Springtime in Texas means lots and lots of migratory birds. Two of the four major migratory flyways that cross North America do so right over Texas — the Mississippi Flyway and the Central Flyway — meaning that every fall and spring, we are graced with hundreds of species. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been able to photograph some of those avian travelers.
The spring migration is perhaps my favorite because it means the birds are sporting their breeding plumage. Feathers, beaks, and even legs that become drab and dull during the winter become vibrant and colorful as the birds prepare to attract mates. Some of the colors are nearly unreal in their beauty.
Below is a selection of some of the birds I’ve photographed so far. The majority of them are migrants, but one or two are native, year-round species. I’ve listed the names of the species where I know them.
First up we have a couple of indigo buntings contemplating taking a bath. These songbirds are still juveniles, though, as evidenced by the few splotches of grey-brown here and there in their plumage. But that bright blue is just magnificent in the sun. They’re probably one of my favorite birds simply because blue isn’t all that common a color in nature.
I’m fairly certain the mottled brown bird on the left is a Lincoln’s sparrow. The drab brown one above the indigos, I’m not sure of.
Here’s another indigo bunting perching in a bush. This image is very much cropped in because I didn’t have a very good long lens with me. I really miss being able to shoot with a 200mm or 300mm f/2.8.
Next up we have a small group of juvenile indigo buntings feeding on birdseed, along with one example of another favorite species of mine: the painted bunting. That’s him there with the royal blue head, crimson body, and green wings. These guys are literally nature’s rainbows. They’re gorgeous!
I think the brown bird on the left is a female indigo. It’s often the case with birds that the male of a species is the colorful one while the female is more plainly colored.
A good example of the difference between male and female coloration is this cardinal below. That’s a female; unlike their bright red male counterparts, the females are entirely brown. You can tell she’s a cardinal by the slightly curved, short beak perfect for munching on seeds, and the slight crest to the feathers on top of her head.
Another interesting thing about cardinals: they’re lifelong mates. They’re native to Texas and much of the southeastern United States
Cardinals aren’t the only red birds around, though. This bird is called a summer tanager. It’s also a male. There are similar looking birds with dark black wings that are in the same family as this guy, but they’re called scarlet tanagers. The lack of black coloring on this bird is what distinguishes it from its scarlet tanager cousins.
This little guy flew right up next to me, which was kind of a nice treat. After getting over the surprise, though, this was the only frame I was able to shoot of him.
The next bird is a scissor-tailed flycatcher perched in some brush. When he flies, you can see his tail feathers split into a long, graceful two-tined fork. They swoop and dive and perform all sorts of pretty aerobatics in their quest to eat yummy bugs.
This next dude — also a male — is a Baltimore oriole.* They’re fun birds to watch. They’re a bit larger than cardinals, but not quite as large as grackles. If you sit quietly enough next to a feeder, they won’t mind hopping right up near you to eat, as long as you don’t make any sudden moves to scare them off.
This next bird is a Texas specialty. It’s a green jay. Most of its range exists in Mexico and parts of Central America, so birders come to Texas from all over the country just to see this guy. Definitely one of the more vibrantly hued species around. And they’re even more fearless than the orioles.
Next is another migratory species, the very aptly named black and white warbler. This bird loves being upside down. That was the closest I could get to a photo of him right-side up.
Another warbler, and another one of my favorites, is this hooded warbler. I kinda like that it looks like he’s wearing a hoodie.
Here’s another shot of him.
I was sitting outside reading when I saw a shadow pass near me. I looked up and saw this turkey vulture flying overhead. Another native species.
Turkey vultures can be pretty social birds, and can often be found soaring on thermals in groups. This one was flying solo, though.
Finally, another bird of prey, and another Texas native: the northern crested caracara. This time, I don’t know if this is a male or a female, because the two genders are pretty indistinguishable.
Caracara are part of the falcon family, but behave like vultures in that they’ll eat carrion. They’ll hunt, too, and eat everything from young alligators, fish, other birds and eggs, and even insects.
This one was perched amid the very pokey and sharp blade-shaped leaves of a yucca plant and stood quite regally while I and several other birders took our fill of photographs.
So that’s it. Those are just some of the more than 500 species of birds that call Texas home either year-round or part time. Hope you enjoyed the photos.
*Corrected identification. Shown is a Baltimore oriole, not an Altamira oriole.