Optics Mag is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Read more.

Birdwatching in Texas – Tips, Hotspots, and Guide

Last Updated on

close up man using binoculars to spot birds

Texas is home to a wide range of habitats, from the Chihuahuan Desert to swamps and subtropical values. So, it’s no surprise that the region has hundreds of species of birds. Texas has something to offer whether you’re a beginner or an experienced birder.

Are you a Golden-cheeked Warbler fan, or do you prefer spotting a Green Jay? With birds like the Least Grebe and the Whooping Crane gracing Texan skies, there’s no shortage of hotspots for birdwatching in the state.

If you’re new to the region or want to explore lesser-known sites, this guide will introduce you to some of the best birdwatching hotspots in Texas. Get your binoculars on!

hummingbird divider

Top Birdwatching Hotspots in Texas

1. Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge

Type of spot: Wildlife refuge
Difficulty Level: High
Common birds seen: Mallard and different species of woodpeckers
Fee: No admission fee
Website: https://friendsofhagerman.com/

The Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge is located in Texas’ Blackland Prairies ecoregion and is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The refuge was established in 1946 to provide a wintering area for waterfowl and other birds.

The refuge is home to a diverse range of bird species, including the Mallard, Northern Pintail, and Green-winged Teal. In addition, since the woodlands attract woodpeckers, such as the Brown Creeper and the Hairy, you can spot them while hiking the trails.

If you go to Hagerman early in the morning, you should be able to spot more than 50 species of birds. Two of the most common species in the area are Ross’s Goose and the Snow Goose. If you’re lucky, you may spot a Bald Eagle.

Pros
  • Wintering site for a wide range of bird species
  • Plenty of hiking trails
  • No entry fee
  • Easily accessible
Cons
  • Doesn’t have as many bird species as other Texan birdwatching spots

2. Guadalupe River State Park

Type of spot: State park
Difficulty Level: Medium
Common birds seen: Texan goldfinches and golden-cheeked warblers
Fee: $7
Website: https://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/guadalupe-river 

The Guadalupe River State Park is a haven for birdwatchers, with 240 bird species documented to date. The river is home to a wide range of bird species, such as the Green Heron.

The best thing about the park is the presence of the golden-cheeked warbler, which is otherwise endangered and rarely spotted in other areas. You’ll also see Texan goldfinches, whose breeding range is limited to the state.

Since the park has 13 miles of hiking trails, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing your hiking trail for the day. However, the Painted Bunting Trail is the best option if you want to spot multiple species of colorful birds.

Pros
  • Hundreds of bird species
  • Home to endangered species too
  • Multiple hiking trails
Cons
  • Not all hiking trails are frequented by a large variety of birds

3. Big Bend National Park

Type of spot: National park
Difficulty Level: Low
Common birds seen: Colima warbler and woodpecker species
Fee: $15
Website: https://visitbigbend.com/

The Big Bend National Park is located in southwest Texas and is one of the best birding hotspots in the state. While the Rio Grande Village by the Nature Trail has more than 300 species, the Chisos Mountains are home to 312 bird species.

The Colima warbler is the specialty bird in the region. If you stay at the Cottonwood campground, you’ll spot nearly 250 species of birds, including Ladder-backed woodpeckers and shorebirds.

If you want to see painted bunting, green-tailed towhee, or the scaled quail, head to the Sam Nail Ranch or the Dugout Wells in the area.

Pros
  • Several birdwatching spots
  • Over 200 bird species
  • Home to Texas-specific birds too
Cons
  • Slightly higher entry fee

4. Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

Type of spot: Wildlife refuge
Difficulty Level: High
Common birds seen: Whooping and Sandhill Crane
Fee: Free with certain passes
Website: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/aransas

Spanning 115,000 acres of land, the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is sprawled along the Texas Gulf Coast. The refuge is winter home to Sandhill Cranes and the Whooping Crane. You’ll also see shorebirds, wintering warbler species, waterfowl, and raptors.

Most birdwatchers can spot over 50 species. The walking trails in the refuge are pretty easy, even for beginners. You can also get a bird’s eye view of the area from the observation tower. Standing 40-foot high from the ground, you can easily see Whooping Cranes feeding in the nearby marsh.

