Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.

Birds in the Texas heat and drought

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird biology, Bird migration, Bird travels Updated: August 10, 2011 - 10:43 AM

 The heat and drought in Texas has had an impact on birds down there. The heat is bad enough: 109 in Dallas yesterday, 106 predicted for today, 104 for tomorrow. That would put them at or beyond the record for consecutive days with temps exceeding 100. A correspondent in Texas has shared some information with me about the heat, drought, and birds.

The heat is keeping birders inside for one thing, according to Mitch Heindel of Utopia, Texas. Utopia is west of Dallas/Fort Worth. Birding is "pretty much always great in Texas," he wrote. Summer is a good time to look for what he calls super-mega-rarities (strays from Mexico), but right now few birders are out looking. Early morning hours are best, as you'd guess.

It's the drought that's the killer."I hardly know where to begin," Mitch writes. "There was no spring bloom to speak of, where I am in the Edwards Plateau in south central Texas. There are no flowers, no butterflies, no dragonflies, no
insects, no mosquitoes, few moths at night. The river here has stopped running; it's a series of wet holes. Trees are dropping leaves. And all of that is the good news.

"Many insectivores (birds relying on insects for food) passed on nesting this year. For the first time in eight years there
were no nesting Western Kingbirds, only a couple pairs of Common Nighthawk, few Chuck-wills-widow, very few Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, hardly any Couch's Kingbird in the county.The list goes on. Clutches were small and few.
Swallows abandoned many areas.  Ash-throated Flycatchers and Summer Tanagers lived on Red Wasp, a species they normally leave along. We went from infested with wasps to cleaned out. It was the only insect flying in numbers," he wrote.

Mitch went on to say that Indigo Buntings changed nesting habitat, choosing hot, dry, rocky juniper-covered slopes that look like Varied Bunting habitat, instead of in the riparian (river) gallery forest corridor as usual "There was  seed in the forests, but no food, no bugs along the river corridor. My yard post-breeding count of wanderer Golden-cheeked Warblers in June and July was low, and so I presume was productivity for them. Cassins' Sparrows moved way east to Houston, and we saw them here, too; that's not normal in summer. There were no Dickcissels this year in my area. Painted Buntings left a month earlier than normal. Black-chinned Hummers were out of here a couple weeks or more early.

"Birding here is five-star all the time," Mitch wrote. "But things are radically different due to the drought, changing before our eyes faster than I thought possible.

"The $64K question," he asks, "is this short term, or long?

That's the question for all of us.

 

 

 This photo of a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, few of which nesting in central Texas because of drought, was taken four years ago in Oklahoma, another state suffering from heat and severe lack of rain.

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