Archive for the 'Birding' Category

Brush Piles for Backyard Birds

Thursday, June 16th, 2016
Cliff Shackelford's daughter Robin standing next to their backyard brush pile.

Cliff Shackelford’s daughter Robin standing next to their backyard brush pile.

This is Passport to Texas

If you’re a suburban or urban bird lover who maintains an extremely tidy landscape, don’t be surprised if interesting birds don’t flock to your yard.

Yeah, tidy yards don’t always attract good birds. Wanted birds.

Cliff Shackelford is Texas Parks and Wildlife’s non-game ornithologist.

A lot of people have their golf course looking lawn and they just get great tailed grackles in some of these cities. But, what we recommend for urbanites is keep a little brush pile.

When you’re doing yard work, instead of sending fallen branches and deadwood, or cuttings from pruning trees or shrubs to the landfill, use them to create a sanctuary.

For some birds that like thickets and hiding places, those brush piles are good. And, also think about in the breeding season; there’s nest material that they can break off from those brush piles.

Don’t worry about your HOA—just keep the bush pile in the backyard away from prying eyes. And in rural areas, create habitat for thicket-loving birds by leaving shrubs and brush growing along fence rows.

There are a lot of birds that really like that cover. A lot of native sparrows and wrens and quail and thing that like the brushy edges. So, keep brush piles when you can and keep your fence rows brushy when you can.

The bigger the brush pile the better for the birds, but even a small brushy patch is better than nothing. That’s our show… Funding provided in part by Ram Trucks. Guts. Glory. Ram

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

Birding from Fifty Yards Away

Monday, May 23rd, 2016
Roseate Spoonbill nestlings and parent.

Roseate Spoonbill nestlings and parent.

This is Passport to Texas

The Texas Gulf Coast buzzes with bird life year-round. And while it’s tempting to get close to them when visiting the beach…

Fish, swim and play from fifty yards away. It’s an idea that we want to relay to folks.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Ornithologist, Cliff Shackelford says this slogan is a catchy reminder to keep your distance from our feathered friends.

Especially in the nesting season. You want to keep your distance when you’re fishing, birdwatching, boating—keep fifty yards between you and the birds.

Fifty yards is considered a safe distance so that you don’t spook birds from their nests.

When people get too close they notice—oh, all the adults are flying off the nests. And the hot sun cooks the little nestlings. Well, that is bad stuff.

Cliff adds that while it may be fun to bring your dog to the beach, keep it fifty yards away and on its leash.

That dog might love running after those flocks of birds, but in migration, some of those birds like red knots, could have flown hundreds and hundreds of miles and that’s their resting spot. That’s their refueling spot. And that’s disruptive on a bird during its long journey. So, keep the dog leashed, and remember to fish, swim and play at fifty yards away.

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

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti

Bad “Hair Day” for Cardinals

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016
Norther Cardinal during molt.

Northern Cardinal during molt. Image courtesy Kay’s Garden

This is Passport to Texas

Imagine the sleek, bright red body of a male cardinal topped with a small, lumpy black walnut-shaped head. That’s what you’ll see mid to late summer when cardinals molt.

Feather molt is really important because feathers fray, they’re fragile.

You don’t want to look, but you can’t look away. Texas Parks and Wildlife Ornithologist Cliff Shackelford says the cardinal’s head feathers fall out over a short amount of time. While a bird with a naked noggin may be shocking, Cliff says “don’t fret.”

All we’re doing is witnessing that annual molt that replaces those old feathers—and he’s about to get new ones.

Their head feathers regrow within a few weeks. And, mercifully for the cardinals, they lose body and flight feathers at a more leisurely pace.

They just lose a couple at a time and they can still fly. So, most of our land birds and songbirds like the Cardinal don’t lose all their flight feathers at once because they would never make it. They wouldn’t be able to flee from predators and keep warm with the weather.

This summer, if you see a red bird that looks like it was put together with spare parts, it’s probably a cardinal suffering the humiliation of molting. Try not to point and laugh.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti

TPW TV: Birding in the Brushlands

Friday, April 15th, 2016

This is Passport to Texas

The Texas Parks and Wildlife PBS Television series broadcasts a segment the week of April 17 on birdwatching in the brushlands of South Texas.

I can go to the outdoors and have something to do, and it’s something you know it’s kind of relaxing and peaceful. You just need your binoculars and you can just do it anywhere! So that’s what I like about it and the birds are neat ya know! To see different birds!

Ruayda Bouls is one of the birdwatchers you’ll meet on the show. Texas Parks and Wildlife Ornithologist Cliff Shackelford makes an appearance to help guide the birding enthusiasts.

[Cliff Shackelford] Look at all those Chachalaca’s sitting there!
[Ruayda Bouls] It’s not very bright but I like the noise it makes!
[Cliff Shackelford] It would make a good ring-tone wouldn’t it!
[Ruayda Bouls] Yeah! Ha!
[Cliff Shackelford] Chachalaca, Chachalaca, Chachalaca!

There are 500 bird species in the south Texas ecoregion where they shot the segment, and birder, Josh Anderson, isn’t shy about picking a favorite.

13— My favorite probably is the Green Jay, I know that’s kinda like the hallmark of South Texas down here, everybody will come from miles around just to see that bird! It’s just cool, a lot of them are like camouflaged or blending in, but that one really pops out!

Birding in the Brushlands airs the week of April 17 on PBS stations statewide. Check your local listings.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti

It’s Good to Have a Ringer in Your Circle

Wednesday, April 6th, 2016
Birding in Weslaco in the Rio Grande Valley

Birding in Weslaco in the Rio Grande Valley

This is Passport to Texas

When I hear the word ringer, I think unfair advantage. Yet, wringers are “good guys” and encouraged in the Great Texas Birding Classic’s Big Sit tournament.

You can have a team with all people who are beginning, and then they just have to be sure they have a ringer or two on their team who can ID the bird for them for it to go on their list.

That’s Texas Parks and Wildlife Nature Tourism coordinator, Shelly Plante who oversees the event. She told me our colleague, Bob Sweeney, an attorney, is a Big Sit ringer.

You know, I’ve been fascinated with birds since childhood, and even in high school I was out in the field and woods with my binoculars and my book. I just think it’s an exciting, dynamic part of the natural world, and pretty easy if you’re willing to put a little time into it to develop a minimum level of knowledge.

Bob has done that and more, and says he enjoys helping beginning birders gain knowledge and confidence.

I think any teacher has a great feeling when they feel like someone in the class gets it. Someone snaps to it. That Eureka moment may come, not during the Big Sit, but it may be something that was learned during the Big Sit that is then used in the backyard, or used on a hike or communicated to another person who is wanting to start out, so maybe the light bulb when it goes on is the confidence to transmit that knowledge—I know what that is. I saw it in the Big Sit. And here’s why I think it’s that.

The Great Texas Birding Classic is April 15 through May 15th. Stay on top of the action at

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti