By Eric Duran
We have finally entered our winter bird season here in the Houston area and at the Nature Discovery Center. Most of our fall migrants have flown through and moved on to South Texas and Central America. Many of the birds that spend the winter in our area have begun to arrive. In recent days, we’ve seen some of these much-anticipated migrant birds moving around the park, many right out in the front yard area of the Nature Center. Today, we’ll take a look at a few of these wintering birds.
Pine Warblers (Dendroica pinus) breed in the eastern United States from East Texas to New England, but we don’t really have them here in the Houston area until winter. As the name would suggest, the bird is heavily associated with pine trees, where they nest and search for food under bark and in pine cones. They have a varied diet of seeds, berries and insects. As with most new world wood warblers, the yellowy males are more vibrantly colored than the females.
Ruby-crowned Kinglets (Regulus calendula) are often found feeding on sugar water from hummingbird feeders (put out for winter hummingbirds like Rufous and Black-chinned Hummers) in our park during the winter. The small gray kinglets are easily recognized with their black and white wing bars, but the small ruby colored crest on the top of the head is not always easy to spot. When the birds are active and excited, they may raise it up for you. They are bold little birds, often approaching birdwatchers out of curiosity or to scold them away. Kinglets are common here in the winter, but during the breeding season, they completely disappear from this part of the country as they breed in the Rocky Mountain corridor of the western United States, through much of Canada and Alaska. They feed on flower nectar, insects, tree sap and berries.
One of our favorite winter woodpeckers is the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius), which feeds on tree sap by making holes or sap wells in a variety of trees. They maintain these patches of sap wells, pecking at them occasionally to keep them running, and defending them from other birds. The males are more colorfully marked than the females, and they can be somewhat territorial, even in winter. These woodpeckers also feed on the insects that come to consume the sap from the wells. Sapsuckers make different shaped sap wells for different species of tree, as various saps have different viscosities and flow rates.
So, those are just a few of the winter birds we’ve seen recently at the Nature Discovery Center, and hopefully, you’ll come out to the park soon and see some of them for yourself — and keep an eye open for them throughout Bellaire. Remember, it’s not just parks that have wintering birds — you may have them visiting your yard, as well. Birdfeeders and bird baths are a great way to invite them close to your home.
If you’d like to learn more about our wintering birds, our next free guided Winter Bird Walk is Feb. 7 from noon-1:30 p.m. Call (713) 667-6550 for more info.
Duran is the staff naturalist at the Nature Discovery Center, 7112 Newcastle Dr., Bellaire.