Pros
  • Easily accessible
  • Ideal for people interested in waterfowl
  • Has an observatory tower for a full view of the area
Cons
  • Closed on Mondays and Tuesday

5. Mitchell Lake Audubon Center

Type of spot: Wildlife sanctuary
Difficulty Level: Low
Common birds seen: Migratory species 
Fee: $5
Website: https://mitchelllake.audubon.org/

Migratory birds, such as the Least Grebe, make a stop at Mitchell Lake in San Antonio. The wetland habitat is the pitstop for hundreds of migratory birds.

Since the sanctuary spans over 1,200 acres, it has four distinct habits: brushlands, grasslands, woodlands, and wetlands. Nearly 340 bird species can be spotted in the area, including the black-crested titmouse, barn owl, Franklin’s gull, summer tanager, belted kingfisher, white-eyed vireo, and great blue heron.

Pros
  • Ideal place to watch migratory birds
  • Huge area with multiple bird habitats
  • Over 300 bird species
Cons
  • Opening of driving trails is subject to weather conditions

6. The Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail

 

Type of spot: Birding trail
Difficulty Level: Low
Common birds seen: Variable
Fee: Depends on the section and national park/refuge
Website: https://tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/wildlife/wildlife-trails/ctc

The Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail is the first-ever birding trail of its kind in the whole country, connecting existing and new birding sites along the 600-mile spread of the Texas coast. Due to its lengthy distance, the trail is divided into lower, central, and upper sections.

Every section has a diverse climate, biodiversity, and landscape. The lower section is known for its bays, barrier islands, and coastal prairies. Central Texas is made up of wetlands, woodlands, and grassy plains.

Meanwhile, the upper section of the trail is famous for its pine forests and small towns located in the Rio Grande Valley. Depending on your section, you’ll see geese, seagulls, ducks, and Whooping Cranes.

Pros
  • Multiple sections with distinct habits
  • Plenty of recreational activities
  • Has hundreds of bird species
Cons
  • May be hard to navigate for beginners

7. High Island

Type of spot: Town
Difficulty Level: Low
Common birds seen: Warblers and thrushes
Fee: None
Website: https://houstonaudubon.org/sanctuaries/high-island/visitor.html

High Island is a small Texan town, being the prime spot for birdwatching, especially during the springtime when the coast is filled with migratory birds who have traveled through the Gulf of Mexico. The birds come to High Island for resting and feeding before continuing their journey.

Bird species, like tanagers, warblers, thrushes, and vireos, start coming to the town in March, with the action peaking in April and May. While you can never know which day will be the best for birdwatching, you can expect to see more birds the day following a storm.

Pros
  • Prime spot for watching migratory birds
  • Campsites available
  • Easily accessible through Highway 87
Cons
  • Only visit-worthy during spring
  • No overnight RV parking

8. Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge

Type of spot: Wildlife refuge
Difficulty Level: Low
Common birds seen: Doves, titmouse, and sparrows
Fee: $3 per vehicle
Website: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/laguna-atascosa

The Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge is home to more bird species than any other US wildlife refuge. The refuge is home to 417 documented bird species, including the White-tailed Hawk, White-tipped Dove, White-tailed Kite, Harris’s Hawk, Groove-billed Ani, Plain Chachalaca, Least Grebe, Crested Caracara, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Black-crested Titmouse, Common Pauraque, Green Jay, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Great Kiskadee, Long-billed Thrasher, Bronzed Cowbird, Botteri’s Sparrow, Olive Sparrow, etc. You can also spot 30 or more shorebird species.

The wintertime is best for birdwatchers who want to see swarms of ducks since the wildlife refuge is the wintering spot for about a quarter-million ducks, especially the Redheads.

Pros
  • Has more bird species than any other US wildlife refuge
  • Variety of bird species (waterfowl, migratory, woodpeckers)
  • Wintering spot for ducks
Cons
  • May be overwhelming for first-timers

9. Caddo Lake State Park

Type of spot: State park
Difficulty Level: Medium
Common birds seen: Waterfowl and warblers
Fee: $4 per day
Website: https://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/caddo-lake

The Caddo Lake State Park is home to Yellow-throated warblers, Acadian Flycatchers, and Wood thrushes. You can take a canoe through the state park’s canals to be mesmerized by wood ducks, egrets, herons, and other waterfowl.

