The Holiday Season for Birds

Green Jay on feederAs the holiday season comes into to full swing – it is important to take the necessary time to relax and rid yourself of some of that seasonal stress. What better way than to enjoy bird watching in your own yard! As a side note, it has been scientifically shown that exposure to nature helps to reduce stress – how neat!

After the breeding season, where most of the energy a bird spends goes towards breeding activities (finding a mate, defending a territory, laying eggs, and feeding young), a bird’s main concern is simply having enough food to make it through the winter. So by feeding your backyard birds, you are not only helping them but get personal enjoyment and relaxation as well.

Setting up your bird feeding station requires more than just putting out a feeder and seeds. There are some basic guidelines to follow when feeding birds. For instance, scientific research has shown that placing bird feeders closer than 15 feet from a window helps to reduce the number of birds colliding with windows.

Having bushes or trees near your bird feeder is important as well; it provides cover for the birds at your feeders to use if a hawk is in the area. Having these plant shelters can also serve a double purpose – if you put in native plants, the birds can also eat the insects and fruits the plant supports! To get some ideas of good natives for your yard, you can visit and

Of course, what’s a bird feeder without bird food? Selecting the proper bird foods to place in your feeders is important, because different birds have different food preferences. While things like black-oil sunflower seeds, cracked corn, and suet will attract most birds, adding unique items like oranges, bananas, or even mealworms might bring some different ones.

There are several things to keep in mind with feeders. First, no matter if your feeder is made of plastic, wood, or metal, you will need to periodically clean it so that your visiting birds do not get sick. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology suggests once every couple weeks. Second, the more varieties of feeder types and feeder heights (from your typical seed feeder, to a platform feeder, to putting fruit on logs), the greater variety of birds you can get. Third, if you have cats and also want to feed birds, please make sure you keep your cats indoors. Cats kill an estimated 2.4 billion birds every year in the United States, putting incredible and unnatural pressure on bird populations. For information on the benefits of keeping your cats indoors, visit the Cats Indoors website (

Watching birds at feeders is an extremely popular pastime. More than 41 million Americans watched birds around their homes in 2011, and almost half of American households provide food for wild birds. I hope this holiday season that you will provide your wild birds with a safe feeding environment, so that you and generations to come can continue to enjoy the peace and pleasure of bird watching.


Songbird Stroll October 20, 2015

Migrating birds are continuing to show up little by little as fall migration progresses. Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Orange-crowned Warblers are a couple of the later-arriving migrants that were seen this morning. While scanning the radiantly-red turk’s cap flowers along Birding Creek, the forceful chatter of a Buff-bellied Hummingbird was heard. After drawing our attention to the call notes we saw swaying stalks and leaves where this hummingbird was flying. It was such a treat to see this beautiful Buff-bellied Hummingbird hover and feed as it probed the freshly-opened turk’s cap flowers.


Buff-bellied Hummingbird feeding on the turk’s cap flowers.

Green Jays gave their squawky call notes, marking their feeding territories to other jays in the area. As they leaped from branch to branch throughout the mature oak tree, the jays gobbled up acorns found hidden among the leaves. Green Jays feed readily on sunflowers and suet too. They can’t help but show off their endless shades of lime green and ocean blue.


GRJA eating sunflower

Down the hatch! A Green Jay is about to swallow a sunflower seed.

We continued to walk towards Ebony Grove after visiting Birding Creek. As we stood below the palm snags we heard and saw Golden-fronted Woodpeckers feeding over our heads. They gave their sharp call notes as the probed up and down the tree trunks looking for insects to eat.


Look carefully and you’ll see the bright yellow “front” of this bird’s forehead. That is where the name Golden-fronted Woodpecker originates!


Here is one of the many Clay-colored Thrushes seen this morning. They are such a striking bird!


First heard then seen, the buzzy “bzzt” call note caught our attention as we spotted this female Indigo Bunting.


Two Plain Chachalacas rest together and preen each other in a mesquite along Birding Creek.

