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Amazing Winged Migrants Grace the Texas Hill Country - The Miracle of Migration


BY PATSY GLENN

Migration is a miracle. The flight of some migrants would be metabolically equivalent to a person running the four minute mile for eight hours!




In the spring, an array of amazing feathered migrants invade the Hill Country of Central Texas. The Neotropica migrants begin arriving as early as late January now, and the migration parade continues throughout the Wimberley spring, however long that may be.


Scarlet Tanager Piranga olivacea
Photograph 2000, Greg W. Lasley


Scarlet Tanager are but one of 50 percent of our landbirds that leave the rainforests of Central and South America in the spring and head north to breed in the U.S. and Canada. For weeks they've been gorging on fruits and insects in the rain forest. Most have almost doubled the weight of their tiny feathered bodies. They "fell out," or landed after an average eighteen-hour flight across the Gulf to find food and a safe habitat to rest in. Now they are soaring over our heads! Some fly low and slow. Some, now svelte after their Gulf flight, fly high as 20,000 feet. Most fly at night. Daytimes, they often rest and forage if there is suitable habitat.

Red and black male Scarlet Tanagers and the green and yellow females are looking for a feast of insects on YOUR deciduous trees. Hold off spraying till they've feasted and moved on to breed. Seeing them is a rare, joyous treat for residents and visitors of the Hill Country. Look streamside and high in the trees for the flash of red. If it is not a crested red male cardinal, you have probably found a tanager.
       


Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher Tyrannus forficatus
Photograph 1993, John L. Tveten
Skydancer

The call of the amazingly long-tailed Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher is familiar, if unrecognized by most of us. Watching him in flight and landing is like seeing an aerial circus act! Watch him perched on a phone wire, opening and closing his scissor tail, or rising and dropping one-hundred feet in the air to court the shorter-tailed female. Get out your binoculars and feast your eyes on the soft peachy colors on his breast and back and the dash of red under his wing.

Wimberley is lucky to be in the breeding range of this show bird.

Tips

  • Investigate prior to using chemicals to exterminate insect larvae on your trees.
  • Plant native vegetation and encourage others to do so. Birds prefer smaller fruit of native trees.
  • Leave as many trees and under-story plants as possible on your property.
  • Provide water. Migratory birds often hear running or dripping water from the air. Use a solar-powered recycling pump for sustainable pleasure.
  • Be concerned about deforestation in the rainforest and in our own country. 


Great Crested Flycatcher Myiarchus crinitus
Photograph 1993, John L. Tveten

Orioles

One of many songbirds, the Northern Oriole navigates to breed in the insect-rich far north. How does he get back where he came from or where his parents came from?

Like other migrants, he navigates by visually observing topographic features, the stars (if one constellation is clouded over, they use another), the sun, the Earth's magnetic field, and odors. Who said birds had little brains? 

Watching an oriole drain your hummingbird feeder is a spectacular experience! Orioles are attracted by fruit, and are sometimes enticed to lunch by slices of fruit stuck in the trees. Look also for Orchard and Scott's Orioles around Wimberley.

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Female) Dendroica coronata
Photograph 1993, John L. Tveten

More links and resources...


Photo at top: Violet-crowned hummingbird (Amazilia violiceps)
2000, Greg W. Lasley


 


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