Rio Grande Valley Rare Bird Alert

Rio Grande Valley Rare Bird Alert

Specialty Bird Hints - Rio Grande Valley Bird Blog

These Valley Specialties are too widespread to be listed on the Rare Bird Alert, but visiting birders may appreciate information on how to find them.  All locations given are in "A Birder's Guide to the Rio Grande Valley" by Lockwood and McKinney or "A Birder's Guide to the Texas Coast" by Cooksey.  This blog does not repeat directions to locations given in these guides and is not intended to replace these very useful booksm.  Useful information on timing of occurance of various species in the area can be found in "Birds of the South Texas Brushlands", a bar-graph checklist for south Texas.
This list follows the species order in Lockwood and McKinney 2009. Rare species will appear in the RBA including Hook-billed Kite, Brown Jay, Tamaulipas Crow, and Yellow-green Vireo.

Abbreviated locations are translated at the end of this post.

Least Grebe
Least Grebe prefer small ponds and recently flooded fields with lots of cover in the form of cattails and reeds. They are outnumbered on the Rio Grande by Pied-billed Grebe in winter. Often easiest to see at Sabal Palm Sanctuary, Estero Llano Grande or Santa Ana.

Neotropic Cormorant
Widespread on the Rio Grande. Often roosts in trees, try the resaca east of FM 1015 on 281 south of Mercedes or Salineño. The only summer cormorant inland. 

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Widespread in summer including urban areas away from water. In winter, Progreso Lakes (note - it is increasingly difficult to find access to view Moon Lake), Estero Llano Grande, Santa Ana, or urban ponds can host this striking nocturnal duck.

Fulvous Whistling-Duck
Typically outnumbered by Black-bellied Whistling Duck in summer, and rare or absent in fall and winter. Often seen with Black-bellied Whistling-Duck. See that species.

Muscovy Duck
Increasing in summer and variable numbers in winter from Roma upriver to San Ygancio. Birds seen downstream from Roma often with some domestic tendencies or clearly of domestic origin  in Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy counties. Wild birds are most often seen early morning or late evening from Salineño or Chapeño. Birds at Estero Llano Grande, Santa Ana, and Bentsen have had domestic tendencies including patchy white feathers on the head and breast, extensive red facial skin and wattles, and/or fail the "bread test" (when you throw bread, they come in a hurry). These birds have also been seen trying to land on the painted letters on the Mission water tower.  All  Muscovy Ducks in Hidalgo/Cameron/Willacy and nearby areas downstream from Roma should be eBirded as Muscovy Duck (domestic) unless there is compelling evidence that the birds are wild.

Gray Hawk
A small Buteo of the the Rio Grande riparian corridor, the adult pearl gray, the immature with tail bands getting closer together towards the base of the tail. Often easy to see in summer at Anzalduas. In winter, numbers variable, but most on or near the Rio Grande at Salineño, Bentsen, Santa Ana, and increasing in Weslaco.

White-tailed Hawk
Adult pairs remain near their nests on the coastal plain all year. In winter, nonbreeders of all ages congregate at recently burned sugar cane fields in the ranch country north of US 83. Can be encountered anywhere in the region. Best near Laguna Atascosa, Boca Chica, or Old Port Isabel Road.

Zone-tailed Hawk
A winter visitor near the Rio Grande at Anzalduas, Frontera, Salineño, or Falcon County Park. Often seen with Turkey Vultures lifting off in the morning.Also present in the large vulture roost in Weslaco in recent years.

Crested Caracara
A common resident species in the ranch country north of US 83. Also present and variable in numbers in brushlands through the region. Common near Sal del Rey or Teniente Tract.

Aplomado Falcon
A stunning falcon resident in the coastal prairies of Cameron Co., the Texas population reintroduced and first nested in 1995.  Under ABA rules, they are considered countable as of this date.  However, the reintroduced birds are not countable on Texas lists as the TBRC has not yet listed the birds as established.  Nests in yucca or on platforms built for that purpose (be sure to look under the sunshade/owl protection cage for the nesting birds in late spring or summer). Best at or near Laguna Atascosa, Old Port Isabel Road, TX 100 from Los Frenos to Laguna Heights, or Boca Chica. Not found away from the coastal prairies.  Populations are small with annual published estimates of 28-35 pairs for the south Texas and mid-coastal populations; perhaps half of the birds are in south Texas.

Plain Chachalaca
A raucous small guan of the riparian corridor parks or urban areas. Widespread, secretive where hunted. Raucous choruses in the morning in late winter and spring are deafening. Bentsen, Santa Ana, Quinta Mazatlan, Estero Llano Grande, Frontera, Valley Nature Center, Laguna Atascosa, Resaca de la Palma.

Scaled Quail
Marginal in our area and declining in dry brushlands from Salineno upriver. Not easily seen in the RBA region. Present in the ranch country at the northern end of the RBA area and in western Starr County.

Red-billed Pigeon
A large dark fruit-eating dove of the riparian corridor from Roma upriver to San Ygnacio. Not to be mistaken for the smaller and tawnier (but equally fast-flying at times) White-winged Dove. This large deep maroon pigeon often perches high up in the open early in the morning. Winter numbers variable but sometimes small numbers present at Salineño or Chapeño, seen mostly in flight on the river. Numbers seem to be down since the floods of 2010.  The riparian corridor was greatly impacted by the flood and many large trees are now gone. Discovered nesting at the Max Mandel Golf Course in Laredo (see

White-tipped Dove
Resident. Widespread large relatively plain dove of the forest understory, seen walking through the forest or flying through brush rather than flying high over the canopy. Salineño, Bentsen, Quinta Mazatlan, Santa Ana, Estero Llano Grande, Frontera, Valley Nature Center, Laguna Atascosa.

Green Parakeet
Resident. Easiest to see in McAllen in the evening as they stage before going to roost on 10th Street between Violet and Dove north of US 83, at least until some were killed at the night roost in a hail storm in April/May 2012.  They moved to 2nd street at least temporarily.  A few birds are present all year with numbers increasing to hundreds of birds from October to March. In summer, found in most cities in small numbers from Mission to Brownsville, perhaps best at Quinta Mazatlan or Frontera. In winter 2015/16, numbers moved west to Starr County/Rio Grande City for a few weeks, and they were difficult to find in McAllen. 

Red-crowned Parrot
Resident. Sparsely distributed in summer, best at Valley Nature Center or Estero Llano Grande State Park. Collects into large flocks in urban areas is winter, including Brownsville (Fort Brown, Oliviera Park), Harlingen (Pendleton Park), Weslaco, McAllen.

Groove-billed Ani
Widespread in summer, reduced in numbers and locations - and more secretive - in winter. Often a very small number of birds is present in winter near the Rio Grande.

Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl
Rare, difficult to detect (seemingly unresponsive to imitations of their calls even though tapes are not allowed at most LRGV birding sites). Only public access at present is the King Ranch - Norias Division Bird Tours in spring. Rare or difficult to see elsewhere.  The King Ranch - Norias Division is visited on Rio Grande Birding Festival trips the second weekend of November, see  The RGVBF trips target these birds on Norias with a fairly high success rate.  Also present but inaccessible on private ranches in northern Hidalgo County and adjacent Brooks County. 

Common Pauraque
Widespread but difficult to access sites at dusk or dawn; often day roost sites are known at Estero Llano Grande outside the nesting season (March-May). Can be seen by walking into Bentsen at dusk (see kiosk for self check-in). Filtering a powerful torch with red cellophane allows more prolonged views of their behavior.

Buff-bellied Hummingbird
Widespread in summer, less numerous in winter but variable in numbers year to year. Estero Llano Grande, Frontera, Valley Nature Center, Laguna Atascosa.

Ringed Kingfisher
Our largest kingfisher with a powerful bill and a loud slow series of explosive notes as a call. In spring and summer, easiest to find on Rio Grande.  The Ringed Kingfisher nests in deep burrows dug into eroding steep riverbanks on the Rio Grande, best at Santa Ana, Salineño, Chapeño, Anzalduas. In winter, more widespread near water, best at summer locations and Bentsen, Estero Llano Grande.

Green Kingfisher
Our smallest kingfisher with a long dagger-like bill and a voice that sounds like marbles clicking together in a morse code pattern. Secretive, perches within 6 feet of the water level (usually lower), often in dense vegetation overhanging the water.  In summer, best on Rio Grande, in winter, easiest on calm days at Salineño, Estero Llano Grande, Bentsen, Anzalduas.

Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Resident. Widespread in all woodland habitats.

Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet
Requires epiphytes for nest construction and easiest to find at sites with spanish moss or ball moss. Joins winter flocks in season. Best at Anzalduas, Bentsen, Santa Ana, in winter rare at Estero Llano Grande and Frontera. Rare in Cameron County.

Great Kiskadee
Resident. Widespread and comical. Often near water, also in urban areas. Loud raucous "kisk-a-dee" call.

Tropical Kingbird
Increasing in urban areas and near resacas and riparian corridors in Hidalgo and Cameron Cos.  Rare in Starr Co. and upriver. Uncommon to common in summer at selected sites from Mission to the coast, in summer try McAllen airport parking lot, Old Cannon Road, Santa Ana (Pintail Lake), South Padre Island (where Couch's is not found) and city centers with large trees. In winter, numbers vary but small numbers within breeding range, listen for the breezy twittering calls.

Couch's Kingbird
The woodland counterpart to the Tropical Kingbird. Common in spring and summer, variable numbers in winter but much harder to find some years (especially in drought, as in 2012). Found in or near woodlands or mature urban areas throughout. Best at Bentsen, Santa Ana, Estero Llano Grande, and other woodland sites. The calls include a single hard "bick" in winter and a sneezy song.

Green Jay
Resident. A stunning, comical bird that can be amazingly difficult to see well in summer when nesting. Common in woodlands and rare in urban areas with mature trees. Best at Salineño, Bentsen, Santa Ana, Laguna Atascosa.

Cave Swallow
Absent for a few weeks in winter, otherwise the most abundant winter swallow but can be difficult to locate the few large flocks, often near the Rio Grande. Widespread in summer. Nests on highway bridges and smaller culverts and bridges over water. Best at Bentsen and Estero Llano Grande.

Clay-colored Thrush
A shy resident woodland robin that can be difficult to see well. Often seen at water features in winter. Best at Salineño, Bentsen, Quinta Mazatlan, Santa Ana, Valley Nature Center. Smaller numbers at Estero Llano Grande and Allen Williams' Backyard; indeed present at most wooded sites, including old urban areas with mature oaks.

Long-billed Thrasher
A Tamaulipan Brushlands replacement to the Brown Thrasher. At least one call note very like Brown Thrasher. A common resident of brushlands and woodlands.  Usually  paired in winter, while Brown is never paired. Best at Salineño, Bentsen, Santa Ana, Laguna Atascosa.

Sprague's Pipit
A surprisingly common winter species found in many grasslands - but access to see them can be difficult. Winters on many grassy levees and fields. Best access to see them is at Anzalduas, difficult in drought years when grass may be too short. 

Tropical Parula
Rare in the LRGV, any verified sightings will appear on the RBA. Widespread on the King Ranch -Norias Division but only seen on their spring Bird Tours (also found on the Norias trips in November on the RGVBF, see under Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl). Not to be expected off the King Ranch in summer. A bright male was at Quinta Mazatlan fall 2014.

White-collared Seedeater
Rare in the LRGV, a small population exists in Zapata County on the Rio Grande. Easiest to see in spring when the males are singing. Scarce but present at the Zapata Library pond in Zapata (where they come to drink) and at the San Ygnacio Seedeater Sanctuary. Recently, numbers of birds accessible at La Laja Ranch (fee) near the Zapata/Webb county line, contact for information on visiting. Also present in Laredo (Webb County) at the North Laredo Central Park, Las Palmas Trail near Zacate Creek, and Slaughter Park. Best seen in Laredo (Webb County).

Olive Sparrow
Widespread in brush, can be difficult to see well but abundant and readily detected if you know the calls. Easiest to see in winter at Salineño, Bentsen, and Laguna Atascosa.

Botteri's Sparrow
An uncommon to common nesting sparrow of bunchgrass flats of the coastal prairie, absent in winter. Difficult to detect after they stop singing, absent in fall and winter. Usually outnumbered by Cassin's Sparrow. Best at Boca Chica, Old Port Isabel Road, Palo Alto Battlefield, Port Mansfield.

Common in Starr County, variable in numbers and more restricted to the east (but can be widespread and even regular in urban areas some winters). Best at Falcon State Park and Chihuahua Woods Preserve.

Bronzed Cowbird
Common in woodlands in summer, moving to urban and agricultural areas in winter where it can be overlooked (urban) or in huge single species flocks or mixed with other blackbirds (agricultural areas). In summer, best at Bentsen, Santa Ana, Estero Llano Grande. In winter, Progreso Lakes granary or anywhere blackbirds congregate (including discount store parking lots).

Altamira Oriole
A large declining oriole of tall woodlands and riparian corridor. Song easily imitated, often seen at oranges at feeding stations. Best at Salineño, Bentsen, Santa Ana.

Audubon's Oriole
Widespread in the brush country north of the urban centers but not found where habitat is fragmented. Best at Salineño.

Hooded Oriole
Widespread in summer in woodland openings (e.g. headquarters of Bentsen or Santa Ana).  Rare in winter but annual at Salineño.

Bentsen - Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park and World Birding Center
Chapeño - El Rio RV Park or the adjacent boat ramp
Estero Llano Grande - Estero Llano Grande State Park and World Birding Center
Frontera - Frontera Audubon Center
Laguna Atascosa - Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge
Salineño - Salineno Feeding Station and Boat Ramp
Santa Ana - Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge
Valley Nature Center