A ruby-throated hummingbird zips around a mangrove forest in the Yucatán at the southern tip of the Gulf of Mexico, tanking up on nectar and insects for its journey north. Suddenly, on a spring evening at dusk, it launches into the sky and flies over open seas with a mixed flock of vireos, warblers, and buntings. Riding tailwinds, they flap nonstop through the night and the next morning until they land, exhausted, on the Texas coast.
See related: State of Great Migration
‘Shorebirds at Bolivar Flats, near Galveston, year-round. See some of the largest concentrations of migrating shorebirds on the continent—including sanderlings, dunlins, Western sandpipers, and American avocets—many of which migrate between the Arctic and Central or South America. Call 713/932-1639; www.houstonaudubon.org.
Sandhill cranes at the Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge in the Panhandle, October to mid-February. See one of the largest congregations of sandhill cranes at their winter home. Arrive at least 30 minutes before sunrise to hear the cacophony of calls and start counting cranes before they take off to feed in the surrounding farm fields. Call 806/946-3341; www.fws.gov/refuge/muleshoe.
Hummingbirds at Rockport and Fort Davis, August-September. Head to the mid-September HummerBird Celebration at Rockport-Fulton to see hordes of ruby-throated hummingbirds tank up at backyard feeders during their fall migration. Call 361/729-6445; www.rockporthumming bird.com. In August, see the tiny birds in cooler temps at the Fort Davis Hummingbird Festival. Call 800/524-3015, www.fortdavis.com.
Monarch butterflies at various locations, October. Although there’s no one predictable spot to see them, you may catch a glimpse of the monarchs as they cut a 300-mile-wide swath west of Interstate 35 in a route that runs roughly from Wichita Falls through Abilene during the last week in September, and San Angelo to Del Rio at the end of October. Another monarch route runs along the Gulf Coast from Houston to Brownsville.
Whooping cranes at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, October-April. Take a boat tour from Rockport-Fulton, or climb the 40-foot observation tower at the wildlife refuge to see the last wild flock of whooping cranes in the world. Call 361/286-3559; www.fws.gov/refuge/aransas. Each February, Port Aransas honors whooping cranes with the Whooping Crane Festival, including speakers, expert-led field trips, and boat tours. Call 361/ 749-5919; www.whoopingcranefestival.org.
Hawks along the Gulf Coast, autumn. The display peaks in September and early October, when observers have counted as many as 100,000 to 400,000 hawks passing high overhead in a single day. Prime viewing locations include the Candy Cain Abshier Wildlife Management Area in Chambers County—409/736-2551; www.tpwd.state.tx.us—and Hazel Bazemore County Park in Corpus Christi, www.visitcorpuschristitx.org/Hazel_Bazemore_Park.cfm.
Mexican free-tailed bats at various locations, June-September. Watch a tornado of Mexican free-tailed bats emerge at dusk from caves and bridges around the state during the summer. Bracken Bat Cave Preserve, north of San Antonio, is one of the most spectacular displays. Other viewing spots are the Congress Avenue bridge in Austin; the Nature Conservancy’s Eckert James River Bat Cave Preserve; Old Tunnel Wildlife Management Area; Clarity Tunnel at Caprock Canyons State Park; Devil’s Sinkhole State Natural Area; and Kickapoo Cavern State Park.
Neotropical migratory birds at stopover places like High Island, Sabine Woods near Sabine Pass, Blucher Park in Corpus Christi, the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center, and other coastal locations, mid-March to mid-May. Birders from around the world flock to the Texas coast to see the songbird show, especially during a “fallout,” when trans-Gulf migrants battling fast-moving cold fronts fall exhausted into the trees. Possible sightings include Baltimore orioles, blue grosbeaks, indigo buntings, painted buntings, and summer tanagers.
Purple martins at lighted parking lots of urban malls in Austin and Houston, July and early August. Before embarking on their annual migration to the Brazilian Amazon, purple martins gather in jaw-dropping numbers at their pre-migratory roosts at three Texas shopping malls. Catch the birds at the former Highland Mall in Austin (now owned by Austin Community College), Fountains Shopping Center in Houston, and the Starbucks near Willowbrook Mall in Houston.
Golden-cheeked warblers and black-capped vireos at the Balcones Songbird Nature Festival, held each April at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, northwest of Austin. Call 512/965-2473