Archive for the 'Birding' Category

When a Bird is a Nightjar

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016
Image of Nightjar by Dûrzan Cîrano, Creative Commons

Image of Nightjar by Dûrzan Cîrano, Creative Commons

This is Passport to Texas

Just as purple martins and barn swallows keep insects in check during the day, birds known as nightjars eat bugs that take flight at night.

The graveyard shift is when these birds are active. They sleep all day, and they have super big eyes for night vision. And they’re looking for nocturnal insects—mainly moths.

Texas Parks and Wildlife ornithologist, Cliff Shackelford says it’s not uncommon to confuse the calls of two of these nighttime nibblers: the whip-poor-will and the Chuck Will’s Widow.

The essayists and naturalists of 100 years ago—they would always talk about the whip-poor-will, because they were up in the Northeast US where the whip-poor-will is common.  But here in the south and Texas, the dominant bird we have singing is the Chuck Wills Widow. So, if you hear a night bird singing on your property in the warmer months—that’s going to be a Chuck Will’s Widow.

That’s not to say the whip-poor-will doesn’t make an appearance in parts of Texas.

Whip-poor-wills do migrate through the eastern third of Texas—the Eastern Whip-poor-will. And that’s going to be a march-April thing. And they sing very briefly as they head north.

So as you dream of spring and summer, make room in your thoughts for nightjars and their melodious music.

The Wildlife Restoration program supports our show.

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

The Drummers of the Bird World

Thursday, December 15th, 2016
Golden fronted woodpecker, and golden throated ornithologist, Cliff Shackelford

Golden fronted woodpecker, and golden voiced ornithologist, Cliff Shackelford

This is Passport to Texas

Birds use their songs as a means of communication. But there are other ways birds get their point across, too.

Woodpeckers communicate by means of drumming.

Woodpeckers are the Questlove or Ringo Star of the bird world, and know how to make a racket.

Something like this: Brrrrrrrrrr. Very loud. Rapid succession beats to an object. Usually it’s going to be wood.

Those are the country woodpeckers. The city-dwelling woodpeckers drum on different surfaces.

They [woodpeckers] found in urban areas that we have metal rooves, telephone poles, aluminum gutters… These things really resonate and amplifies that drum to where that bird can cover more ground when drumming.

What are woodpeckers communicating through their drumming? And are they damaging property doing it?

When you hear that rapid-fire brrrrrrr, he’s not hurting anything. He’s just found a spot that really resonates, and he’s communicating to other woodpeckers, saying: ‘Hey, I’m the male here. This is my territory.’ And he’s also telling females: ‘Hey, if you’re interested, I’m here, too.’

Put a little smooth jazz or Barry White in the background and you have a bird version of love line.

The Wildlife Restoration program supports our show.

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

Watch the Birdie (at the Feeder)

Tuesday, November 29th, 2016
Project Feeder Watch

Project Feeder Watch

This is Passport to Texas

The Christmas Bird Count, a project of the National Audubon Society, is December 14 through January 5. Volunteers count birds during a 24-hour period inside defined 15-mile diameter circles throughout the state.

But there aren’t any on December 25th—you can’t compete with family time and ripping open presents.

Nongame ornithologist, Cliff Shackelford says if you’re unable to participate in a Bird Count circle, you can still contribute to the count as a feeder watcher.

That’s someone that just merely watches out their back window and looks at the birds coming to the feeder and just counting those things. It’s a really good niche for someone that’s not able to get out if it’s too cold, or you’re just not physically able to get out, or maybe you have a newborn at the house, These are people that might have their eyes open watching the feeder and can contribute.

Get in touch with your area Audubon Christmas Bird Count Compiler through the Audubon website.

Contribute to the world of citizen science all year long as a feeder watcher. Just go to for details.

The Wildlife Restoration Program supports our series and funds diverse conservation programs in Texas.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti

Count Birds, Help Science

Monday, November 28th, 2016
Christmas Bird Count participants. Photo: Camilla Cerea/Audubon

Christmas Bird Count participants. Photo: Camilla Cerea/Audubon

This is Passport to Texas

More than a hundred years ago people participated in a time-honored Christmas tradition.

People would go out and do what was called a side hunt, and the winning group would come back with the biggest pile of dead critters.

Most of the critters in those piles were birds. Cliff Shackelford, non-game ornithologist with Parks and Wildlife, says conservationists had a better idea.

Early conservationists thought that we ought to count birds and not try to collect birds.

Today we have the Christmas Bird Count, December 14th through January 5th. Volunteers, armed with a bird list and binoculars, head into the field on a specified day to count birds over a 24-hour period.

What people do is they get into teams, and they have a defined 15 mile radius circle that they’re counting in, and that circle never moves. The hope is that you would count that circle for decades and decades and over time you would see trends.

Everyone turns in their data to a compiler who sorts it out and sends it to researchers; they use it to assess the health of bird populations, and to guide conservation action.

Go to for more information and to register.

The Wildlife Restoration Program supports our series.

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

Monarch Malaise

Wednesday, October 5th, 2016
Monarch on milkweed.

Monarch on milkweed.

This is Passport to Texas

Habitat loss along its migration route may be one reason the Monarch butterfly is in decline. While feeding on nectar, Monarchs pollinate wildflowers along their route, which benefits our ecosystem.

There are two primary ways that habitat supports pollinators.

Johnnie Smith is Texas Parks and Wildlife Conservation Education Manager.

And one is, the adult pollinators oftentimes feed on nectar of flowers. So, flowering plants that are a food source for the pollinator is very important. But also, is the food source that the pollinator’s larvae rely on as they’re growing up and becoming an adult. And so, that is just as important as the flowering plants that support the adults.

For Monarchs, native milkweed is an important plant. By cultivating them in our yards, along with other nectar and larval plants, we can all play a part in their survival.

There is no effort that is too small to be counted worthy. And there’s no spot of land that is too small to contain pollinator habitat. So, we really want to empower everybody—that they can make a difference. Right where you stand. Right where you live—you can create pollinator habitat, and help turn around this negative trend with the monarchs.

Tomorrow: the Pollinator Bioblitz, an event to build awareness to help all pollinators.

The Wildlife Restoration program supports our series.

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