The Caddo Lake State Park also has many other activities, such as swimming, fishing, boating, and camping.

Pros
  • Plenty of recreational activities
  • Home to multiple waterfowl species
  • 46 campsites
Cons
  • Has alligators

10. Quintana Neotropical Bird Sanctuary

Type of spot: Wildlife sanctuary
Difficulty Level: Low
Common birds seen: Finches and towhees
Fee: None
Website: https://www.gcbo.org/

The Quintana Neotropical Bird Sanctuary is south of Brazosport and is among the best birdwatching sites on the Gulf Coast of Texas. Since it’s a central flyway, the sanctuary attracts over 300 species of migratory birds every year. You can spot purple finches, indigo bunting, and spotted towhees during the migration season.

Other bird species in the area include beach dunes, salt cedars, gulf frontage, and brackish marshes. If you want a good view of the area, try the observation tower.

Pros
  • Acts as a central flyway for migratory birds
  • Has an observation tower for a better view
  • Home to more than 300 species
Cons
  • Not easily accessible

eagle divider

Tips for Birdwatching in Texas

If it’s your first time birdwatching in Texas, you should keep a few things in mind. You’ll need to purchase a good pair of binoculars and a field guide to get started. You might also want to consider joining a local birdwatching club or organization.

Once you’re all set, try these tips to get the most out of your bird-watching experience.

Use Birding Apps

Here are three apps that will make birdwatching in Texas a breeze:

  • eBird: The Cornell Lab of Ornithology runs the app. You can keep track of bird species documented in different regions all over the world.
  • Merlin: It’s another app run by Cornell, helping beginners identify birds. The app will ask you about a bird’s size, behavior, and location to help you identify it.
  • Audubon Bird Guide: The bird guide has audio clips of calls or songs along with photos of birds to help you identify them.

Be Prepared

Dress for the weather and wear comfortable shoes. You’ll also want to pack plenty of water and snacks, as you may be spending several hours outdoors.

Take reusable water bottles along if you’re going to one of the lakes or bird sanctuaries. Plastic bottles are a hazard for seabirds and waterfowl.

Get the Texas State Park Pass

The Texas State Park Pass allows you free entry into over 80 state parks for one year. If you plan on birdwatching in different parts of Texas, this pass will save you a lot of money. It only costs $70 and allows free entry for a cardholder’s same-vehicle guests too.

woman looking for birds on nature reserve

Image Credit: Kayla Farmer, Unsplash

FAQs

What Is the Best Time to Go Birdwatching in Texas?

The best time of year to go birdwatching is during the spring and fall migration seasons. During these times, there will be a greater variety of birds since many migratory species rest and feed in Texas before continuing their journey.

Are There Any Endangered Birds in Texas?

The Golden-cheeked Warbler is an endangered bird species found in central Texas. This bird is unique to the area and is threatened by habitat loss.

How Many Bird Species Have Been Documented in Texas?

There are over 600 documented bird species in Texas. The state is so densely populated by birds due to the presence of different types of habitats.

Summing Up

Since Texas is home to many bird species, such as warblers, doves, geese, ducks, woodpeckers, and herons, there are plenty of opportunities to go bird watching. There are also many types of birding festivals and events throughout the year.

If you want to couple birdwatching with other activities, head over to one of the many national parks, bird refuges, or sanctuaries in the state to spot migratory and regional birds. Don’t forget to comply with the regulations of the park or sanctuary you’re visiting. Most importantly, be considerate of the bird’s habitats by leaving your plastic bottles or disposable coffee cups at home.


Featured Image Credit: Forest Simon, Unsplash

About the Author Jeff Weishaupt

Jeff is a tech professional by day, writer, and amateur photographer by night. He's had the privilege of leading software teams for startups to the Fortune 100 over the past two decades. He currently works in the data privacy space. Jeff's amateur photography interests started in 2008 when he got his first DSLR camera, the Canon Rebel. Since then, he's taken tens of thousands of photos. His favorite handheld camera these days is his Google Pixel 6 XL. He loves taking photos of nature and his kids. In 2016, he bought his first drone, the Mavic Pro. Taking photos from the air is an amazing perspective, and he loves to take his drone while traveling.

Jeff Weishaupt Profile Picture