By Eric Duran
As I sit down to write this article in late February, the earliest spring migrant birds have already begun to show up in our area. Though the flow of birds in March is not quite as impressive as the busiest part of spring migration in April and May, this is a good time to head out to your local greenspace — perhaps Russ Pitman Park — or even into your own backyard to look for early arrivals.
Even if you’re not a birdwatcher, these are gorgeous and fascinating creatures. So, let’s a have a look at a few species which may have already returned to Bellaire-West University and the Houston area.
The Swallow-tailed Kite is an elegant and beautiful raptor that usually returns to the Gulf Coast of Texas in March, but may show up in our skies as early as late February. Unlike most birds of prey, Kites catch and eat large insects in flight. They feed on lizards, frogs, and small snakes, as well. These sleek hunters spend their winters in South America, but they breed along the Gulf Coast of the U.S. They prefer to nest in or near swamps and other wet habitats with trees growing nearby.
The Purple Martin is a distinctive bird, as the only dark iridescent violet bird that you’ll see flying around your neighborhood. The first few martins to return from wintering in South America usually show up as early as mid-February. This widely distributed swallow is well known for nesting in communal birdhouses put up on poles in people’s yards. As far as anyone can tell, human made structures, like bird houses and hollowed out hanging gourds, are the only places where these insect eating birds now make their nests as no wild nesting locations have been found for well over a century.
When most naturalists and nature lovers think of spring bird migration, they usually think about the colorful and active warblers. One of the very first migrant warblers to start arriving in the area from Central America is the Black and White Warbler, which starts showing up around early to mid-March. No, that wasn’t just a description — that is its actual name. This black-and-white striped bird may be easy to spot, as it runs up the sides of trees and forages for insects, hanging upside down, on the undersides of large branches. It is actually possible to find them in Texas every month of the year, however. They breed in the Eastern U.S., as far west as the forests of East Texas.
So there’s no need to wait until April to see migrating birds. Head out into your own yard, your neighborhood park, state park or national wildlife refuge to see early spring migrants and lingering winter birds right now! We’ve already started our Lunch with the Birds free weekly bird walks at the Nature Discovery Center, 7112 Newcastle Dr., every Wednesday from 12 noon-1 p.m., and they run through May 8. For more info, call 713-667-6550.
Duran is staff naturalist at the Nature Discovery Center.