Archive for the 'Wildlife' Category

Wildlife Tracking

Thursday, June 22nd, 2017
Common animal tracks in Texas.

Common animal tracks in Texas.

This is Passport to Texas

When it comes to wildlife, there’s more of it out there than meets the eye.

Some of them are fairly secretive. A lot of times, we never even see the animal. Looking at the tracks and sign are the only way that we’re able to determine that the animals are present.

Heidi Baily is a wildlife biologist in east Texas. She says tracking is a skill she uses when conducting wildlife surveys.

Wildlife tracking is getting out there and looking for not just the tracks or the imprints left by the feet of the animal, but it’s also getting out there and looking for chew marks on a particular plant. Or, maybe scat—which is the highfalutin name for animal poop. Or a feeding sign, or anything that reveals that something has passed through.

When tracking wildlife, Heidi says, it helps to think like the animal you’re tracking.

The best trackers are the ones who can put themselves in the mind of the animal, and be able to determine where it’s been, what it’s doing and where it’s going. That’s the fun part of the wildlife CSI of it: almost becoming the animal.

Tracking isn’t for wildlife biologists only. Heidi Baily says anyone can track wildlife, starting in their own backyard. Find field guide and tracking app information at

The Wildlife restoration Program supports our series.

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


Field Guides:

Peterson Field Guide to Animal Tracks
by Olaus Johan Murie, Mark Elbroch · Houghton Mifflin · Paperback · 391 pages · ISBN 061851743X

Mammal Tracks & Sign: A Guide to North American Species
by Mark Elbroch · Stackpole Books · Paperback · 779 pages · ISBN 0811726266


Vulture Fun Facts

Wednesday, June 21st, 2017
Texas Turkey Vulture.

Texas Turkey Vulture.

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. Non-game Ornithologist, Cliff Shackelford, says they deserve our respect as they are a helpful, interesting species.

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?

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

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

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 the tall structures that allow an easy entrance and exit.

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 give vultures a little respect.

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

Texas Vultures

Tuesday, June 20th, 2017
Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture. Photo by Annie Ellison Regional Interpretive Specialist

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.

We have the turkey vulture and the black vulture.

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

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.

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.

More fun facts: vultures poop on their legs to cool off, and when threatened, they vomit.

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.

Find out about all kinds of birds and birding on the Texas parks and Wildlife website.

The Wildlife Restoration program supports our series.

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

How to Behave Around Alligators

Monday, June 19th, 2017
Alligator was caught in downtown Ft. Worth.

Alligator was caught in downtown Ft. WORTH in the Trinity River. The alligator hunter, Chris Stephens is from the Houston area.


This is Passport to Texas

With more alligators spotted by the public in residential areas, you might think you’d be better off selling your home. The fact is… there’s no need to panic if and when you see a gator in your neighborhood.

We’re just trying to help people put it in perspective. People will begin to see more and more alligators in the future and not every alligator is going to be a problem.

Greg Creacy is a wildlife biologist based in Bastrop. He says horror movies and attacks by the more dangerous, and non-native crocodiles have caused people to be afraid of Texas alligators.

The number of attacks by alligators in the US each year is less than injuries and fatalities from dogs, scorpions, snakes and sharks…all of those are much more dangerous to people than alligators.

So what do you do if you see an alligator? Keep a safe distance from them and keep pets away from them. Don’t swim in an area where there are alligators…and don’t feed them.

Because people have fed that alligator they’ve broken down their natural fear that alligator has for people.

Find more information on living with alligators on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Website.

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.

Next Time You See an Otter…

Friday, June 9th, 2017
River otter.

Have you seen me?

This is Passport to Texas

Wildlife biologist Gary Calkins could not have predicted eight years ago—when he invited radio listeners to send in their otter sightings—that it would change how we understand otter distribution in Texas, or that the sightings would continue coming in. He created a map using the data listeners supplied, and is confident it’s accurate.

Every sighting I get, I ask them [the public] I ask them to describe how the animal swam. Ask them if it made any vocalizations. Ask some questions about behavior—and better yet—can I get pictures or something. The only time I will count an animal to put it on this map, is if I am beyond a shadow doubt that it is an otter—based on vocalizations and the way it swam. I feel pretty comfortable that that map is representing otters and not mistaken identity. If it’s something that I can’t wrap my head around, that ‘yeah, it’s an otter,’ then I won’t put it on the map. I’ll tell the people to keep looking and thank you. One of the things that I’ve done is that out of all the emails that I’ve receive, I’ve made myself respond to every single one of them. So that people aren’t sending something to a black hole; and I think that’s why it’s kept momentum on sightings.

Gary Calkins welcomes your otter sightings. Find out how submit them at

The Wildlife restoration program supports our series.

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

NOTE: Since producing this program, Gary Calkins has retired from Texas Parks and Wildlife. If you have an otter sighting, send your information HERE, and I will make sure it gets the the right person.