Bentsen Rio Grande State Park

eBird Link 

Highlights:

-Excellent location for South Texas specialty species 
-Bird blinds, feeders, and viewing stations throughout the park 
-Hawkwatch tower 
-The whole state park seems to be catered to birders 

The Location

Welcome to Bentsen, the headquarters of the nine locations that combined make up the World Birding Center. 

This is one of the most highly rated and recommended birding hotspots in the Rio Grande Valley, an area famous for its tropical species found nowhere else in the United States. The headquarters building area by itself can keep a birder well entertained for 30+ minutes with Long-billed Thrashers, Olive Sparrows, Buff-bellied Hummingbirds, Green Jays and more. 

Arrival

As you drive up, parking is to the left. The visitor center building is to the right but is mostly hidden by vegetation.

You will see road block pylons set up as you drive up. These are always there and do not mean the park is closed, so no need to worry when you see them.

Transportation

A unique thing about this park is no vehicles are allowed past the parking lot in front of the headquarters building. You cannot drive into the park itself. Birders have three modes of transportation to choose from: 
 
1. The Tram Shuttle 
2. Bicycles 
3. Your own two legs 

The Tram 

Bentsen Park Shuttle Tram

Park employees run shuttle vehicles that resemble golf carts on a route through the park. Visitors can hitch a ride and get off at any of the nine stops. They run every hour on the half hour (8:30am, 9:30am, 10:30am, …). The shuttle is free with price of admission. 

Hours of Operation:
October – May: Tram runs 8:30am – 4:30pm 
June – September: Tram runs 7:30am – 5:30pm 

Bicycle 

Choosing a bike for transportation is great if you don’t want to worry about keeping up with the tram schedule, which is nice since the tram only comes once an hour. 

The visitor center rents out bicycles for $5 (plus a $10 deposit, returned when you bring the bike back). Rentals must be returned before the visitor closes at 5pm. Those camping in the park are not allowed to keep them overnight. 

Bentsen Bicycle Rental

You may also bring your own personal bicycle and use it to navigate the park. This is the ideal option, because you can arrive early or stay out past 5pm without having to get back to the visitor center to return a rental. 

Walking 

Hiking in is a fine option if you plan on mostly birding the Visitor Center gardens and the Nature Center Building about a quarter mile in. Those two locations could keep a birder happy for at least an hour. 

The next major point of interest is .8 miles from the Visitor Center, and everything else is further than that. The hawkwatch tower is just over 1.5 miles. So at that point you’ll likely want to rely on the tram to shuttle you. 

Birding Recommendations 

To get the full Bentsen experience, at a minimum birders should spend time at the following three spots: 

  1. The Visitor Center Gardens 
  2. Kingfisher Overlook 
  3. The Hawkwatch Tower 

The Visitor Center Gardens 

The vegetation and stone paved walking paths surrounding the visitor center will start your species list off with a bang.

With scattered feeders, water features, and plenty of shade, there’s always activity here.

It’s very possible to have 30 species already on your list before you venture any further in to the park. 

Kingfisher Overlook 

Located along the waters of La Parida Banco (the paired banks), this overlook point is great for Ringed Kingfisher, Least Grebe, Anhinga, Hawks, ducks and more. It’s a good spot to post up for 15+ minutes and see what flies or swims by. 

Kingfisher Overlook

The area surrounding the overlook is probably the most manicured area of the whole park, with only large Mesquite Trees and short mowed grass.

This can be a good area to walk just because the habitat is different, especially along the edges of thick vegetation that follow the water bank.  

The Hawkwatch Tower 

About a mile to the southeast of Kingfisher Overlook is the two story high hawk observation tower. It provides great views over the top of the surrounding canopy. You can even see Mexico in the distance. 

This is a great place to be mid-morning when the sun really starts warming the air and hawks start riding the heat thermals.

Common sightings include Gray Hawk, Harris’s Hawk, White-tailed Kite, and Red-tailed Hawk, and Red-shouldered Hawk.  

Falcons like American Kestrel, Merlin, and Peregrine Falcon are possible. Hook-billed Kite is rare and only seen in the park maybe 6 times a year.

Other Points of Interest 

For those that have the time, the Green Jay Blind and Kiskadee Blind are great additions to the three recommendations above.

Kiskadee Trail

The Green Jay Blind isn’t far from Kingfisher Overlook. The Kiskadee Blind can sometimes be quiet, but overall gets a good variety of birds. In 2016 a White-throated Thrush was seen by many at this blind. 

Kiskadee Bird Blind at Bentsen State Park

Last Updated 1/23/20 

Visiting other Rio Grande Valley Hotspots? Check out the Texas Hotspot Map for more guides like this one.