Archive for the 'Bird Word with Cliff Shakelford' Category

Where to Observe Pelagic Bird Species

Thursday, May 24th, 2018

The ocean is a birder’s paradise. Photo: Camilla Cerea from

This is Passport to Texas

Pelagic bird species live their lives on the open water, rarely touching land except to breed.

[They need] a place where they’re going to have courtship and mating and build a nest so they can lay eggs and raise young. They can’t obviously do that on the water.

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

If you’re an angler, if you’re a surfer—you know people that really like to be out on the open water—you like boating, sailing, you’ve got to feel a special connection to these birds. Because these are your birds, because they’re out on the open water just like these people that love to be out on the water. And these birds spend their whole time out there. And it’s just remarkable.

Pelagic species go largely unseen.

In the Gulf of Mexico, we’ll have “strays” that we’ll never know are out there until somebody goes out there to look, or a specimen washes up on the beach. This is not heavily birded terrain; it’s difficult to get to. There are a lot of fishing crews that go out with guided fishing tours. Actually, a lot of birdwatchers have figured that out: don’t wait for a birding group to get a boat full of people to go out to the Continental Shelf to look at birds. Jump in on a fishing tour—one that might be out for two or three days. Instead of fishing for the big fish out there, you’re looking for birds that are also looking for fish.

The Wildlife restoration program supports our series.

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

Bird Word: Pelagic

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018

Albatrosses are just one type of pelagic birds. – Photo © Ed Dunens/Flickr/CC by 2.0

This is Passport to Texas

It’s fun to talk with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department ornithologist Cliff Shackelford; I always learn something new—such as the word, pelagic.

Pelagic. These are birds of the open ocean or open water.

Cliff points out we’re NOT referring to birds that hang out on lakes and ponds. We’re talking about the big water.

So, in Texas, the Gulf of Mexico is going to be open ocean, basically. And we have lot of birds: storm petrels, shearwaters, albatrosses…these are pelagic birds. These are birds that spend most of their day, and most of their life, out in open waters.

I wondered: do pelagic bird species ever come on land?

They sleep on the water. They feed out on the water. They’re mostly flying—some of them can probably sleep while aloft. But, they of course, have to come to land when it’s the breeding season. And some of these birds don’t get to be sexually ready until maybe their fourth of fifth year like some of the albatrosses. So they might wander the ocean of the world for the first four 9r five years of their life before they ever really touch land.

A clever way to glimpse this fascinating group of birds…tomorrow.

The Wildlife restoration program supports our series.

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