Scientists call it “kleptoparatism” but birders call it piracy – the act of birds engaging in stealing, highjacking or otherwise taking the property of other birds (usually food). In South Africa the Fork-tailed Drongo, a species of bird that gives an alarm call when predators approach, will sometimes give a fake alarm call and then fly down to steal whatever the other birds dropped in fear. You may not see anything that amusing while bird watching in Houston, Texas but there are plenty of birds you can watch to see what other forms this piracy may take. For tips on finding and identifying the pirates of Houston’s skies, see below.
Gadwall. Look for Gadwalls while bird watching at shallow ponds and lakes, the more vegetation the better. They are very common from November through April in Houston, Texas, and their numbers are on the rise. These pirates can be hard to see because of their gray, brown and black feathers, but you can identify the female by her bright orange bill. This Houston, Texas duck will steal food right from the bills of other ducks and Coots.
Magnificent Frigatebird. Recognize this pirate from its long wings, hooked bill and forked tail when bird watching close to the coast in Houston, Texas. (This is aside from the bright red throat sac the males inflate during mating.) Frigatebirds will chase and snatch food from other birds as they fly along the surface of a body of water, and are named after British warships that once sailed the pirate seas.
Bald Eagle. Bald Eagles can be seen while bird watching in Houston, Texas in tall trees, usually close to water. That way these pirates can dive bomb Ospreys they see carrying fish, in order to steal it. These pirates can be found nesting at Brazos Bend State Park, and also on the Katy Prairie. The very large bird is easy to identify while bird watching in Houston, Texas from its striking white head and brown body. These pirates will also steal from other birds and even mammals.
Laughing Gulls. If you have ever tried to picnic on the beach you know what pirates gulls can be. Laughing Gulls nest in large flocks in Houston, Texas each year. (Once over 85,000 nests were counted in a single year.) The gulls that chase the Bolivar Ferry are Laughing Gulls; you can also see them while bird watching on North Deer Island. You’ll recognize them while bird watching in Houston, Texas from their black heads and black wing tips. These pirates will hover directly above a pelican and peck at its full bill as it tries to swallow the fish it just caught. Gulls have even been seen perched on a pelican’s head or back, trying to reach into its bill! Of course, the Brown Pelican you often see in Houston, Texas, is a pirate itself, stealing fish from other birds. Look for these Pelican pirates while bird watching in Houston, Texas. They are common at Bolivar Flats, and over 1,500 pairs nest on North Deer Island.
Herring Gull. Look for these common pirates while bird watching along the shores of rivers, lakes, and coastal regions of Houston, Texas. You will also see them at airports, in parking lots, and anywhere else they can find something to eat. This is the largest gull seen in Houston, Texas, and is the classic-looking seagull. It may be difficult to identify them while bird watching, as they resemble other large gulls. Look for these pirates’ yellow bills, pink legs, and black wingtips. These pirates steal food from each other and any other bird they see with something they want to eat.