Bird Populations

Posted: November 15th, 2009 under Wildlife.
Tags: , ,

Driving home from church today,  I saw several more “winter hawks” in the sky or perched along the road, which brought up the topic of our disparate bird populations through the seasons.   We have year-rounders, winter residents, winter visitors, summer nesters, and migrants in fall and spring.

The year-rounders include abundant and familiar birds that more people know because they’re always around: Cardinal, Carolina Wren, Mockingbird, Blue Jay, etc.  Some (those named) are familiar yard birds but others are either nocturnal (Screech Owl, Great Horned Owl) or tend to stay out on the land (Roadrunner, Bewick’s Wren, Lesser Goldfinch, Black-crested Titmouse, Carolina Chickadee, Turkey and Black Vulture, etc.)   Also year-round now–though not when we moved here–are White-winged Doves and Inca Doves.

We have the most birds around in late winter to mid-spring, when the first spring migrants overlap with the winter residents (and the year-rounders are of course still here.)   We have up to twelve species of sparrows that show up in the fall and spend the winter (varies a little from year to year, but always at least eight.)   We have large flocks of American Goldfinches in their drab winter coats (and I get to watch the brown feather tips wear off and the males look patchy until–just as they leave–they look like their pictures in the books.)   Cedar Waxwings devour (not enough of) our mistletoe berries, with a side order of juniper berries.  Kestrels show up in winter, and we get the occasional winter-visiting prairie falcon.   We see more hawks (and more different kinds) in the air;  Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned hunt in the woods and a Harrier usually courses the open fields.  We also have Winter Wrens in the woods,  and sometimes a House Wren.   Two warblers winter with us (Orange-crowned and Yellow-rumped.)   So does the Eastern Phoebe; we often have a Hermit Thrush down in the creek woods.  Winter is fluid, here in central Texas, and the bird populations react to that; they may arrive early or late because of weather fronts.  I particularly enjoy watching the winter residents go from being nearly silent on arrival to singing increasingly loud, tuneful courting songs as they near departure time.

Spring migrants include warblers, vireos, orioles, buntings, bluebirds, flycatchers, and many others.   The small birds, flying at night, come in for water, food, and a safe place to rest for the day.   Day-flying migrants intclude the hawks and falcons; our kestrels leave, but we usually see merlin and peregrine at least once.   Overhead, the geese, ducks, and cranes fly by (we don’t have open water) though in our wettest year, with the creek full for weeks, we did get a pair of Blue-winged Teal on it for 24 hours.  I was lucky to get a picture.  Huge flocks of blackbirds stop by (many species, including the not-wanted Brown-headed Cowbird, a major nest predator for small birds.)  I like to watch the flocks wheel around the sky, settling on spilled grain and then lifting again when someone has a stick in hand.

Summer breeders  also arrive in spring:  Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Painted Bunting, Summer Tanager, White-eyed Vireo,  Barn Swallows,  Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, etc.    By then the Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks have gone north; the local Red-tailed Hawks are not interested in tiny birds.   Of course, all our local birds are breeding too and everything that comes by is calling out…this is the height of bird song.

Summer calms down when the last of the winter residents and spring migrants have passed, but there’s still plenty of birdsong (sometimes too much, when a mockingbird is singing all night just outside the bedroom window for the third or fourth night in a row, and repeating a particularly dull phrase.)    It’s fun to watch the fledglings learn to navigate and find food.  As they grow, summer gets quieter (and hotter) and the first fall migrants can come through unnoticed (they’re not singing–if they don’t come to water when you’re there watching them, you never know it.)   I’ve seen them as early as August.

Fall migration picks up slowly and may not have the same species as in spring.    (There’s overlap, but not complete.)    The arrival of winter residents just overlaps the end of fall migration (the long-haul migrants, like cranes and geese, for instance.)    Late summer through early-mid fall is usually the quietest time, in terms of bird calls…but on any given day one of the year-rounders may decide to get noisy or even a migrant may speak out.

Although it’s complicated, the flow of populations across our place makes it even  more interesting.


  • Comment by Barb — November 23, 2009 @ 7:50 pm


    Thanks for an informative post. Here in suburban MD(halfway between Washington, DC and Baltimore)we don’t get the variety that you do. But I always notice when the robins leave (bye robins–they are gone now) and the arrival of the junkos (aka snow birds) and chickadees(and they are here now). The blue jays, cardinals, mockingbirds and mourning doves seem to be here year-round.
    The house sparrows are year round, but the finches are gone for the winter. We are too far north for the painted buntings, which is too bad as they are soooo pretty. The hawks (mostly red-tailed) are back for the winter.

    All in all I have become more observant over the years, but I have so much more to do and learn.

  • Comment by elizabeth — November 23, 2009 @ 11:25 pm


    That’s what I love about the natural world–there’s always so much more to do and learn. We can get to the bottom of one textbook, maybe, but the land is a whole collection of libraries.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment