The Aransas National Wildlife Refuge was established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937 as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife. Encompassing more than 115,000 acres, this land is an amazing bird watching spot, providing feeding, wintering and nesting ground for migratory birds as well as native Texas species. The refuge’s 40-foot observation tower, equipped with two high-powered spotting scopes, is an excellent spot for Texas bird watching. Other viewing locations include the Heron Flats Trail, the Jones Lake Trail, and the Hog Lake Trail. The Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is known world-wide as the wintering home of the largest wild flock of the endangered Whooping Crane. For more information on finding and identifying just a few of the birds you may see while bird watching at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, see below.
Whooping Crane. One of the rarest birds in North America, this large white bird stands about five feet tall and can live up to 40 years. While I doubt you will have trouble identifying these cranes while bird watching, you will know them by the black tips of their seven foot wingspan, as well as this bird’s red forehead and cheek. Look for them from late October to mid April, when these birds migrate north from Canada to winter at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. In the 1940s, only sixteen of these magnificent birds existed; the Texas flock today is almost 200.
Great-tailed Grackle. You’ll know this large, noisy bird from its iridescent feathers, which have a purple sheen. Its tail is long and shiny, and it has yellow eyes. Look for this bird while bird watching in the open Texas country of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, usually near water. Grackles roost together in very large numbers, and this bird quickly adapts to urban areas.
Black Vulture. Look for this huge black bird soaring in the Texas skies over the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. The Black Vulture has a smooth dark head and a short square tail. You can distinguish this vulture while bird watching from Turkey Vultures by its social nature – Black Vultures are much more likely to travel in flocks.
Killdeer. Named for their shrill cry, you will see these tawny birds running gracefully across the Texas grasslands of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Recognize them while bird watching from their large round heads, large eyes, and black and white patches on their faces. They also have a bright orange rump you will see when they are in flight.
American Oystercatcher. This large shorebird can be identified while bird watching from its black head, large red bill and stout pink legs. The bill is used to pry open oysters and other shellfish, hence this bird’s name. Look for it while bird watching along the Texas shore at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. It has distinctive white patches on its wings and tail when in flight.
Green Heron. This small, stocky heron can be hard to see as it stands motionless waiting for fish, but you’ll know it by its long yellow legs, long pointed dark bill, and greenish cap, back and wings. It also has a rust colored neck. Look for it while bird watching in Texas on the shores of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. It frequently keeps it long neck tucked close to its body, giving it a squat look.
Black-necked Stilts. These pretty birds are easy to identify from their startling black and white plumage. They prefer the Texas marshes and lakes of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, and are common from the spring through the fall. They breed here in Texas, making their nests on the ground in colonies.