Texas is one of the best states in the country to see an impressive diversity of birds.
Birders travel to Texas from all over the country to see the tropical species of south Texas, the winter birding bonanza of the gulf coast, and legendary spring migration along the coastline.
So how many different birds have been found in Texas?
655 bird species have officially been accepted to the Texas state list, as of December 2020. This is the second most in the nation, behind California’s 676 species.
The Texas list includes 162 “review species”, which are rare and out of their expected range, but have at least one confirmed sighting in the state.
Who Decides Which Birds Make the Official List?
There’s actually an official bird committee, which most states have.
The Texas Birds Records Committee is comprised of state bird experts that discuss the legitimacy of supposed rare sightings. As of December 2020 the committee has 9 active members.
If multiple people see a rarity, and obtain photos, then that’s an easy pass. The committee accepts the record and it gets put on the official Texas state list.
But if Billy Bob Joe out in the boonies claims he saw a Saber-toothed Falcon-Eagle because “it was big, brown, and I’m pretty sure that’s what it was”, then it gets rejected. Escaped pets like parrots and Emus also get rejected.
What’s the Rarest Bird on the Texas State List?
If “rarest” means the species has only been seen once, there’s actually quite a few.
Most are so unusual that even the majority of birders have never heard of them (unless you spend time in the tropics).
Here are the rarest birds in Texas, with only one accepted record:
- White-cheeked Pintail
- Common Eider
- Ruddy Quail-Dove
- Dark-billed Cuckoo
- Amethyst-throated Mountain-gem
- Paint-billed Crake
- Double-striped Thick-knee
- Pacific Golden-Plover
- Bar-tailed Godwit
- Black-tailed Godwit
- Black Turnstone
- Wandering Tattler
- Spotted Redshank
- White-tailed Tropicbird
- Wilson’s Storm-Petrel
- Stejneger’s Petrel
- White-chinned Petrel
- Double-toothed Kite
- Crane Hawk
- Great-black Hawk
- Collared Forest Falcon
- Barred Antshrike
- Masked Tityra
- Greenish Elaenia
- White-crested Elaenia
- Nutting’s Flycatcher
- Variegated Flycatcher
- Yucatan Vireo
- Blue-and-White Swallow
- Black-capped Chickadee
- Black-headed Nightingale Thrush
- Black Catbird
- White Wagtail
- Gray-crowned Rosy Finch
- Fan-tailed Warbler
- Yellow Grosbeak
- Red-legged Honeycreeper
About 25% of these species were documented since 2010, indicating an accelerating rate at which major rarities are found.
As more people become interested in bird watching in the coming years, combined with DSLR cameras and high quality phone cameras becoming common household items, rare birds will continue to be found and documented at higher rates than the past.
What Birds are Only Found in the State of Texas?
While Texas doesn’t have any true endemics (species that only live in one place), we do have the only breeding population of Golden-cheeked Warbler.
Golden-cheeked Warblers spend the winter in Mexico and Central America. In February they begin moving north, and arrive to Texas in force in March.
Far south Texas also has several tropical bird species that are common in Mexico, but aren’t found anywhere else in the United States.
South Texas specialty species include:
- Green Jay
- Great Kiskadee
- Altamira Oriole
- Ringed Kingfisher
- Green Kingfisher
- Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl
- Gray Hawk
- Plain Chachalaca
- Groove-billed Ani
- Botteri’s Sparrow
If you want to see these birds without leaving America, you’ll have to travel to Texas.