Below is the eBird checklist form this morning’s Songbird Stroll.  Be sure to join us next Saturday from 8:00-9:30 as we look for recently-arrived migrating birds!
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck  50
Plain Chachalaca  20
Inca Dove  10
White-winged Dove  12
Mourning Dove  4
Common Pauraque  1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  2
Buff-bellied Hummingbird  2
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  6
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  2
Great Kiskadee  2
Couch’s Kingbird  2
Green Jay  2
Barn Swallow  5
Cave Swallow  3
Verdin 1
House Wren 2
Carolina Wren 1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 4
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1
Clay-colored Thrush 15
Curve-billed Thrasher 8
Long-billed Thrasher 1
Northern Mockingbird 6
European Starling 2
Black-and-white Warbler 1
Orange-crowned Warbler 1
Olive Sparrow 3
Northern Cardinal 2
Indigo Bunting 1
Great-tailed Grackle 20
Bronzed Cowbird 2
House Sparrow 15

Good birding,

Erik Bruhnke

Songbird Stroll October 3rd, 2015

It was a fresh autumn morning at Quinta Mazatlan – cool in the shade but still hot in the sun . On these sorts of mornings I can’t wait to get out and see what birds are in the park. Well, admittedly, I feel that way most mornings, but there is something about the turn of the season that spurs a new excitement at what could be seen next in the park – we’re always hoping to add more species to our current 250+ species list.

We're not sure how this Javelina got to the park, but it sure seems happy here!

We’re not sure how this Javelina got to the park, but it sure seems happy here!

The first thing I saw after putting out seed and suet at our amphitheater feeding station was one of the park’s local javelinas! We think there are two that roam the park. Javelinas (or Collared Peccary), according to Texas Parks and Wildlife, have an undeserved reputation for being aggressive, when oftentimes they hang around humans longer than other wildlife simply because they can’t see as well! However, one should never approach or try to feed a javelina, because they can get accustomed to humans and can become problematic. All the visitors who got to see this javelina were quite excited – another (big) example of wildlife in Quinta Mazatlan!

Two of Quinta Mazatlan’s Green Jays – notice the band on the Green Jay on the right!

One of the bird walk participants wanted to get photographs of a Green Jay, and our local birds decided to oblige! In some parts of the Green Jays large tropical range, they are known to cooperatively breed (having additional helpers-at-the-nest along with the parents), but in South Texas do not. They do, however, maintain family groups most times of year that defend their territory. Green Jays at Santa Ana National Wildlife refuge were known to have a territory size of about 37 acres, so it seems likely that we have a single family group here at Quinta Mazatlan (15 acres).

Clay-colored Thrush underneath

We got plenty of views at our flock of Clay-colored Thrushes. The one in this photo is showing the typical pale streaking on the throat.

Notice the yellow pollen on this Buff-bellied Hummingbirds head!

Notice the yellow pollen on this Buff-bellied Hummingbirds head. This bird is ready to do some pollinating!

There are quite a few hummingbirds in the park, with migrating Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and resident Buff-bellied Hummingbirds being the most common. The hummingbird in the photo above is most likely a female, distinguished by the dark upper bill and the central tail feathers being mostly green-bronze. The Buff-bellied Hummingbirds in Quinta Mazatlan are predominantly nectaring on Turk’s Cap and Tropical Sage (or of course from our hummingbird feeders), but I have seen them nectaring on aloe flowers and Coral Bean flowers as well. They don’t only drink nectar however, and frequently are seen hover-gleaning and flycatching for small arthropods.

Bird list below:
Plain Chachalaca  12     These birds were definitely agitated by the javelina
Killdeer  2
Inca Dove  4
White-winged Dove  17
Chimney Swift  7
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  1
Buff-bellied Hummingbird  2
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  7
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  2
Vermilion Flycatcher  1
Great Kiskadee  7
Couch’s Kingbird  1
Green Jay  3
Black-crested Titmouse  1
Bewick’s Wren  1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  2
Clay-colored Thrush  11
Curve-billed Thrasher  3
Long-billed Thrasher  1
Northern Mockingbird  11
European Starling  4
Yellow Warbler  3
Wilson’s Warbler  3
Olive Sparrow  2
Northern Cardinal  2
Red-winged Blackbird  1
Great-tailed Grackle  14
Lesser Goldfinch  2
House Sparrow  15

Have a great weekend!

