.

If you harvest a banded mourning dove, report it by calling the number on the band. The Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program program supports our show and provides funding for the Private Lands and Public Hunting Program.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti