What to watch for in February
Watchable Wildlife – Herons and Swallows
Here’s the Central Texas bird forecast for the month, courtesy of Travis Audubon. Learn more about Central Texas birds and bird-related events for all ages at or by calling 512-300-BIRD. Follow us at
Herons are wading birds that are typically found in shallow waters of ponds, lakes, marshes and beaches, where they forage for food. Great Blue Herons, often called Blue Herons, are gray long-legged waders that live in Austin year-round. During winter the resident birds are joined by some northerners escaping the cold.
Great Blue Herons forage both day and night. You may see them hunting in the open, standing stock-still until unsuspecting prey makes a mistake. Or they stand quietly in the shadows. Then in a flash, they grab the food which most often is fish, but also frogs, snakes, mammals, invertebrates, and even other birds. They swallow fish head first, sometimes spearing and shaking them beforehand to tenderize the scales. Almost all prey is swallowed whole. Watching a heron swallow food is quite an experience – you might wonder if it will get stuck in its throat or whether you’ll need to perform the Heimlich maneuver. (Don’t, if you value your eyesight.)
Great Blue Herons have had a rookery close to Red Bud Isle Park for several years, where several pairs nest colonially. They should begin to build their nests soon, high in the tall trees below the Tom Miller dam. Both parents will incubate the eggs and brood the young for several weeks. It is quite incongruous to see these 46 inch tall birds standing at their stick nests and tending their young.
A much more elusive heron in the Austin area is the Black-crowned Night Heron. They winter in Austin in very small numbers and are found intermittently during the breeding season. Where the Great Blue is long-legged and long-necked, the Black-crowned is short-necked, stocky and short-legged. It often tucks its neck in, which makes it look hunch-backed. During the day it perches hidden among leaves and branches at water’s edge, coming out at dusk and night to feed, true to its name. The adult Black-crowned Night Heron does indeed have a black crown. It also has a black back, gray wings and a white breast and belly. Its legs are yellow except at the height of breeding when they turn bright pink! Good places to look for roosting Black-crowned Night Herons are along Lady Bird Lake’s Holly Shores and below Longhorn Dam at Pleasant Valley Road in Roy Guerrero Park.
It’s Swallow Time!
Purple Martins have been seen at Giddings and Gonzales, first sighted there on January 26. They should be in Austin by the time you read this. These early birds are the fittest of the fit adult males, occasionally accompanied by some adult females. They arrive early to claim the best territories in human-provided housing. Martin landlords eagerly await their arrival. As the Purple Martin Lady of Virginia Avenue here in Austin says, “It is impossible to be unhappy in the presence of Purple Martins.”
Cliff Swallows are expected by the end of February. When Cliff Swallows return they will take a few weeks to refurbish old nests, and then get down to the business of raising young in mid-March. The highway and bridge underpasses, where they make their mud nests, will be teeming with life once again.
Travis Audubon Events — Beginners welcome. Check the Travis Audubon website and pages for details.
February is brimming with birding activities: a monthly meeting, local and out-of-town bird walks and field trips, classes and youth birding activities. You still have the opportunity to enjoy wintering birds before they head north.
Join us for the February 21 meeting featuring Jan Wrede and Rufus Stephens. Their topic: Attracting Birds to the Hill Country. New location: First Unitarian Universalist Church Sanctuary, 4700 Grover Ave, Austin, TX 78756 at 7:00 p.m.
February 10, 7:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Take a walk around the restored forty acre prairie and enjoy wintering birds while getting some exercise. Registration required.
February 16, 7:30 a.m. 2210 FM973, Austin, TX. Hornsby is located just a little northeast of the airport off Hwy 71. Join us to explore Austin’s premier birding site. All levels of birders are welcome and no registration is required. Meet in front of the Center for Environmental Research. Wear closed toe shoes or boots and dress for the weather.
February 16, 8:00 a.m.
Join Virginia Rose for a bird walk tailor-made for folks with mobility challenges.
has two bird walks in February. Feb. 16 will feature a walk at McKinney Roughs Nature Park east of Austin. On February 24, the walk will be held at Yett Creek Neighborhood Park in near Northwest Austin. Both require registration. This group is geared for youth 8 years and up. A parent or guardian is expected to attend the walk.
February 23, 12:00 – 2:30 p.m. Imagine slamming your face into a brick wall going 16 miles per hour. This self-destructive act would require about 1,200 g of force. Yet, a Pileated Woodpecker exerts the same force up to 20 times per second, and as many as 12,000 times per day, pounding its head into trees! How does it do this without getting concussions or retinal hemorrhages?! Woodpeckers possess a suite of adaptations that makes them one of the most specialized bird families in the world. Each species’ anatomy perfectly suits its unique lifestyle, with different woodpecker species possessing adaptations for aerial acrobatics, for drilling sap wells, or for extracting ants from underground burrows. Join North American woodpecker specialist Stephen Shunk as we dive into the amazing world of woodpecker specialization. Fee and registration required.
Compiled by Jane Tillman, Travis Audubon Volunteer