John Brush

Bird Hike February 24, 2015

All five Songbird Stroll participants bundled up well as we birded through the trails of Quinta Mazatlan this morning. The chachalacas were fluffed up and huddled close to each other throughout most of the morning. Being from the north, I found these temperatures to be refreshing, however for the year-round wildlife found throughout the Rio Grande Valley, these cool temps (especially this late in the winter season) came as a bit of a shock to the wildlife. Great Kiskadees were feeding readily at the suet and orange halves. In between feeding sessions, these birds would perch on a branch and rouse their feathers to retain their warmth. One Gray Catbird was seen this morning, staying quite low to the ground. After watching it for a few minutes, it scratched around the leaf litter in search of a meal. We can greatly help birds out by planting native vegetation and offering birdfeeders. Birds benefit greatly from birdfeeders and native habitat, which are especially important when cold fronts and inclement weather comes through.


Gray Catbird, an uncommon but regular winter resident of the Rio Grande Valley

Participants were treated to great views of fun birds at the birdfeeding stations and along Birding Creek. After a few minutes of enjoying the presence of the flurry of birds, a swift-moving Sharp-shinned Hawk took flight overhead and landed atop a nearby perch, keeping its eye out for sudden movements for a potential meal. Following the Sharp-shinned Hawk was a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk. This gorgeous mid-sized accipiter was molting from juvenile plumage into its first set of adult feathers. The belly feathers were mostly white, and vertically-streaked in brown markings’ however the underwings and flanks of the birds were beginning to show the horizontally-barred in rufous appearance. These rufous feathers are seen throughout the entire underbelly on full-adult Cooper’s Hawks (as well as adult Sharp-shinned Hawks too).


Sharp-shinned Hawk taking flight.


The hind end of a White-eyed Vireo


Clay-colored Thrush


Common Pauraque, resting on the ground this morning. Note how fluffed up he is, to stay warm during this cold front.


Great Kiskadee and Green Jay.

PLCH fluffy

Some of the Plain Chachalacas were roosting shoulder-to-shoulder to stay warm.

PLCH feet

Three sets of Plain Chachalaca feet, lined up on the branch.


Eastern Cottontail

The eBird list from this morning’s Songbird Stroll is below.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck  350
Plain Chachalaca  15
Sharp-shinned Hawk  1
Cooper’s Hawk  1
Harris’s Hawk  1
Buff-bellied Hummingbird  1
Great Kiskadee  3
Tropical Kingbird  2
Black-crested Titmouse  2
House Wren  1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  2
Clay-colored Thrush  7
Orange-crowned Warbler  3
Yellow-rumped Warbler  1
Olive Sparrow  3
Northern Cardinal  2
Red-winged Blackbird  1
Great-tailed Grackle  3
House Sparrow  2

Good birding,

Erik Bruhnke

Bird Hike October 14, 2014

Birds both young and old are making themselves known on the morning bird hikes at Quinta Mazatlan! One of the very special highlights this morning was witnessing an immature Gray Hawk fly along ebony grove. A few warblers were observed flitting and feeding throughout the tree tops, and the dapper Green Jays were observed multiple times.

The Gray Hawk is a beautiful raptor species found primarily throughout the neotropics of South America and Central America. Their range extend as far north as southeastern Arizona, Big Bend (western Texas), and the lower Rio Grande Valley. Gray Hawks are a buteo, which makes them a relative of Red-tailed Hawks and Swainson’s Hawks, among several other select raptors that have wide wings and proportionately short tails. Gray Hawks prefer habitat of thorn-scrub woodlands, savannahs, as well as along forest edges.

Adult Gray Hawks have a gray backside to their wings, and silvery-white undersides to their wings. Their tails have bold bands of black and white. The juveniles (including the one seen today) have gray and brown backsides to their wings, with white undersides to their wings. Their tail is very brown-toned, with fine paler bands throughout the length of the tail. The most noticeable field marks on juvenile Gray Hawks is the brown head with very bold white streaks throughout the face, and a white belly with brown vertical streaks along its belly. They are a very unique and eye-catching raptor species!


Gray Hawk. Photographed this past winter by John Brush.

The delightful charm of the Inca Doves was a special treat to see and hear as always. These small doves can often be seen roosting near each other in the cooler early morning hours, and feeding throughout openings within the shrubby landscape throughout the day. When nesting, they make a very basic “pad” of layered sticks, woven just dense-enough to support an adult and the eggs/young to be raised.


Juvenile Inca Dove. Note the rougher scalloped appearance, and paler reddish-brown eye. Adults are more clean-cut in appearance, and have dark-red eyes.

INDO nest

Inca Dove on its nest


Two Great Kiskadees. Look closely, and you can see the second Great Kiskadee in the far background.

The Gray Hawk we observed this morning is a very uncommon bird for Quinta Mazatlan. This species typically prefers larger expanses of their preferred habitat, found in areas like Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park and Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. This afternoon I checked out the historic eBird records of this species at Quinta Mazatlan, and this morning’s Gray Hawk observation is the 21st sighting of this species documented at Quinta Mazatlan since November 2006. You never know what you’re going to see on the Quinta Mazatlan bird hikes!

Below is the full eBird list from the bird hike this morning:
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck  150     Massive early-morning flock at a distance, moving through
Plain Chachalaca  14
Turkey Vulture  4     Migrating
Sharp-shinned Hawk  1     Juvenile, migrating
Cooper’s Hawk  1     Juvenile
Gray Hawk  1     Juvenile
Swainson’s Hawk  1     Adult, migrating
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  4
White-winged Dove  18
Mourning Dove  2
Chimney Swift  1
Buff-bellied Hummingbird  2
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  3
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  1
Great Kiskadee  4
Couch’s Kingbird  2
Green Jay  2
Cliff Swallow  1
Carolina Wren  1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  2
Clay-colored Thrush  7
Curve-billed Thrasher  2
Northern Mockingbird  5
European Starling  1
Black-and-white Warbler  1
Nashville Warbler  1
Yellow Warbler  1
Olive Sparrow  2
Northern Cardinal  3
Red-winged Blackbird  2
Great-tailed Grackle  3
Lesser Goldfinch  1
House Sparrow  15

Good birding,

Erik Bruhnke

The Great Backyard Bird Count

Bird Walk 2013-08-03 Green Jay John Brush
The Great Backyard Bird Count at Quinta Mazatlan on February 15th, 2014 from 9-11 am.

You are invited to The Great Backyard Bird Count at Quinta Mazatlan on Saturday, February 15th, from 9 to 11 am.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is a joint project of The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Audubon Society, and Bird Studies Canada. This annual four-day event helps scientists who study birds get a “snapshot” of bird population across North America. This long-term study accumulates data on how bird populations are changing over time, and helps scientists answer large-scale questions about birds.

Quinta Mazatlan will introduce participants to the project and give some tips on how to identify some of the local birds they might encounter. Then it is into the lush forest of our urban oasis to do a count of our own. In no time, participants will have a great idea of how they can make valuable contributions to science, all while having the pleasure of birding!

Come to Quinta Mazatlan for our Great Backyard Bird Count on February 15th from 9-11 a.m. The program is free with admission ($3 adults, $2 seniors and children) Quinta Mazatlan, the McAllen Wing of the World Birding Center is located at 600 Sunset in McAllen, one block south of La Plaza Mall on 10th Street. For more information contact Quinta Mazatlan at (956) 681-3370 or visit



The Big Sit at Quinta Mazatlan was a fun-filled, bird-filled time at our wooded Amphitheater. We beat last years list of 44 species with our final count of 49 species of bird – a pretty good morning!

The first bird that we put onto our list was this Eastern Screech-Owl. We heard it calling before dawn, then got to see it move into a palm tree cavity to roost. It would stick its head out off and on throughout the morning, giving visitors some great looks.

BBEH collage

Buff-bellied Hummingbirds came and went all day, chasing each other and drinking from our feeders and Turk’s Cap gardens. This individual gave us some great looks – we could even see the spattering of pollen on its forehead (picture on the right).

Green Jay QM

This Green Jay was another fan favorite. It would call from within the surrounding trees, well camouflaged in the dappled green, but would flash its yellow tail as it came out to grab peanuts. The bird of the day was a flyover juvenile Gray Hawk (unpictured) that had been seen in the park days prior. Thanks to everyone who came out and did some birding – we hope to see you again! You can view the full checklist for the our Big Sit here: