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Bulletin of the Texas ornithological society vol.45 No1-2 December 2012

  • Texas Parks and Wildlife, lubbock, Texas
Vol. 45 No. 1–2 December 2012
Published by the
Texas Ornithological Society
Cover photo Green Kingfishers with prey on Lampasas River, Bell County.
Photo by Eric Runfeldt
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1Starting with Vol. 42 both issues were combined.
Frontispiece. Two subspecies of the Elf Owl, Micrathene whitneyi; M. w. whitneyi (upper), and M. w. idonea (lower). Painted by
Mike Ramos from specimens in the Museum of Southwestern Biology,University of New Mexico.
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
Robert W. Dickerman1 and Andrew B. Johnson
Museum of Southwestern Biology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87131
ABSTRACT.The history and distribution of Elf Owls (Micrathene whitneyi) in western
Texas, adjacent northeastern Coahuila, Mexico, and in central and southeastern New Mexico
are reviewed based largely on specimen evidence. The range of Micrathene whitneyi idonea is
extended northward and westward from Hidalgo County in the southern Rio Grande Valley, Texas
to Mockingbird Gap at the north end of the San Andres Mountains, Sierra County, New Mexico (a
distance of about 1,140 km). This range extension is based on specimens, some of which had been
previously identified as Micrathene whitneyi whitneyi, as well as on good photographs.
Sutton took a second specimen (CM 117294; see
acknowledgments for museum acronyms) from
the Basin of the Chisos Mountains (now Big Bend
National Park, BBNP) on 28 April 1935 (Van Tyne
and Sutton 1937). Both birds contained an egg
about to be laid. Both specimens were identified as
M. w. whitneyi by H. C. Oberholser.
A specimen in the Sul Ross State University
Vertebrate Collection (SRSU 184) was identified
as nominate M. w. whitneyi by Barlow and Johnson
(1967), although identification criteria were not
stated. An owl netted 6.4 km S and 4.8 km E of
Iraan, Crockett County, Texas on 23 June 1990
was identified as nominate M. w. whitneyi and
released. Again, identification criteria were not
given (Manning and Goetze 1991). La Val (1969)
reported taking 2 specimens in nets set for bats
in McKittrick Canyon in the pine–oak habitat of
Guadalupe Mountain National Park, Culberson
Co., Texas on 2 and 13 June 1968, respectively.
Elf Owls were found in the Guadalupe Mountains
north of Guadalupe National Park by Steve West,
who had 2 responses to tapes in Dark Canyon
The Elf Owl (Micrathene whitneyi) of mainland
North America is known from 3 subspecies (AOU
1957): Micrathene whitneyi whitneyi (Cooper); type
locality (TL): Fort Mojave, Yuma Co., Arizona)—
southeastern California, southern and western
Arizona, northern Sonora, southwestern New Mexico,
and the Big Bend region of Texas; Micrathene
whitneyi stanfordi (Ridgway); TL: Miraflores, Lower
California, Cape region of Baja California; and
Micrathene whitneyi idonea (Ridgway); TL: 8 km
from Hidalgo , Hidalgo County. Texas, lower Rio
Grande Valley south to the State of Puebla, Mexico.
The status of the species in Mexico, except for the
extreme northeast, is poorly documented. The nesting
ranges are usually described (AOU 1957) or mapped
(Henry and Gehlbach 1999) as being disjunct, but
they are probably not, and certainly not in the region
under study (Fig. 1).
Micrathene whitneyi whitneyi was first reported
from the Big Bend region of Texas by Quillin
(1935), who took a female alive from a nest
in the “Lower Juniper Canyon” of the Chisos
Mountains of Brewster Co, Texas on 21 May 1924.
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
sp.)-lined stretch of Rocky Arroyo, about 1,092
m in elevation and approximately 50 km further
to the northeast in Eddy County, New Mexico,
which is also on the east slope of the Guadalupe
Mountains (Fig. 1).
Elf Owls are known from 2 other areas of central
and eastern New Mexico. Stacey (1983) reported them
from Water Canyon in the Magdalena Mountains,
Socorro Co, where they successfully nested 1 year but,
apparently, that population is not present every year.
A single specimen of nominate whitneyi was taken by
J. P. Hubbard at Boone’s Draw, northeast of Portales,
Roosevelt Co., on 3 May 1960.
(Fig. 1), Eddy Co This site is approximately 15 km
north-northeast of McKittrick Canyon, at about
1,815 m elevation. Elf Owls were found in nearby
Last Chance Canyon by West in June 1998, and
adults with 2 young were seen there in July 1999
(Williams 1998, 1999). Dark Canyon is at the
lower edge of ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa)
forest, where the pine is mixed with one-seed
and alligator junipers (Juniperus monosperma
and Juniperus deppeana, respectively) and gray
oak (Quercus griseus) on the east slope of the
mountains. J. Oddenttel and J. Permeter heard Elf
Owls on 2 May 2001 in a cottonwood (Populus
Figure 1. The distribution of specimens of subspecies of Elf Owls in southeastern New Mexico and west Texas, and adjacent
Coahuila. u 5 M. w. whitneyi; l 5 M. w. idonea; n 5 M. w. (6) idonea (whitneyi 3 idonea).
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
whitneyi are broader and more diffuse and more
richly colored than the narrower, more-concentrated
streakings of idonea. There is a considerable amount
of variation. within whitneyi. Ridgway (1914) and
Oberholser (1972) mentioned “brown” and “gray”
color phases in whitneyi, and Oberholser described
them in detail; however, even if the phases exist,
whitneyi is always more richly colored.
When our review was completed, all specimens
from Texas and Coahuila (Appendix), except only
the 1935 and the 1968 specimens from BBNP, were
identified as M. w. idonea! The 1924 specimen taken
by Quillin (1935) has not been located, although a
photograph of him taken in San Antonio in 1934
with the live bird was provided by Stanley D. Castro
(Biological Historian).
Variation among specimens from the Guadalupe
Mountains north of Guadalupe National Park
must be commented on. The adults collected in
Dark Canyon on 21 June 2000 were so pale, when
compared to 3 idonea collected on 6 April 1999 on
the BGWMA, that RWD returned to Dark Canyon
on 25 April 2001 and collected an early migrant
before the plumage became worn and faded. The
April 2001 specimen was as pale as the June 2000
birds, and the possibility existed that a distinct
population occurred in the mountains north of
the National Park, difficult as that was to accept.
However, a fifth specimen taken 22 June 2003
showed definite intermediacy between whitneyi and
idonea, so that idea was abandoned. The 3 birds
taken in Rocky Arroyo were all identified as M. w.
idonea 3 whitneyi.
A photograph of a nesting bird from Mockingbird
Gap at the north end of the San Andres, Sierra
Co., New Mexico (Dickerman et al. 2010) was
identified as idonea, which extended the range of
that subspecies some 1,140 km northwest of the
documented range in Starr, Hidalgo and Cameron
counties in southern Texas. Whether this is indeed
a range expansion (as postulated by Barlow and
Johnson 1967, Stacey et al. 1983, Williams 1997,
Henry and Gehlbach 1999), or whether it has been
overlooked for years is in question. The existence of
an incipient subspecies in the Guadalupe Mountains
might be an indication of the latter.
We would like to thank the curators of collections
where Elf Owls were studied or borrowed: Academy
of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Specimens in the Sul Ross State University
collection, and in other collections, were examined
or borrowed (see Appendix) for comparisons with
the Museum of Southwestern Biology’s (MSB)
series of nominate whitneyi from Arizona and
New Mexico. Borrowed specimens included the
paratype of M. w. idonea (ANSP41542); the only
other spring specimen with full data of M. w. idonea
available from the lower Rio Grande Valley (TCWC
8125); Laval’s specimens (TCWC 7577 and 7578);
and the specimens from BBNP (CM 117294, BBNP
4057). The type of M. w. idonea (AMNH 80966)
had been studied earlier.
Additionally, specimens were collected by the
authors from Dark Canyon and Rocky Arroyo
in New Mexico and from Black Gap Wildlife
Management Area (BGWMA, Fig. 1) and Elephant
Mountain Wildlife Management Area in Texas
Although Saltillo, in southern Coahuila,
is outside of the area under study, it must be
mentioned that in October 1999, R. W. Dickerman
(RWD) saw 7 adults, including 1 taken 2 June 1984
with a nest of chicks on display in the Museo de
las Aves in Saltillo; they were collected 11 April to
13 June 1976-1995 in the region of Ramos Arispe,
now an industrial suburb of Saltillo. The owls had
been found living in the steep walls of narrow
“barrancas” and in holes in flowering stalks of
Agave sp. (Aldegundo Garza de Leon, Director of
the Museo, pers. comm.).
In May 2000, RWD visited La Escondida, a cattle
ranch in the Serrania de los Burros in northern
Coahuila, about 50 km east of Sierra del Carmen
where Miller (1955) first reported hearing Elf Owls
in Coahuila. Three adult Elf Owls were collected in
ponderosa pine-oak habitats; they were deposited in
the Museo de las Aves in Saltillo.
Specimens in El Museo de las Aves in Saltillo
and those from the Serrania de los Burros were
compared with the detailed watercolor of the 2
subspecies, M. w. whitneyi and M. w. idonea, made
by Mike Ramos of Albuquerque using specimens
from the MSB (Frontispiece).
The 2 subspecies are distinguished by the much-
richer coloration of whitneyi; idonea essentially
lacks the ochraceous markings on the forehead and
about the face and chin. The ventral streakings of
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
Dickerman, R. W., A. B. Johnson, and J. D. Ligon.
2010. Elf Owls. In Raptors of New Mexico. J-L. E.
Cartron, Editor, Univ. New Mexico Press, Albuquerque,
New Mexico.
Henry, S. G. and F. R. Gehlbach. 1999. Elf Owl
(Micrathene whitneyi). The birds of North America.
No. 413.
La Val, R. K. 1969. Records of birds from McKittrick
Canyon. Bulletin. Texas Ornithological Society 3:24.
Manning, R. W. and J. R. Goetze. 1991. First record of
Micrathene whitneyi whitneyi east of the Pecos River,
Texas. Texas Journal Science 43:103-104.
Miller, A. H. 1955. The avifauna of the Sierra del
Carmen of Coahuila, Mexico. Condor 57:154-178.
Oberholser, H. C. 1972. Birdlife of Texas. University of
Texas Press, Austin.
Quillin, R. W. 1935. New bird records from Texas. Auk
Stacey, P., R. D. Arrigo, T. C. Edwards, and J. N.
Joste. 1983. Northeastern extension of the breeding
range of the Elf Owl in New Mexico. Southwestern
Naturalist 28:99-100.
Redgway, R. R. 1914. Micropallas whitneyi idonea. birds
of North and Middle America. Bulletin U. S. Natural
Museum 50:807.
Van Tyne, J. and G. M. Sutton. 1937. The birds of
Brewster County, Texas. University Michigan, Museum
Zoology, Miscellaneous Publication 37:1-115.
Williams, S. O., Jr. 1997. New Mexico Region. Natural
Audubon Society Field Notes 51:1032–1036.
Williams, S. O., Jr. 1998. New Mexico Region. Field
Notes 52:487-490.
Williams, S. O., Jr. 1999. New Mexico Region. North
American Field Notes 53:418-420.
Specimens of Micrathene whitneyi ssp. examined
from western Texas and southeastern New Mexico.
All specimens are adults. (Museum abbreviations
are found in Acknowledgments.)
M. w. whitneyiTEXAS: CM 117294. Brewster
County, Big Bend National Park, Chisos Mountains,
The Basin, 28 April 1935; BBNP 4057. Brewster
County, Big Bend National Park, 10 May 1968.
M. w. idoneaTEXAS: AMNH 80966, Hidalgo
County, 5 mi. “from” Hidalgo, 6 April 1889 (Type);
ANSP 44542, Cameron County, Brownsville, 14
March 1894 (Paratype); TCWC 8125, Hidalgo
County, 5 mi. E of L Joya, 3 April 1969 (Topotype);
MSB 20241, Starr County, La Grulla, 9 November
1979 (Topotype); SRSU 127, [Brewster County],
Alpine, 23 mi. S Babcock Ranch [no date 5 prior to
1966]; SRSU 184, [Brewster County] Alpine, 23 mi.
(ANSP); American Museum of Natural History,
New York, New York (AMNH); Big Bend National
Park, Texas (BBNP); Carnegie Museum Natural
History, Pittsburg, Pennsylvania (CM); Museo de
los Aves, Saltillo, Mexico; Museum of Southwestern
Biology, Albuquerque, New Mexico (MSB); San
Angelo State (Natural History Collections), San
Angelo, Texas (ASNHC); Sul Ross State University
Vertebrate Collection, Alpine, Texas (SRSU); Texas
Cooperative Wildlife Collection, Texas A&M
University, College Station, Texas (TCWC); and the
University of Arizona Collection of Birds, Tucson,
Arizona (UAZ).
RWD thanks Bonnie McKinney, who shared
her knowledge of Elf Owls in BGWMA, and Mike
Pittman for permission to collect on the BGWMA
and the EMWMA; Roberto and Chavela Sellers for
their hospitality at La Escondida; and Aldegundo
Garza de Leon for his hospitality in Saltillo.
Specimens in El Museo de las Aves in Saltillo
(Fig. 2.) Stanley D. Casto (Biological Historian,
Rtd.) provided the historical photograph of R. W.
Quillin with the first Elf Owl taken in Trans-Pecos,
Texas; Greg Lasley (via Texas Parks and Wildlife
Department) provided the color photographs of
the bird taken in Big Bend National Park, and
Doug Burkett (White Sands Missile Range) kindly
provided photographs of the bird and its habitat at
Mockingbird Gap. Mike Ramos painted for us what
we consider the best-detailed illustration of the
species to date (Frontispiece).
Sartor O. Williams III, Steve West, and Jerry
Oldenettel provided us with information on the
distribution of the species in southeastern New
Mexico. The Texas Department of Parks and
Wildlife, the New Mexico Department of Game
and Fish, and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
provided collecting permits.
Finally, we appreciate the efforts of the several
reviewers including Frederich R. Gehlbach, Daniel
Gibson, and especially John P. Hubbard in reading
and commenting on earlier drafts of this paper. J. E.
Harden edited the final version, many thanks!
American Ornithologists’ Union (AOU). 1957.
Check-list of North American birds, 5th Edition.
American Ornithological Union, Baltimore, Maryland.
Barlow, J. C., and R. Johnson. 1967. Current status
of the Elf Owl in Southwestern United States.
Southwestern Naturalist 12:331–332.
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
Dark Canyon, 21 June 2000; MSB 23199, Eddy
County, Guadalupe Mountains, Dark Canyon, 25
April 2001; MSB 23837, Eddy County, Guadalupe
Mountains, Dark Canyon, 22 June 2003; MSB
24536, Eddy County, Guadalupe Mountains, Rocky
Arroyo, 16 May 2004.
M. w. whitneyi 3 M. w. adoneaNEW
MEXICO: MSB 24820, Eddy County, Guadalupe
Mountains, Dark Canyon, 3 May 2003; MSB
24410, Eddy County, Guadalupe Mountains,
Dark Canyon, 31 March 2004; MSB 24539, Eddy
County, Guadalupe Mountains, Dark Canyon, 3
May 2005; MSB 24535, 24537, Eddy County,
Guadalupe Mountains, Rocky Arroyo, 3 May 2005.
S. Calamity Creek Bridge, 8 May 1966; SRSU 1149,
Brewster County, Candelaria, 13 mi. NNE, Musgrove
Canyon, Chambers Ranch, 1 August 1985; SRSU
1319, Jeff Davis County, Alpine, 10 mi. N (Hwy.
118), 12 April 1987; SANHC 23199, Brewster
County, Alpine, 24 April 1977; MSB 21278, MSB
21279, MSB 21280. Brewster County, Marathon,
20 mi. SSE Black Gap Wildlife Management Area,
7 April 1999; TCWC 7577, TCWC 7588 (alcoholic),
Culberson County, Guadalupe Mountain National
Park, McKittrick Canyon, 13 June 1968. NEW
MEXICO: AMNH 853214, Eddy Co., Guadalupe
Mountains, Dark Canyon, 21 June 2000; MSB
22625, 22626, Eddy County, Guadalupe Mountains,
Figure 2. Dorsal and ventral views of Micrathere whitneyi whitneyi (left two), and Micrathene wihtineyi
idonea (right two). Blue labeled bird is a topotype, taken in fresh plumage, used to show how little difference
wear there is over a few months.
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
such, a vast inventory of natural history information
(Hernández et al. 2002) is available for inductive
inference. Although Northern Bobwhites have
declined drastically across much of its geographic
range (Brennan 1991, 1999, Hernandez et al. 2013),
it remains relatively abundant across a broad area
of South Texas, especially compared to most other
regions. In South Texas, the Northern Bobwhite
exhibits a wide range of temporal and spatial
population productivity (Hernández et al. 2002,
Hernández et al. 2007, Tri et al. 2013) across vast
expanses of suitable habitat (Fulbright and Bryant
Numerous studies have attempted to explain the
wide variation in annual productivity of Northern
Bobwhites in South Texas. These studies have
attributed such variation to rainfall (Kiel 1976,
Lehmann 1984, Giuliano and Lutz 1993, Hernández
et al. 2005, Tri et al. 2013), the interaction of rainfall
and temperature (Heffelfinger et al. 1999, Guthery
et al. 2002), and the influence of weather along with
biotic and abiotic factors such as habitat and soils
(Leopold 1945, Rice et al. 1993, Lusk et al. 2002).
Nevertheless, despite this effort, a clear relationship
Kyle A. Brazil,1,2 Leonard A. Brennan,1,3 Fidel Hernàndez1
Bart M. Ballard,1 and Fred C. Bryant1
1Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute, Texas A&M University – Kingsville, TX 78363
ABSTRACT.There are few examples in the ornithological literature that link elements of
habitat structure with aspects of demography such as annual productivity. We used the Northern
Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus) to examine relationships between habitat and productivity in
South Texas during 2 breeding seasons (May – September) of differing precipitation and heat:
2004, (a relatively wet and cool breeding season where the Palmer Drought Severity Index [Palmer
Drought Index hereafter] ranged from +3.0 to +4.0) and 2005 (a relatively hot and dry breeding
season where the Palmer Drought Index ranged from -1.9 to -2.9). During 2004 we observed that
Northern Bobwhite productivity was strongly correlated with an increasing gradient of bunchgrass
availability that provided suitable nesting cover; 67% of the variance in bobwhite productivity was
explained using a quadratic function of this habitat variable. However, this orderly relationship
collapsed into apparent chaos during the hot and dry 2005 nesting season, despite the presence of
adequate nesting cover on the same sites.
3Current Address: National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative, 3950 26th Street North, Arlington, VA 22207.
The search for links between population
productivity of a species and characteristics of
its habitat is an important aspect of ornithology.
Unfortunately, published studies that document
relationships between population performance
and habitat factors are relatively rare in the
literature. Two of the best examples that link
habitat and demography involve Florida Scrub-
jays (Aphelocoma coerulescens; Breininger et
al. 1998) and the Northern Spotted Owl (Strix
occidentalis; Franklin et al. 2000). Franklin et al.
(2000) hypothesized that relationships between the
demography of birds and aspects of their habitat
could take at least 3 different forms: a linear model,
a pseudothreshold model, or a quadratic model;
they concluded that the quadratic model seemed to
provide the best fit for their data.
We approached this issue with the idea that the
Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus) would be a
model species for examining potential relationships
between population productivity and habitat. This
r-selected species has been studied over a broad
geographic range (Guthery 1997, Brennan 1999,
Guthery 2002, Guthery and Brennan 2007), and as
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
between specific habitat factors and annual population
productivity has yet to be established for the Northern
Bobwhite in South Texas in particular and elsewhere
in general (Guthery and Brennan 2007).
The goal of this study was to gain a first
approximation of how Northern Bobwhite
productivity varied in relation to a range of
habitat conditions in South Texas. Our specific
objectives were to: 1) examine relationships
between productivity (based on juvenile:adult
age ratios) and aspects of nest-habitat structure
to determine if any of the 3 approaches described
by Franklin et al. (2000) would be applicable to
Northern Bobwhites in South Texas, and 2) use
these relationships to develop a simple quantitative
model that uses habitat data to explain variation in
annual population productivity. We hypothesized
that there would be a positive relationship between
Northern Bobwhite productivity and the availability
of nest-habitat structure, and like the findings of
Franklin et al., a quadratic linear relationship would
provide the best model fit to explain the variation in
such a relationship.
Study Area
We collected Northern Bobwhite productivity
and habitat data in the sand sheet region around
Premont, Hebbronville, Falfurrias, and Encino,
Texas in Brooks and Jim Hogg counties (Brazil
2006). Soils ranged from clays to sandy loams that
were calcareous to slightly acidic (Gould 1975).
The climate where we conducted the study
is subtropical, subhumid-to-semiarid (Norwine
and Bingham 1986). Summers (May through
September) are usually hot and dry and winters
are mild. Mean monthly air temperatures range
from 15ºc to 29ºc during summer. Average annual
precipitation is typically less than half the potential
evapotranspiration (Norwine and Bingham 1986).
Thus, we used the Palmer Drought Severity
Index (hereafter Palmer Drought Index) as a
combined measure of precipitation, heat, and
evapotranspiration to document the differences
between the relatively wet breeding season (May –
September) 2004 (where the Palmer Drought Index
ranged from 13.0 to 14.0) and the relatively dry
breeding season of 2005 (where PDSI ranged from
21.9 to 22.9; Palmer [1965], www.ncdc.moaa.
Vegetation in the study area was dominated by
Prosopis-Acacia species, and bunchgrasses such
as seacoast bluestem (Schizachirium scoparium
var. littorale), brownseed paspalum (Paspalum
plicatulum), crinkleawn (Trachypogon secundus),
yellow Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans), switchgrass
(Panicum virgatum), and tanglehead (Heteropogon
contortus) among others (Gould 1975).
Data Collection
We obtained quail wings from hunter-harvested
Northern Bobwhites donated by members of the
South Texas Quail Associates Program, a group
of cooperating ranchers and hunting-lease holders
distributed across South Texas (Brazil 2006). A
minimum of 300 wings were collected from each
of the 9 ranches during each hunting season. We
separated wings into 2 age classes, juvenile (hatch-
year) and adult (after hatch-year) for the 2004-2005
and 2005-2006 hunting seasons (November through
February). We determined age class by examining
the primary coverts and the outer 2 primaries (9 and
10) as described by Leopold (1939).
We collected habitat measurements on nine
ranches during May through September 2004 and
2005. We compared these habitat data to age ratios
derived from the 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 hunter
donated wings, respectively. Thus, we assumed
that the habitat conditions during the 2004 breeding
season (May-September) were responsible for the
productivity estimates obtained from the 2004-2005
hunting season, and similarly for the 2005 breeding
and hunting seasons (2005-2006).
We chose general locations of vegetative
transects with input from managers who showed
us where the most birds were harvested on each
ranch. We chose this approach to measure habitat
variables from areas where the bobwhite age ratio
data were acquired (i.e., we sampled vegetation on
areas where the most birds were harvested).
We sampled vegetation on all ranches along
three 1,000 m transects at each ranch. We sampled
vegetation on a circular plot with a 30 m radius
every 100 m (center to center), with 10 plots/
transect. We subjectively located a random starting
point for each transect. From each starting point, we
determined the location of the first plot by selecting
a random compass bearing, and then selecting
a random distance between 0 and 100 m along
this bearing. If the trajectory of this bearing went
through impenetrable brush or in a direction that
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
caused the transect to be located beyond the ranch
property boundaries, we selected a new random
bearing. We placed subsequent plots every 100
m along the bearing. The habitat variables that we
measured included modified versions of the disc of
vulnerability and cone of vulnerability developed
by Kopp et al. (1998), % bare ground (Daubenmire
1959), woody plant density, and bunchgrass density.
The disc of vulnerability is an index of exposure
to ground predators (Kopp et al. 1998) that search
for Northern Bobwhites and their nests. We used
a visual obstruction board, placed at the center of
the plot, with the bottom 15 cm painted fluorescent
orange to represent the height of a quail to determine
the visual obstruction at the point. We recorded
visual obscurity at a distance of 12 m (Kopp et al.
1998) along 8 compass radii. We took the reading
from the height of a kneeling observer (height 5
l m). We recorded usability for each direction as a
1 (fully usable) if the bottom 15 cm of the visual
obstruction board was totally obscured from view,
or a 0 (fully unusable) if any part of the bottom 15
cm of the board was visible.
The cone of vulnerability is an index of exposure
to aerial predators (Kopp et al. 1998) that attack
Northern Bobwhites. We measured the visual
obstruction angle (hereafter angle of obstruction)
along 8 compass radii. We used a 2-m pole to aim
at the top of the vegetation obstruction that created
the highest angle of obstruction along each radius.
We placed a clinometer on the side of the pole to
determine the angle. We used the mean angle to
determine the volume of airspace from which
a raptor would have an unobstructed path to a
bobwhite. We assumed Northern Bobwhites were
vulnerable within a radius of 100 m as suggested
by Kopp et al. (1998). We used the average angle of
obstruction as a general measure of protection from
aerial predators. Kopp et al. (1998) measured the
cone in used vs. random points on the landscape.
We measured the cone of vulnerability from the
center of a randomly placed vegetation plot only.
Northern Bobwhites forage directly on bare soil
where they obtain seed and insect foods from this
substrate and where they are usually protected by
some kind of a matrix of herbaceous or low-shrub
canopy. We measured bare ground (%) using a 2
3 5 dm sampling frame (Daubenmire 1959). We
measured percent bare ground 12 times/plot. We
took these at 10, 20, and 30 m within the plot along
the 4 cardinal directions.
Woody plant density can serve a number of
functions as Northern Bobwhite habitat for escape
and or thermal cover. We recorded the number of
suitable woody plants/quadrant of the plot. We
defined a suitable woody plant from the standpoint
of Northern Bobwhite habitat as a woody plant $ 2
m in height and $ 2 m in diameter, with sufficient
canopy cover to mitigate high temperatures and
enough vegetation at ground level to provide
screening cover for escaping or avoiding predators.
This is consistent with the model of motte diameter
presented in Guthery (1999).
Northern Bobwhites prefer to use clumps of
bunchgrasses as a nesting substrate (Lehmann
1984). We therefore recorded the number of suitable
bunchgrass clumps in four, 2-m belt transects along
the 4 cardinal directions. We made no attempt
to classify bunchgrass clumps by species. Our
emphasis instead was in regard to suitable structure.
F. Hernández (unpublished data) documented
average dimensions of bunchgrass clumps used for
bobwhite nesting in South Texas as 25 cm 3 25
cm. Therefore, we used this measurement to define
the minimum size of a suitable bunchgrass nesting
Data Analysis
After plotting habitat variables in relation to
annual estimates of productivity, we performed
a series of regression analyses using SAS (SAS
Version 9.1, 2003). We explored which type of
regression model (i.e., simple linear, quadratic, etc.)
to examine and which one, if any, best explained the
variation in productivity in relation to habitat.
Northern Bobwhite productivity, based on
juvenile:adult age ratios in the 2004-2005 hunting
bag, was positively correlated with suitable nest
clump density during summer 2004 (r² 5 0.67,
Fig. 1a). We found that fitting a 3rd order quadratic
function resulted in the highest r² values for these
data. Productivity in 2004 ranged from 2.27:1.0
to 4.51:1.0 juvenile:adult ratios, and generally
increased with increasing nest clump density up
to approximately 920 suitable nesting clumps/ha
(372/ac), where a threshold appeared to be reached
and productivity declined (Fig. 1a). There was a
weak negative correlation between the density of
woody cover and productivity (y 5 20.0033x 1
4.4107, r² 5 0.24) and angle of obstruction and
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
productivity (y 5 20.0815x 1 5.9211, r² 5 0.33).
There was no predictable relationship between disc
of vulnerability and productivity (r² 5 0.04) or %
bare ground and productivity (r² 5 0.07).
Age ratios from hunter-harvest data from all 9
study sites decreased during the second year (2005-
2006, mean juvenile:adult ratio 51.05) compared
to 2004-2005 (where mean juvenile:adult ratio 5
3.41). During the 2005 breeding season, there was
no biologically relevant relationship, other than a
seemingly chaotic one (thus we did not fit a model
to the data) between suitable nest clump density
and productivity (Fig 1b), nor were there significant
relationships between productivity and any of the
other habitat variables sampled during 2005 such as
woody cover density and productivity (r² 5 0.001)
or angle of obstruction and productivity (r² 5 0.02).
We designed this project as a first approximation
of how Northern Bobwhite productivity might be
related to a range of habitat conditions in South
Figure 1. A. Relationship of suitable bunchgrass nesting clump density (number/ha) measured in South Texas in May-September
2004 to productivity (juveniles:adult) obtained from hunter-harvest sample (a) in 2004-2005 hunting season, (b) 2005-2006 hunting
season. Note: a regression model was not fitted to 2005 data because it was not biologically relevant
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
Texas. The positive relationship between suitable
bunchgrass density and productivity of bobwhites
that we observed in 2004 was similar to the
quadratic function model posed by Franklin et al.
(2000) that also explained how habitat covariates
influence demographics of Northern Spotted Owls.
Thus, our research hypothesis that there would be a
positive relationship between nest-habitat structure
(i.e., bunch grass clump density) and productivity,
and that the model of this relationship would be best
explained by a quadratic function was supported.
However, this relationship was not upheld by our
Northern Bobwhite data from the 2005 breeding
season. Apparently the wide variation in South
Texas rainfall from one year to the next overwhelmed
the influence of available nest habitat on annual
productivity. The relatively predictable, ordered
pattern that we observed in the 2004 breeding season
turned to a chaotic one during 2005.
During 2004, a year of above average rainfall, an
increasing gradient of suitable bunchgrass nesting
clumps explained more than two-thirds of the variation
in productivity. Areas with relatively high bunchgrass
densities are positively related to productivity of
Northern Bobwhites during years with sufficient
precipitationup to a pointafter which productivity
seems to decline. A possible reason for the leveling
off and decline in productivity in areas with extremely
thick bunchgrasses during 2004 is probably related
to loss of usable space (Guthery 1997) due to
inaccessibility of the area for Northern Bobwhite
adults and broods. This was apparently the threshold
were habitat structure probably became too thick at
ground level to provide usable space for Northern
Bobwhites. Guthery’s (1986) recommendation of $
618 clumps/ha (250/ac) is on the low end of the usable
range of suitable bunchgrass nesting clump density
indicated by our study.
South Texas entered a period of below average
precipitation in 2005. Despite low precipitation,
bunchgrass densities were higher on most sites
in 2005 than 2004, mostly due to under-grazing
by livestock, yet there was a complete departure
from the predictable relationship between nest
clump density and productivity that we observed
in the 2004 data. These results are consistent with
the observations by Hernández et al. (2005) that
nearly 100% of Northern Bobwhite hens in the
breeding population nested during years of above-
average precipitation, but only about 50-60% of
the hens nested during periods of below-average
precipitation. Evidently, during the relatively wet
2004 breeding season, Northern Bobwhites were
able to capitalize on the presence of widespread
and suitable nesting cover on at least a subset of the
ranches we studied. In contrast, during the hot and dry
2005 breeding season, the relatively low proportion
of breeding hens were not able to use the complete
range of available nesting habitat in a predictable
and consistent manner. Thus, development of a
generalized mathematical model that can predict
the relationship between annual Northern Bobwhite
productivity and elements of its habitat remains
elusive (Guthery and Brennan 2007), especially
for years when drought or near-drought conditions
persist. The rapidity with which relationships
between Northern Bobwhite productivity veered
between order (2004) and apparent chaos (2005)
lends credence to Lehmann’s (1984:3) assertion
that Northern Bobwhites in South Texas persist
in an “Unstable Utopia”. Such extreme variation
of nesting productivity from one year to the next,
points to the critical need for managers to maintain
nesting-habitat for Northern Bobwhites even during
drought years so that productivity can be maximized
when precipitation finally returns.
The following people are thanked by KAB for their
help and support: Janice Brazil, Max Brazil and Estel
“Buck” Brazil. Financial assistance was provided to
KAB by the Richard M. Kleberg, Jr. Center for Quail
Research, South Texas Quail Associates Program,
South Texas Chapter of Quail Coalition, the Houston
Safari Club, and the Fort Worth Sportsmen’s Club.
Jason LaRue and Marie Cline helped as summer
technicians; Erin Wehland and Joseph Sands also
assisted in the field. Students in The Texas A&M
University – Kingsville Chapter of The Wildlife
Society, fellow graduate students, and Tina Martin-
Nims helped sort quail wings in 2004 and 2005. E.
Redeker helped with preparation of maps and GIS
resources. We are indebted to the ranch owners,
lessees, and managers who allowed access to their
properties. We thank the following managers for
their guidance and assistance: Marc Bartoskewitz,
Ronnie Howard, Will Naylor, Bart DuPont, David
Grall, Bill Davis, and Davey Miguera. This is
publication number 13-107 from the Caesar Kleberg
Wildlife Research Institute. Leonard Brennan was
supported by the C. C. Charlie Winn Endowed
Chair and F. Hernandez was supported by the Alfred
Glassell Jr. Endowed Professorship in the Richard M.
Kleberg, Jr. Center for Quail Research.
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
Brazil, K. A. 2006. Northern Bobwhite productivity
and habitat relationships in South Texas. Thesis. Texas
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Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
Canada has a variety of designations as well,
including species of special concern and blue listed.
Uncertainties abound about curlew population
affiliations among winter, migration, and breeding
areas, as well as factors limiting curlew populations
(Dugger and Dugger, 2002).
Investigations of the winter and migration
ecology of Long-billed Curlews in the Central
Flyway are almost unknown, aside from 1 study
of birds wintering in arid, inland grasslands of
Nuevo León, Mexico (Olalla-Kerstupp 2010).
Furthermore, little is known of the winter ecology,
migration pathways, and breeding ground
affiliations of curlews wintering in coastal Texas
(Fig. 2), considered 1 of the main wintering areas
for Long-billed Curlews in North America (Dugger
and Dugger 2002). Acquisition of these types of
Marc C. Woodin1,2,3, Mary Kay Skoruppa1,4, Jeremy W. Edwardson1,5, and Jane E. Austin6
1 U.S. Geological Survey, Columbia Environmental Research Center, Texas Gulf Coast Field
Research Station, Corpus Christi, TX 78412-5838
6 U.S. Geological Survey, Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center, Jamestown, ND 58401
ABSTRACT.The Texas coast harbors the largest, eastern-most populations of Long-billed
Curlews (Numenius americanus) in North America; however, very little is known about their
migration and wintering ecology. Curlews are readily captured on their breeding grounds, but
experience with capturing the species during the non-breeding season is extremely limited. We
assessed the efficacy of 6 capture techniques for Long-billed Curlews in winter: 1) modified noose
ropes, 2) remote-controlled bow net, 3) Coda Netgun, 4) Super Talon net gun, 5) Hawkseye whoosh
net, and 6) cast net. The Coda Netgun had the highest rate of captures per unit of effort (CPUE 5
0.31; 4 curlew captures/13 d of trapping effort), followed by bow net (CPUE 5 0.17; 1 capture/6
d of effort), whoosh net (CPUE 5 0.14; 1 capture/7 d of effort), and noose ropes (CPUE 5 0.07;
1 capture/15 d of effort). No curlews were captured using the Super Talon net gun or a cast net
(3 d and 1 d of effort, respectively). Multiple capture techniques should be readily available for
maximum flexibility in matching capture methods with neophobic curlews that often unpredictably
change preferred feeding locations among extremely different habitat types.
The Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus),
the largest shorebird species in North America (Fig.
1), once ranged widely across grasslands of the
United States, but its distribution has contracted
dramatically in the eastern half of North America
(Dugger and Dugger 2002). This change is
attributed primarily to excessive harvest from
past market hunting and loss of grasslands in the
breeding range (Dugger and Dugger 2002, Fellows
and Jones 2009). The Texas coast now harbors
the largest, eastern-most populations of wintering
Long-billed Curlews in North America (Dugger and
Dugger 2002). The species has been designated as
a bird of conservation concern and focal species by
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (2008), a species
of concern by several states, and a highly imperiled
species in the U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan.
2 Present Address: Aythya Environmental, 145 Montclair Dr., Corpus Christi, TX 78412
3 E-mail:
4 Present Address: Athene Environmental, 5376 Paloma Tr., Robstown, TX 78380
5 Present Address: Texas A&M University-Kingsville, Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute, Kingsville, TX 78363
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
data will be facilitated greatly by capture and
marking of birds on the winter range, followed by
re-sighting reports of birds to which bands, tags, or
radios have been attached.
Studies involving movements and migration of
breeding adults and young birds have proliferated
because breeding Long-billed Curlews are caught
readily on the nest (e.g., Redmond and Jenni 1982,
Dugger and Dugger 2002). However, far more
uncertainty remains about the effectiveness of
capture methodologies for curlews on their winter
range, a circumstance which continues to inhibit
studies of their winter movements and migration
patterns. The purpose of our study was to assess
the efficacy of various techniques for the capture of
Long-billed Curlews on the wintering grounds.
Our study was conducted in Refugio, Nueces,
and Kleberg counties in the Gulf Coast Prairies
and Marshes Ecoregion of Texas (Texas Parks and
Wildlife Department 2005, modified from Gould et
al. 1960). We conducted our evaluation of techniques
in 3 habitat types: barrier island beach, urban and
suburban mowed grassland, and harvested agricultural
fields. Beach habitat (forebeach/surf and back beach,
with associated coppice dunes) on Padre Island was
Figure 1. Foraging Long-billed Curlew.
Figure 2. Long-billed Curlew in Texas coastal marsh.
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
Noose Ropes
Mehl et al. (2003) successfully used leg-hold
noose mats to capture wintering shorebirds, and
Olalla-Kerstupp (2010) captured wintering Long-
billed Curlews in Mexico using similar noose
carpets. We used noose carpets modified by
attaching nooses made of monofilament (5.4 kg
test, low visibility green) along camouflage-colored
nylon ropes 2-3.5 m long. Nooses were 8-18 cm in
circumference and spaced about 4 cm apart along
ropes. Lead fishing weights (454 g) were attached
to each end of a rope.
We herded curlews (Hicklin et al. 1989) after
we placed noose ropes in fields perpendicular to
foraging curlews’ projected paths. In general, we
placed noose ropes about 20-30 m ahead of where
we considered the foraging routes for curlews
to be; we used multiple noose ropes to increase
the probability of snagging a curlew’s foot. For
example, ropes sometimes were arranged in a 2 3
2 pattern, with 2 noose ropes placed linearly, their
ends about 10-15 cm apart, while the other 2 noose
ropes were arranged similarly, but about 1 m behind
the first 2 ropes. A successful capture required a
noose to close tightly around the toe or foot as a bird
moved forward. The weights at the ends of the rope
prevented the bird from flying away until it could be
secured safely in hand.
We improved the noose rope design by gluing
5-cm sections of clear plastic drinking straws at
the base of nooses to keep them upright, thereby
increasing the likelihood of ensnaring a curlew
in a noose. However, curlews approaching an
array of noose ropes frequently changed direction
and walked around the ends of the noose ropes.
Sometimes curlews would hop or fly over noose
ropes, only to resume foraging a short distance (1-2
m) on the other side, indicating that the birds were
detecting and avoiding the ropes and nooses. To
counter this problem, we painted the straws a sandy
color to camouflage their appearance and scattered
grass clippings or sand over and/or alongside the
rope, further decreasing the visibility of the noose
ropes. We eventually used noose ropes only in
fields with sufficient thatch and/or grass to conceal
the noose rope outlines (Fig. 3). We also limited the
use of noose ropes to cloudy or overcast days. Even
after these modifications in our use of noose ropes,
curlews often walked directly over noose ropes they
encountered while foraging. We used noose ropes
15 d in attempts to capture Long-billed Curlews.
characterized by washed up mats of brown alga
(Sargassum spp.), beach debris, and sparse vegetation,
including morning glory (Ipomoea pes-caprae and
I. stolonifera) and coastal panicgrass (Panicum
amarum). On gulf beaches, Long-billed Curlews
occurred as lone individuals, never in small flocks.
Long-billed Curlews also occurred in open
residential neighborhoods, undeveloped commercial
property lots, city parks, golf courses, and other
mowed grasslands, many of which received regular
human use. Curlews found in open spaces in
urbanized areas generally occurred in small foraging
flocks of about 6-24 birds, although we rarely
encountered 1 or 2 individuals. These urban and
suburban areas were often small (, 1 ha) areas with
few or no trees, and ranged from sparsely vegetated
mixes of forbs and grasses to monotypic stands of
exotic grasses. Grass height rarely exceeded 15 cm.
We also encountered Long-billed Curlews in
agricultural landscapes, characterized by fallow,
tilled fields (mostly unvegetated, but some with
stubble) and narrow strips of mowed grass along
roads, trails, and drainage ditches. We typically
found curlews in agricultural areas in very loosely
organized flocks of # 12-15 birds.
Curlews also can occur in salt marsh and saline
lake habitats, sometimes in concentrations of
hundreds of birds, but we did not attempt extensive
capture efforts in these habitats because of limited
camouflage opportunities, high potential for human
disturbance, and access limitations. We did not
attempt captures at nocturnal roost sites to avoid
disturbance to communally roosting curlews and to
minimize risk of injury to densely clustered birds.
We evaluated 6 capture techniques: 1) modified
noose ropes, 2) remotely controlled bow net, 3)
Coda Netgun, 4) Super Talon net gun, 5) Hawkseye
whoosh net, and 6) cast net. We considered, but
rejected for several reasons, evaluation of mist
nets, walk-in traps, drop nets, and rocket nets. We
also evaluated the use of curlew decoys and bait
(earthworms and giant mealworms) for capture
efficiency. Capture teams for all 6 techniques
consisted of 2-3 individuals. All techniques were
approved by the Animal Care and Use Committee
(U.S. Geological Survey, Northern Prairie Wildlife
Research Center). Federal and state permits for
trapping, handling, and banding of Long-billed
Curlews were obtained from the Bird Banding
Lab (U.S. Geological Survey) and Texas Parks and
Wildlife Department.
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
Shaiffer 1980). The Coda Netgun (Fig. 5) uses
blank rifle cartridges (light load, .308 caliber)
to propel a square 4 m 3 4 m nylon net (tensile
strength 18-36 kg; mesh size 7 cm 3 7 cm) and
4 stainless steel weights (227 g each, one at each
corner) over the bird(s).
The Coda Netgun can be successful, but there is
a chance of injury or mortality to birds struck by
a net weight. Mittelhauser et al. (2006) reported
that 7 of 216 Purple Sandpipers (Calidris maritima)
(3%) captured with the Coda Netgun were killed
and 6 (3%) were injured. Mittelhauser et al. (2006)
captured birds by shooting the net at large flocks
of sandpipers in flight, thereby endangering birds
located near the trajectory of the net’s weighted
corners. In our study, Long-billed Curlews
tended to forage widely in small, loose groups,
which reduced the chance of injury from the net.
Furthermore, individual birds frequently separated
from other birds in the flock. We targeted those
birds with the Coda Netgun when they were within
Bow Net
The bow net (Northwoods Limited, Rainier,
WA) was a 152-cm diameter nylon net mounted
on a circular, folding aluminum frame. Open
bow nets (forming a half-circle) were staked to
the ground (Fig. 4) and activated to close by a
crew member using a battery-operated remote
trigger from a distance of about 30-50 m. Curlews
were neophobic to newly placed bow nets, so we
installed a dummy bow net (permanently secured in
the open position) at the foraging site for up to 3 wk
to habituate curlews to its presence. We also baited
the dummy bow net with about 2 dozen earthworms
or giant mealworms when curlews were foraging
nearby. When curlews began to associate with the
baited dummy bow net, we replaced it with a baited,
remotely controlled bow net. We used bow nets 6 d
in attempts to capture Long-billed Curlews.
Coda Netgun
The Coda Netgun (Coda Enterprises, Inc.,
Mesa, AZ) has been used successfully to capture
shorebirds (Mittelhauser et al. 2006), wading birds
(Herring et al. 2008), and waterfowl (Mechlin and
Figure 3. Noose ropes set in projected path of Long-billed
Curlews foraging in an undeveloped lot within municipal
limits, Corpus Christi, TX. Concealment of noose ropes and
filaments was aided by use of thatch.
Figure 4. View of bow net rigged for release by remote
control unit. For successful capture, a curlew must be located
within the other half of the circular configuration of the
trap, formed when the trap is sprung. To minimize injury to
curlews, care must be taken to avoid springing the trap shut
when birds could be pinned beneath the outer metal frame.
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
fields with foraging curlews. We used the herding
technique to push curlews toward the whoosh net
to increase the chances of a bird entering the target
zone. The probability of success with a whoosh net
the optimal range, which was 5-15 m distance and
0-10 m above the ground (Herring et al. 2008). We
shot the Coda Netgun in a variety of ways, including
pursuing the target while on foot, hiding behind
objects, from an elevated platform, inside a slow-
moving vehicle, and from a sitting position in the
bed of a slow-moving pickup truck. In stationary
situations, an assistant herded the curlews toward
the shooter’s concealed location. We used the Coda
Netgun 13 d in attempts to capture Long-billed
Super Talon Net Gun
The Super Talon net gun (hereafter referred to
as Talon) (Advanced Weapons Technology, Inc.,
La Quinta, CA) is a hand-held net gun that used
compressed CO2 cartridges to launch a circular net.
The net was 4.8 m in diameter and launched at a
speed of about 5 m/sec. The Talon was used on foot
or from a vehicle (Fig. 6) in the same manner as the
Coda Netgun. We used the Super Talon net gun
for 3 d in attempts to capture Long-billed Curlews.
Whoosh Net
The whoosh net (Hawkseye Nets, Virginia Beach,
VA) was a 7.6 m 3 4.8 m net with a mesh size of
6 cm 3 6 cm. The whoosh net was propelled by
bungee cords released under tension by an observer
holding a long trigger line. The release activated
the net, which was propelled very quickly from
the ground outward at a 45° angle along two 2.5-m
guide poles (Fig. 7). We placed the whoosh net in
Figure 5. Coda Netgun and operator. This method of capture was the most successful technique we evaluated, but it also had most
potential for disturbance, because of loud discharge.
Figure 6. Super Talon net gun and operator. This method
of capture was far less of a disturbance than the Coda Netgun
when discharged, but it was underpowered, resulting in a
reduced effective range.
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
in city parks, open spaces around churches and
schools, or in undeveloped residential lots where
walkers and joggers shared the space with wintering
Long-billed Curlews. A person carrying the cast
net advanced slowly toward curlews and indirectly
(in an erratic, zigzag pattern) toward a foraging
or resting curlew. The person quickly cast the net
toward the bird when within casting distance (about
4 m away). We used a cast net for 1 d in attempts to
capture Long-billed Curlews.
Decoys and Bait
Hunters in the 19th and early 20th centuries
thought Long-billed Curlews were wary, but
decoys easily brought birds into shooting range
(Wickersham 1902, Forbush 1916, Oring 2006).
We used curlew decoys (Knutson’s Recreational
Sales, Inc., Brooklyn, MI) in combination with
noose ropes, bow net, and whoosh net to attract
or provide confidence to Long-billed Curlews
near a trap. We placed 1 or more decoys near a
trap and noted any reaction to decoys by Long-
billed Curlews. We also used earthworms and giant
mealworms in combination with noose ropes and
bow nets to attract curlews to a trap.
Measure for Evaluation of Capture Methods
We chose to use number of birds captured per
day of capture effort to standardize an evaluation
measure among the 6 capture methods. We defined
day of capture effort as 1 day when we used any of
the 3 passive methods (i.e., noose ropes or bow or
whoosh nets) or the 3 active pursuit methods (Coda
Netgun, Super Talon net gun, or cast net) in attempts
to capture curlews. We chose this measure (rather
than number of captures per triggered or thrown net
or discharged net gun) for several reasons. First,
it could be used to compare all 6 capture methods
despite their very dissimilar field methodologies.
Secondly, the neophobia exhibited by curlews
toward bow and whoosh nets required a lengthy
time for birds to habituate, which was not an issue
with other capture methods. Also, curlews exhibited
highly variable tolerance in different habitats toward
humans on foot or in vehicles; they were especially
tolerant of people and cars in urban and residential
areas. Finally, different social organization by
curlews among their foraging habitats (i.e., single
birds along gulf beaches and flocks in urban settings
and agricultural areas) created different likelihoods
of capture across multiple habitats, while also posing
distinctly different challenges.
increased if it was placed where foraging curlews
were forced to concentrate as they funneled through
a bottleneck created by habitat edges (e.g., unmowed
grass or other dense cover) or other obstacles. We
also arranged leafy tree trimmings along each side
of the whoosh net to form a barrier or drift fence,
forcing curlews to enter the target area of the whoosh
net. This technique worked best with 3 people, 2 to
gently drive birds toward the net (to prevent them
from walking around the net and drift fences), and
a third person about 25-30 m away from the net to
pull the trigger line when 1 or more birds entered the
target area. We used the whoosh net 7 d in attempts
to capture Long-billed Curlews.
Cast Net
The cast net was a hand-held circular net (2.4-
m diameter) with numerous small weights attached
to the perimeter. We evaluated cast nets due to
our ability to approach foraging curlews in urban
environments to within very short distances. Many
flocks of wintering Long-billed Curlews were
habituated to human presence and tolerated close
approaches by humans; this was especially true
Figure 7. Whoosh net used in an open lot, Corpus Christi,
TX. Among the capture methods we evaluated, this method
probably has the most potential for trapping $ 1 bird per
attempt, because of the large net area.
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
from the road with the approach of a vehicle, but in
some cases, 1 or more remained within range of the
Coda Netgun. Although we made many attempts
at herding curlews toward a shooter in a parked
vehicle, the curlews usually avoided the vehicle,
and such efforts were never successful in capturing
a bird.
Deployment of noose ropes resulted in the
capture of 1 Long-billed Curlew. Several other
curlews were nearly captured, as well, but they
escaped when the noose ropes failed to hold them.
We captured 1 curlew using a bow net baited
with giant mealworms. This capture was the result
of approximately 3 wk of preparation (prior to the
capture event) designed to lure curlews to the trap.
Herding curlews in the direction of the bow net was
sometimes helpful. We had to carefully orchestrate
the timing of bait placement with movements
of foraging curlews so they discovered the bait
before other bird species; Killdeer (Charadrius
vociferous) and meadowlarks (Sturnella spp.) were
especially troublesome as bait thieves. Baiting
had to be repeated at least twice for the curlews to
recognize that food was available at the bow net.
One curlew was observed defending the bow net
from conspecifics; Killdeer also were observed
defending the bait at a bow net against conspecifics.
Once the armed bow net replaced the dummy net
over the bait, we captured a curlew quickly (within
10-15 min). However, later attempts to repeat the
capture technique failed, probably because a period
of 2 wk had elapsed before we again attempted to
lure birds to the bow net. Several near captures of
other curlews occurred.
We made several attempts to capture curlews
with a whoosh net, but we caught only 1. The
successful capture occurred at an installed net left in
place overnight. When curlews arrived to forage the
next day, only 5-10 min of preparation was needed
to capture the bird. In other efforts, we were not
successful in herding curlews into the target area of
the net, or our disturbance during assembling the
whoosh net (set-up time of about 30 min) caused
curlews feeding in the area to relocate elsewhere.
We tested the Talon multiple times in urban
environments and on the beach. It was fired from
a slow-moving vehicle, approaching the bird on
foot, and once from a natural blind. Although this
type of net gun was smaller and quieter than the
Coda Netgun, we failed to capture a curlew with it
because of its weak power, short range, and limited
accuracy in windy conditions.
We captured 7 Long-billed Curlews during
winter 2010–2011 (Fig. 8). Four of 6 capture
techniques were used successfully in capturing at
least 1 curlew each: Coda Netgun (4), noose ropes
(1), bow net (1), and whoosh net (1). Of the 4
successful capture techniques, the Coda Netgun
had the highest rate of captures per unit of effort
(CPUE) (0.31; 4 curlew captures/13 d of trapping
effort). The bow net and whoosh net had capture
rates of 0.17 (1 capture/6 d of effort) and 0.14 (1
capture/7 d of effort), respectively. The noose ropes
were the least efficient of 4 successful techniques,
with a capture rate of 0.07 (1 capture/15 d of effort).
However, the use of noose ropes was undergoing
continual modification in our study. No curlews
were captured using the Talon (3 d of effort) or cast
net (1 d of effort).
We captured 4 curlews with the Coda Netgun
using a vehicle as a blind. The vehicle was stationary
during 1 capture, when the curlew walked within
range of the Coda Netgun without herding. In the
other 3 instances, the vehicle was driven slowly
alongside curlews to bring a curlew within range of
the Coda Netgun. The curlews moved slowly away
Figure 8. Long-billed Curlew being handled after
successful capture.
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
We successfully captured Long-billed Curlews
in winter without injury or evidence of capture
myopathy using a variety of techniques. The
Coda Netgun proved the most useful technique
overall, and it was most efficient in capturing
birds in urban settings and on the beach (Fig. 10).
Advantages of the Coda Netgun are: 1) it does
not require time-consuming preparatory efforts
at a particular site and 2) it is more adaptable to
a variety of habitats or situations where birds can
be approached by vehicle or on foot to within 15
m. An important aspect to successfully capturing
a bird with the Coda Netgun is the careful loading
of the net into the basket to ensure that the net
opens fully each time it is fired. The greatest
limitation to the Coda Netgun in capturing
wintering Long-billed Curlews was noise. When
discharged, the Coda Netgun sounds identical to
a rifle (and is similar in appearance to a shotgun),
therefore giving a false, and potentially alarming,
perception to the public. Coordination with
landowners, neighborhood residents, and local law
enforcement was necessary prior to most trapping
trips, and many opportunities to capture a curlew
Attempts to capture curlews with a cast net
quickly demonstrated its limitations. Despite
several close approaches and accurate and rapid
throws, the curlew always flew away before the cast
net could reach it. Even birds that appeared to be
resting were wary enough to easily escape this trap.
Results for the use of decoys varied, but in
general, the birds initially were attracted to decoys
and would land 10-15 m from them. However,
after spending a few sec in the company of a decoy,
the curlews became alarmed and left. Since the
objective of the decoys in the capture evaluation
was not only to attract the curlews to a site, but
also to give them confidence around the traps, the
decoys proved to be ineffective for our needs.
None of the 7 Long-billed Curlews captured
during this project were injured or killed. No
individual appeared to suffer from capture
myopathy, and all were released successfully via a
“soft” release from a holding box (Fig. 9). Six of 7
were sighted after their release foraging with other
curlews, and the 1 that was not re-sighted was the
last captured of the season, and close to the time
curlews were departing the region. No curlews were
injured during any of the failed capture attempts.
Figure 9. Release of Long-billed Curlew after capture and banding.
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
noose rope, the curlews’ toes rarely caught a noose,
or the noose did not close quickly or efficiently
enough to capture the bird. However, the use of
straws to hold monofilament nooses more erect, so
the nooses were about the height of the bird’s breast
(Gratto-Trevor 2004), increased the effectiveness
of the nooses. The effectiveness of noose ropes
in capturing neophobic Long-billed Curlews
can be enhanced by limiting their deployment to
completely overcast days in fields with sufficient
thatch and/or grass to conceal noose rope outlines.
Olalla-Kerstupp (2010) captured 5 wintering
Long-billed Curlews in 5 d using noose mats in
Mexico. Her level of success may have been
higher than in our study because limited water
sources in northeastern Mexico likely resulted in
higher concentrations of curlews, as well as more
concentrated capture efforts, than was possible in
South Texas. If noose ropes or mats are considered
for future capture efforts, it is important to understand
that they are time-consuming to construct, difficult
to transport, susceptible to malfunction, and their
efficacy will vary with substrate conditions.
Bow nets are traditionally used with live vertebrate
bait to capture raptors (e.g., Bryan 1988, Barclay
2008) but have also been used to capture Long-
billed Curlews and other birds on their nests (e.g.,
Salyer 1962, Redmond and Jenni 1982). Whoosh
nets have been successfully used to capture Common
Redshanks (Tringa totanus) in Europe (Cresswell et
al. 2007). Success of these techniques for capturing
wintering curlews depended on placement in the
field and ability to attract or move curlews to the
net. Baiting can improve success, but decoys did not
prove useful in attracting birds into nets. If a trapper
can spend several consecutive days at a location, the
effectiveness of these methods may increase as birds
gradually become accustomed to novel items in their
environment. The lower capture rates for bow and
whoosh nets, compared to the Coda Netgun, show that
these 2 passive methods require a larger investment
of time, strategic placement within a foraging
area, and a substantial supply of bait in order to be
successful. Trapping in a dense patch of preferred
natural foods in a particular habitat (e.g., crabs and
shrimp in intertidal areas) may improve effectiveness.
Moreover, landowner permission is often necessary,
and equipment is put at risk of theft or vandalism when
leaving nets and poles in place for several days.
In general, we found the Talon under-powered,
with too short a range to be effective in most
situations. In addition, it performed poorly in
were not attempted due to the presence of curlews
in locations too sensitive to use this device.
Application of other techniques was made
relatively inefficient by the neophobic responses of
Long-billed Curlews to the introduction of novel
items to their foraging areas. Neophobic reactions
by curlews to noose ropes, nets, and traps of all
types meant that these capture techniques had to
be accompanied by patience and a trial-and-error
approach. Our experiences indicated that these
capture methods must be used when time at sites
is not tightly constricted, so that biologists can
adapt the available capture methodologies to local
circumstances, habitats, and curlew behavior.
Although curlews can be captured using noose
ropes or mats, as demonstrated by Olalla-Kerstupp
(2010) and this study, we did not approach the
exceptional levels of success reported by Mehl et
al. (2003) in using noose mats to capture Snowy
Plovers (Charadrius nivosus) and several other
species of small-bodied shorebirds. Wintering
Long-billed Curlews often avoided the noose ropes
despite attempts to camouflage and conceal the rope
and monofilament. When a curlew did walk over a
Figure 10. Field crew with Long-billed Curlew captured
using the Coda Netgun on the beach at Padre Island National
Seashore, TX.
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
purposes only and does not imply endorsement by
the U.S. Government.
Barclay, J. H. 2008. A technique for nighttime trapping
of Burrowing Owls with a bow net. Journal of Raptor
Research 42:142–148.
Bryan, J. R. 1988. Radio controlled bow-net for American
Kestrels. North American Bird Bander 13:30–32.
Cresswell, W., J. Lind, J. L. Quinn, J. Minderman, and
D. P. Whitfield. 2007. Ringing or colour-banding
does not increase predation mortality in redshanks
Tringa tetanus. Journal of Avian Biology 38:309–316.
Dugger, B. D. and K. M. Dugger. 2002. Long-billed
Curlew (Numenius americanus). The birds of North
America. No. 628.
Fellows, S. D. and S. L. Jones. 2009. Status assessment
and conservation action plan for the Long-Billed
Curlew (Numenius americanus). Biological Technical
Publication FWS/BTP-06012-2009, U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service, Washington, D.C.
Forbush, E. H. 1916. A history of the game-birds, wild-
fowl, and shore birds of Massachusetts and adjacent
states, 2nd
Edition. Massachusetts State Board of
Agriculture, Boston.
Gould, F. W., G. O. Hoffman, and C. A. Rechenthin.
1960. Vegetational areas of Texas. Texas Agricultural
Experiment Station Leaflet Number 492, Texas A&M
University, College Station.
Gratto-Trevor, C. L. 2004. The North American banders
manual for banding shorebirds (Charadriiformes,
suborder Charadrii). The North American Banding
Council, Point Reyes Station, CA.
Herring, G., D. E. Gawlik, and J. M. Beerens. 2008.
Evaluating two new methods for capturing large wetland
birds. Journal of Field Ornithology 79:102–110.
Hicklin, P. W., R. G. Hounsell, and G. H. Finney.
1989. Fundy pull trap: a new method of capturing
shorebirds. Journal of Field Ornithology 60:94–101.
Mechlin, L. M. and C. W. Shaiffer. 1980. Net-firing
gun for capturing breeding waterfowl. Journal of
Wildlife Management 44: 895–896.
Mehl, K. R., K. L. Drake, G. W. Page, P. M.
Sanzenbacher, S. M. Haig, and J. E. Thompson.
2003. Capture of breeding and wintering shorebirds
with leg-hold noose-mats. Journal of Field Ornithology
Mittelhauser, G. H., L. Tudor, and B. Connery. 2006.
Distribution and ecology of purple sandpipers wintering
in the Acadia National Park region, Maine 2001–2004.
Technical Report NPS/NER/NRTR-2006/048, National
Park Service. Boston, Massachusetts.
Olalla-Kerstupp, A. 2010. Local and migratory
movements, habitat use and threats of the Long-billed
Curlew (Numenius americanus) in the Chihuahuan
Desert, Mexico. PhD Dissertation. Universidad
windy conditions on gulf beaches. However, with
modifications, such as adding heavier weights and
increasing propulsion, this technique may be made
more effective for capturing Long-billed Curlews.
Even without these modifications, the Talon may
still be successful at close range (approximately 3-5
m), in little or no wind, and with wintering Long-
billed Curlews that have become habituated to
humans, vehicles, or blinds in urban and suburban
environments. We found no publications that
reported use of this tool for wildlife, although the
company notes its use for a variety of species.
The ability to choose from several capture
techniques that match the variety of habitats presented
by foraging curlews is paramount for maximizing
capture success for this species during winter. Our
success with 4 of the 6 capture methods evaluated
in our study indicates that multiple techniques may
warrant further investigation and refinement for
application in particular circumstances.
The authors thank the staff at the Lower Rio
Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Padre
Island National Seashore, Naval Air Station-Corpus
Christi of the U.S. Department of Defense, and the
Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program, Inc., for
access to properties and logistical support for this
project. We also thank the many private landowners
who graciously allowed us access to their properties.
The authors are heavily indebted to Dr. Roger
Pigott, DVM, who graciously gave his time to
consult with us on care and handling of large-bodied
birds and advised us on remedial measures in case we
encountered muscle myopathy in captured curlews.
This research benefitted from many volunteers who
helped in the field. Assistance with field equipment
and techniques was provided by Caesar Kleberg
Wildlife Research Institute. Additional scientific
expertise and technical advice were provided by
Dave Blankinship, Tom Langschied, Brent Ortego,
David Hailey, Clint Jeske, David Newstead, Gene
Blacklock, Sonia Najera, Martin Hagne, Brad
Strobel, and Jonathan Moczygemba. The authors are
indebted to Suzanne Fellows and Marsha Sovada for
commenting on earlier drafts. We are indebted to Liz
Smith for the photographs in Figures 1 and 2 and to
Clint Jeske for the photographs in Figures 5, 9, and
10. This project was funded by the Science Support
Program of the U.S. Geological Survey. Any use
of trade, product, or firm names is for descriptive
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
Conservation Strategy, Texas Parks and Wildlife
pwdpubs/pwd_pl_w7000_1187a/ (accessed 10
December 2012).
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2008. Birds of
Conservation Concern 2008. U.S. Department of the
Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Migratory
Bird Management.
(accessed 10 December 2012).
Wickersham, C. W. 1902. Sickle-billed Curlew. Auk
Autónoma de Nuevo León, San Nicolás de los Garza,
Nuevo León, Mexico.
Oring, L. 2006. Long-billed Curlew symposium. Wader
Study Group Bulletin 109:30.
Redmond, R. L. and D. A. Jenni. 1982. Natal philopatry
and breeding area fi delity of Long-Billed Curlews
(Numenius americanus): patterns and evolutionary
consequences. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Salyer, J. W. 1962. A bow-net trap for ducks. Journal of
Wildlife Management 26:219–221.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. 2005.
Texas Wildlife Action Plan, Comprehensive Wildlife
Texas Bird Photo-Images
A Project of the Texas Ornithological Society
The Photo-Documentation of Texas Birds by Geographic Region
This website is an archive for Texas photo-documented bird records as defi ned by the Texas Ornithological Society
geographical reporting region, and forms a partnership with the Texas Bird Records Committee for records under their
purview. For information about contributing images to this site, please see instructions on the page entitled “About
Photo-Documentation.” All images are owned by the contributing photographers, and any request for the images here
must be by written permission to the individual photographer.
All photographic submissions should be addressed to:
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
highlighting the inverse relationship between species
richness and latitude. The position of Texas in the
subtropics permits more species of birds than any
other state in the nation. The chance for invasive
passerids to occur in species rich guilds (functionally
associated units of organisms) is limited however, as
the number of invasive species is often limited in a
given region (Brooks 2009). Herein we document
a case of several species of passerids occurring in
Bear Creek Park, Harris County, Texas and discuss
the implications and potential outcomes of this event.
In June 2008 a citizen-science study, the Texas
Invasive Bird Project, was initiated to target 6 avian
species invading the state. A questionnaire (hmns.
org/files/invasivebirds.doc) was circulated among
multiple bird watchers to provide unbiased data as
citizen-scientists. Through this forum, Greg Page’s
(hereafter GP) data alerted Daniel Brooks (DMB)
of the high diversity of passerids recorded at Bear
Creek Park, just west of Houston (Fig. 1).
Unless otherwise noted all birds were observed by
GP, who monitored the area 2-3 times/wk for 3 h in
Daniel M. Brooks1 and Greg Page2
1Houston Museum of Natural Science, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, 5555 Hermann Park
Drive, Houston, Texas 77030-1799
27850 FM 1960 E #1402, Humble, TX 77346
ABSTRACT.We report high diversity of invasive passerids in Bear Creek Park, Harris
County, Texas, including the Orange Bishop (Euplectes franciscanus), Pin-tailed Whydah (Vidua
macroura), Orange-cheeked Waxbill (Estrilda melpoda), Zebra Finch (Taeniopygia guttata),
Bronze Mannikin (Lonchura cucullata) and Nutmeg Mannikin (Lonchura punctulata). All but the
Zebra Finch probably result from imports of invasive populations in Puerto Rico for the pet trade.
Only the Nutmeg Mannikin and perhaps the Orange Bishop will potentially become established
long-term; while the Bronze Mannikin appears to be breeding, its overall abundance is much lower.
Whydahs require specific hosts for nesting, Zebra Finches appear too domesticated to survive in
nature, and Orange-cheeked Waxbills likely requires a warmer winter climate to persist over time.
This passerid community is perhaps structured by size assortment (diminishing chance of similar-
sized species being able to coexist), but detailed ecomorphological analyses await study specimens
from the region. Similarly, coexistence studies between Nutmeg Mannikins and Orange Bishops
await further elucidation of these species’ niches.
Three different models predict ecological and
evolutionary forces that mold avian communities
(Brooks 1998): 1) Size Adjustment—evolutionary
shifts in morphological characteristics that species
undergo to minimize competition (Case and Sidell
1983), 2) Size Assortment—the diminishing chance
of similar-sized species being able to coexist
(Case and Sidell 1983), and 3) Species Packing—
community diversity may be enhanced by inserting
species within established ecomorphological space,
reducing the average distance between species niche
size or increasing niche overlap (MacArthur 1972).
Self-colonizing island passerid communities
are structured by size adjustment (character
displacement), such as the case of Galapagos
finches (Grant 1968). Human-introduced island
passerid communities are structured by size
assortment as seen in Hawaii (Moulton and Pimm
1986), similar to the force driving naturally evolved
passerid communities on tropical mainlands in the
Paraguayan Chaco (Brooks 2003).
In 1878 Alfred Russell Wallace noted animal life
is, on the whole, far more abundant and varied within
the tropics than in any other part of the globe, first
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
the morning between March 2010-September 2011.
Invasive passerids were observed 27-29 September
and 1 and 8 October 2010, as well as 12 January
and 21 March 2011, and on 20 October 2012. GP
observed birds during morning walks near the golf
course (29° 49’ 25.75” N, 95° 38' 12.92" W) at ~
0800 h, with the exception of the whydah which was
seen at ~ 1100 h next to a creek by the first bridge
on the Equestrian Trail. DMB identified many birds
from photos or video clips submitted by GP (Figs.
1-4) and other observers (see Acknowledgments).
Species accounts are provided below, and include
additional regional documentation when available.
Orange Bishop (Euplectes franciscanus)
On 27 September 2010 a flock of 8 bishops
was observed for 15 min with 2 Orange-cheeked
Waxbills in 1 m high weeds next to woods at the
edge of the golf course. The birds were observed
on the ground eating seeds and perched in trees
preening. This was likely the same flock seen on
1 October with 2 Nutmeg Mannikins in addition to
the bishops and waxbills.
On 21 March 2011, a single female was observed
for 5 min with a Zebra Finch in an open area with
recently mowed grass at the edge of the woods
across the street from the golf course. The 2 birds
first perched in a tree then both flew to the ground
before flying out of the area.
On 11 November 2012, a single bishop was
observed resting in a tree and preening for 10 min
by Harry Forbes. This bird was associated with $
15 Bronze Mannikins that were observed for 90 min
in a clearing surrounded by small trees bordering a
golf course with lots of seedy plants covering the
Over 50 reports for this species were sent to
DMB between June 2008-January 2013 as part of
the Texas Invasive Bird Project. Bishops prefer
overgrown weedy fields with masting seed heads
~ 3 m in height. Such habitat is ephemeral, as it
is rarely permitted to remain dense for very long
before being developed for real estate interest.
Consequently this may reflect the limited number
of reports for this species when compared to the
Nutmeg Manikin (see below). Bishops will also
occupy ponds and river banks with high densities
of reeds, which is similar to the preferred habitat
of this species in sub-Saharan Africa (D. Brooks
unpubl. data). There were other reports from Bear
Creek Park, perhaps the same birds. Most of the
reports were from west Houston in appropriate
habitat paralleling Beltway 8, as well as other
areas around Houston, Bryan/College Station, and
Austin. Since ca. 2010 the birds began to move
away from their preferred habitat with increasing
regularity to attend feeders, which will likely result
in more reports in the future.
Pin-tailed Whydah (Vidua macroura)
On 12 January 2011, a solitary male in eclipse
plumage (dark facial markings) was observed for
10 min. The habitat was recently mowed grass
with some clover and dead leaves and surrounded
by woods. The bird flew into a tree 5 m above the
ground when GP got too close, but returned to the
ground after 2 min to resume foraging. Similar to
behavior of this species in sub-Saharan Africa (D.
Brooks unpubl. data), the whydah scratched in
the dirt with both feet like a towhee; after closer
examination of photos, it was apparently eating
small ants (Fig. 2) and possibly small seeds.
On 4 November 2011, a solitary male
transitioning out of breeding plumage (still had a
long tail) was observed by Michael Rinehold at
Bear Creek Park approximately 17 m south of the
Brandt Dr. and Sullins Way intersection on the west
Figure 1. Map depicting location of Bear Creek Park, west
of downtown Houston.
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
side of the road. The bird was first seen at 08:40
h and seen intermittently until 10:40 h (~ 20 min
total observation). The habitat was urban parkland
and the bird was in 5 cm high St. Augustine grass
foraging on small seeds with a flock of Chipping
Sparrows (Spizella passerina), which the whydah
frequently tried unsuccessfully to displace.
Although 11 months later, it is possible this was the
same bird seen by GP (see above), as it was , 5 km
from the first bridge on the equestrian trail.
On 11 April 2012, a third whydah was observed
in Tomball by David Martin at 1500 h. This bird
was approximately 50 km north of Bear Creek Park
and could not have been the same bird as mentioned
above since it was a female.
A single bird from Bryan was reported in 1998,
as well as a male in transitional plumage in Austin
on 21 May 2008 by Isaac Sanchez.
Orange-cheeked Waxbill (Estrilda melpoda)
On 27 September 2010, as mentioned above, 2
waxbills were observed for 15 min with a flock of
8 orange bishops in 1 m high weeds next to woods
at the edge of the golf course. The birds were
observed on the ground eating seeds and perched
in trees preening. An attempt was made to relocate
the birds the following 2 days (28-29 September)
but only a single bird was seen, which was
photographed and identified as a sub-adult Orange-
cheeked Waxbill (Fig. 3). However, what was likely
the same original flock of bishops and waxbills was
seen again on 1 and 8 October with the addition of
2 Nutmeg Manikins.
Fred Collins reported seeing an escaped waxbill
as early as 1963 in east Houston in a weedy wooded
corner of Diez Park. E-bird and Tex-bird reports
indicate waxbills were seen in Austin as early as 9
September 1995 (R. Fergus), and in Houston with
1-2 birds at El Franco Lee Park 12 and 21 August,
and 11 Nov 2011 (S. Lorenz and M. Westelev),
and more recently 2 birds at Addicks Reservoir on
6 April 2012 (K. Poetzl). Habitat reported by M.
Berner at El Franco Lee was 3 m high cane and
0.7 m grassy slope at Addicks, with both sites near
Figure 2. Male Pin-tailed Whydah (Vidua macroura) in eclipsed plumage eating ants. Photographed at Bear Creek Park by Greg
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
the marshy edge of a slope banked pond, so not
inundated. El Franco Lee Park is . 50 km southeast
of Bear Creek Park, suggesting these were different
populations of waxbills.
Bob Honig and Marie Asscherik reported waxbills
during the Buffalo Bayou Christmas Bird Count (14
observers total) at 2 locations in Memorial Park on 30
December 2012. Three adult birds were seen near the
big pond on the east side of the Houston Arboretum
and Nature Center (HANC) singing and foraging low
on grass seeds before flying away. A second group
of 2 adults was seen in a high-grassy/brushy power
line corridor immediately west of the railroad tracks
between Memorial Drive and Interstate 10 (~1 km east
of Loop 610), associating with American Goldfinches
(Carduelis tristris) and 5 Nutmeg Mannikins. On
the following day (31 December) Candy McNamee
and John Berner reported 3 adults at 0800 h in ~ 0.6-
1 m high grass at the HANC pond site, foraging on
dry grass seeds with American Goldfinches, Swamp
(Melospiza georgiana) and Song Sparrows (M.
melodia). The second site had 5 adults at 0915 h in
~ 1 m high grass between the path and railroad tracks,
foraging on dry grass seeds.
On 12 January 2013, Jason Bonilla reported 2
adult birds (presumably a pair) in Woodland Park
(Houston, Harris Co.), foraging about 1 m off the
ground on a bushy vine in the wooded area near
Little White Oak Bayou.
Zebra Finch (Taeniopygia guttata)
On 21 March 2011 as previously mentioned, a
grey pied (captive-bred mutation) Zebra Finch was
observed for 5 min with a single female bishop in an
open area with recently mowed grass at the edge of
the woods across the street from the golf course. The
2 birds first perched in a tree then both flew to the
ground before flying out of the area. As evidenced
from the photograph (Fig. 4), this bird was stressed
and unhealthy and likely did not survive more than
a couple of days after the photograph was taken.
Bronze Mannikin (Lonchura cucullata)
On 2 January 2012, a flock of ~ 16 adult and
juvenile mannikins was observed by Ken Hartman
at Bear Creek Park on the Equestrian Trail head. At
least 2 were adult Bronze Mannikins but all were
difficult to distinguish. The birds were observed
intermittently for ~ 15 min total. The habitat was
urban parkland, a transition between 4 cm high St.
Augustine grass and dead leaves along the edge of
a woodland tract.
On the morning of 15 October 2012, Nina Rach
observed a flock of 7 (2 adults, 5 juveniles) Bronze
Mannikins immediately east of the intersection of
Golbow and Bear Creek Drive, just north of the
equestrian trail parking area. This observation of
adults with juveniles suggested breeding activity.
The birds were stripping seeds from grasses and
preening in low scrubby trees. Presumably the
same flock of birds was observed by John Berner
the following day (8-10 birds at midday), on 20
October by GP (8 birds at 0830 h, Fig. 5), and 11
November by Harry Forbes ($ 15 birds with a
single orange bishop 0900-1030 h). GP noted the
birds flew in a tight flock and landed in a tree right in
front of him, where they commenced preening and
hopping along branches, moving further back in the
trees until they were out of view (total observation
time ~ 5 min). The flock was in close contact the
entire time, and the tree they landed in was within
a cluster of trees and brush (~ 20 m x 35 m) that
was straddled by a small grassy area on one side
and the golf course on the other. A road and more
extensive woods with a small creek were on the
Figure 3. Juvenile Orange-cheeked Waxbill (Estrilda
melpoda) photographed at Bear Creek Park by Greg Page.
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
Figure 4. Grey pied Zebra Finch (Taeniopygia guttata) in stressed condition photographed at Bear Creek Park by Greg Page.
Figure 5. Bronze Mannikin (Lonchura cucullata) photographed at Bear Creek Park by Greg Page.
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
far side of the grassy area. HF observed the single
bishop resting in a tree and preening for 10 min of
the 90 min observation period of mannikins, which
alternated between resting, preening, and eating
grass seeds. It is possible this flock was of the same
group reported above by Hartman in January.
A singleton was reported by Tina Mathis in late
May 2012 in the 9400 block of Beechnut St. at a
feeder hosting a very large resident flock of Nutmeg
Nutmeg Mannikin (L. punctulata)
On 1 October 2010, as reported above, two
Nutmeg Mannikins were seen near the golf course
with 2 waxbills and a flock of bishops. The
mannikins were not seen in this flock of birds on 27
or 28 September however.
Over 150 reports for this species were sent to
DMB from June 2008-January 2013 as part of the
Texas Invasive Bird Project. Nutmeg Mannikins
preferred weedy fields and detention ponds. There
were other reports from the region, most of which
were from west Houston in appropriate habitat
parallel to Beltway 8, as well as other areas around
Houston and Austin. Mannikins frequently attend
feeders, which is likely the main reason there were
more reports for this species than for any other
invasive bird in Texas (D. Brooks unpubl. data).
With the exception of the Zebra Finch, all of the
species were invasive to Puerto Rico (, accessed
on 9 May 2012) and were frequently wholesaled to U.S.
pet suppliers (Fred Collins pers. comm.). The Zebra
Finch is widely domesticated and bred for the U.S. pet
industry and is perhaps the most abundant species of
companion bird (Susan Clubb in litt.).
It is interesting to note that bishops were observed
flocking with every species in this report except for
the whydah. While bishops breed in appropriate
habitat from southeastern to central Texas, it is
uncertain whether they will persist long-term. Most
of populations are ephemeral due to the short-lived
condition of the dense, tall weedy fields they prefer.
However, with increasing numbers at feeders it is
possible bishops will become better established
with a more permanent food source.
It is doubtful whydahs will ever become
established since they are obligate nest parasites
of waxbills (Estrilda, Fry and Keith 2004), which
would necessitate the host being well established,
which they are not. Thus it is assumed the whydahs
reported herein are wild-caught birds that escaped
from an aviary.
The fact that a sub-adult Orange-cheeked
Waxbill was identified suggests either this species
is breeding in the area or, more likely, a sub-adult
bird was released or escaped. While the species
is periodically reported and breeding is even
possible, it is unlikely this species will become
firmly established in the area because they require a
warmer climate (Clement et al. 1993, Fry and Keith
2004) and therefore are less likely to survive very
cold winters.
Despite their abundance in captivity, the single
Zebra Finch was the only evidence of this species
in the wild in Texas as of January 2013, and this
individual likely did not survive very long after being
photographed. Perhaps this highly domesticated
species can not adapt well to natural conditions,
indicative of the reason for no reports generated.
Zebra Finches have never been successful in the wild
outside their native habitat (Robin Restall in litt.).
Aside from the more established bishop and
Nutmeg Mannikin, Bronze Mannikin was the only
species reported to exhibit groups of juveniles,
suggesting successful breeding. Nonetheless there
are few reports of this species in the state compared
to bishops and Nutmeg Mannikins. It is possible that
this species will become more broadly distributed
like the bishop and Nutmeg Mannikin, but currently
it is not as abundant. However, Bronze Mannikins
were seen in more than 1 region, with evidence
of breeding over the duration of approximately
one year. This is a species to watch for potential
colonization, even though it may only be a recent
invasive species.
It is likely the Nutmeg Mannikin is already
established and based on numbers reported it may
be on the verge of a population explosion. Numbers
at a given site may reach several hundred individuals
(Carter Hood pers. comm.) and they are common
at feeders. On a positive note they are passive and
not aggressive towards other species at feeders,
and utilize a vacant niche space of weedy field and
detention ponds as preferred habitat.
Similar to introduced passerid communities on
islands (Moulton and Pimm 1986) and naturally
occurring situations on tropical mainlands (Brooks
2003), the community in Bear Creek Park is
perhaps also structured by size assortment since
only 1 or 2 species are present in high numbers.
Rigorous ecomorphological analyses await study
specimens collected from the region (Brooks 1998).
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
The parameters permitting Nutmeg Mannikins
and Orange Bishops to coexist are likely different
habitat preferences. However both species coexist
commensally with one-another as well as native
species at feeders (D. Brooks unpubl. data) where
food resources are often unlimited. Factors
permitting co-occurrence awaits future testing
as more thorough investigation of these species’
niches are available.
Kind thanks to Alyssa Conn for creating the map
(Figure 1). We are grateful to Marie Asscherik,
John Berner, Jason Bonilla, Fred Collins, Harry
Forbes, Ken Hartman, Bob Honig, Steve Lorenz,
Candy McNamee, Tina Mathis, Nina Rach and
Michael Rinehold for submitting reports used
herein, and thanks to Fred Collins for forwarding
on other reports of interest from e-mail exchanges.
We are indebted to Jack Eitniear, Janelle Mikulas
and Bob Honig for critically editing the manuscript
and making it flow better and to Robin Restall for
his comments.
Brooks, D. M. 1998. Competition and coexistence in
Neotropical birds: a latitudinal comparison. PhD
Dissertation, Texas A&M University, College Station.
Brooks, D. M. 2003. The role of size assortment in
structuring Neotropical bird communities. Texas
Journal of Science 55:59-74.
Brooks, D. M. 2009. Behavioral ecology of a Blue-
crowned Conure (Aratinga acuticaudatus) in a
subtropical urban landscape far from its natural range.
Bulletin of the Texas Ornithological Society 42:78-82.
Case, T. J. and R. Sidell. 1983. Pattern and chance
in the structure of model and natural communities.
Evolution 37:832-849.
Clement, P., A. Harris, and J. Davis. 1993. Finches
and sparrows: an identification guide. Princeton
University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.
Fry, C. H. and S. Keith. 2004. The birds of Africa, Vol.
VII. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.
Grant, P. R. 1968. Bill size, body size, and the ecological
adaptations of bird species to competitive situations on
islands. Systematic Zoology 17:319-333.
MacArthur, R. H. 1972. Geographical ecology. Harper
and Row, New York, New York.
Moulton, M. P. and S. L. Pimm. 1986. The extent of
competition in shaping an introduced avifauna. Pages
80-97 in Community ecology. J. Diamond and T. J.
Case, Editors. Harper and Row, New York, New York.
Wallace, A. R. 1878. Tropical nature and other essays.
MacMillan, London, England.
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
cedar elm (Ulmus crassifolia) with an average tree
height of 10 m. The understory was comprised of
Texas ash (Fraxinus texensis) and cedar elm (Ulmus
crassifolia) saplings, white honeysuckle (Lonicera
albiflora), and poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)
with an average height of 1 m. Leaf litter consisting
mainly of Texas red oak and shin oak leaves
provided a strong cryptic background for the
fledglings to hide inconspicuously. The motte was
surrounded by a variety of herbaceous ground cover.
We discovered the family after the female flushed
and relocated approximately 10 m away, while
the fledglings remained in the motte, motionless
during the duration of the encounter. Based on a bill
measurement of 21.4 mm, we believe the fledglings
were 3-4 d old (Ammann 1982). Although we
did not measure the bill directly, we measured a
known portion of the woody debris seen in Fig. 1
as a reference for later measurements of the bill
using ImageJ computer software (available from
NIH at This observation
represents, to our knowledge, the first record of
woodcock breeding in Coryell County and the
second or third record for the Edwards Plateau.
Joel A. Kutylowski1, Than J. Boves2, and David A. Cimprich3
1187 Nottingham Rd., Deerfield, NH 03037
2 Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Science, University of Illinois,
Urbana, IL 61801
3 Fort Hood Military Reservation, Environmental Division, 4612 Engineer Drive, Room 76,
Fort Hood, TX 76544.
ABSTRACT. – We observed an adult American Woodcock (Scolopax minor) with two 3–4 d
old fledglings on Fort Hood in Coryell County, Texas on 6 March 2012. This sighting is the first
documented record of the species breeding in Coryell County and the third for the Edwards Plateau.
We observed the family group among shin oak (Quercus sinuata), Texas red oak (Quercus buckleyi)
and other woody vegetation hiding within dense leaf litter. Although woodcock populations have
been declining in the core of their breeding range, this observation provides further support that
the species may be expanding its breeding range in the southwest and breeding may occur more
regularly than typically assumed in this region.
The American Woodcock (Scolopax minor) is a
popular game bird whose populations have declined
by ~1.9%/yr over the past 45 years within the core
of their historic breeding range, largely because
of habitat loss (Cooper and Parker 2011). Despite
this precipitous decline in the core, some evidence
suggests that the species has been undergoing
a peripheral range expansion to the west and
southwest (e.g., Smith and Barclay 1978, Kostecke
et al. 2006), but little is known about the current
breeding status of woodcocks in central Texas
where they are typically considered to be extremely
rare breeders, if not absent.
We observed an adult woodcock with 2 young
fledglings (Fig. 1) on the Fort Hood Military
Reservation about 0.75 km west of the junction
of Georgetown and Royalty Ridge Roads, Coryell
County, Texas (31° 20' 59.4" N, 97° 47' 25.0" W)
on 6 March 2012 at 1345 h. We observed the family
group on the edge of a small woody vegetative
stand (or motte) about 16 m2 in size. The overstory
vegetation within the motte consisted of mature
shin oak (Quercus sinuata), Texas ash (Fraxinus
texensis), Texas red oak (Quercus buckleyi), and
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
Previously, direct evidence of breeding was found
on the plateau in 1888 (Lockwood 2001), and
more recently in 2005 on Fort Hood in Bell County
(Kostecke et al. 2006).
Currently, the breeding range of the American
Woodcock is considered to extend from Maine to
central Manitoba at the northern edge and from
central Florida to eastern Texas at the southern
edge (Keppie and Whiting 1994). It is unclear
whether this observation (as well as the previous
one on Fort Hood) is simply an aberration or if it
is indicative of a west and southwest expansion of
the species’ breeding range. Westward expansion of
the woodcock’s range was first suggested several
decades ago (Smith and Barclay 1978), but since
that time, few have investigated this possibility
thoroughly. Information concerning the woodcock’s
breeding distribution comes primarily from data
collected via singing-ground surveys organized
by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service
(Sauer et al. 2008). Such surveys are performed
only in what is considered to be the core of the
species’ range (i.e., eastern and central portion)
because of the potential for double-counting
migrating and wintering males that originated
in the southern portions of the range (Whiting
2006). Thus, a lack of breeding observations from
central Texas may simply reflect a lack of effort,
and does not necessarily mean that woodcocks
do not breed more regularly in this region. Male
woodcocks are regularly observed performing
courtship displays in central Texas, and several
local authorities believe that they do in fact breed
more frequently than conventionally assumed (G.
Ekrich and R.M. Whiting, pers. comm.). However,
other than anecdotal evidence, it is largely unknown
if individuals displaying in this area are actively
breeding nearby or are simply practicing their
displays before migrating farther north (Whiting
2006). Woodcock nests and fledglings, the only
definitive evidence of breeding, are challenging
to locate, so evaluating the possibility of range
Figure 1. American woodcock (Scolopax minor) fledgling observed on the Fort Hood Military Reservation, Coryell County, TX
on 6 March 2012. Photo credit: T.J. Boves.
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
expansion will require more extensive surveys.
Extensive areas with the habitat features that the
species requires for breeding purposes, specifically
a matrix of early successional and mature forest
stands, are found on Fort Hood, where both of
the recent observations of breeding woodcocks
occurred. Appropriate habitat features exist here
partly because of military activities, and partly
because of the presence of the endangered Black-
capped Vireo (Vireo atricapilla), a species that
also requires management for early successional
habitat interspersed with shrub/small trees. Thus,
more comprehensive breeding surveys may be
worthwhile to determine the potential of Fort Hood,
and possibly other locales with appropriate habitat
in central Texas, to harbor significant and regular
breeding populations of American Woodcock.
Ammann, G. A. 1982. Age determination of American
Woodcock chicks by bill length. Pp. 22-25 in
Woodcock ecology and management. T. J. Dwyer and
G. L. Storm, Editors. Wildlife Research Report. 14,
U.S. Fish Wildlife Service. Washington, D.C..
Cooper, T. R. and K. Parker. 2011. American
woodcock population status, 2011. U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service, Laurel, Maryland.
Keppie, D. M. and R. M. Wwiting, Jr. 1994. American
Woodcock (Scolopax minor). The birds of North
America. No. 100
Kostecke, R. M., D. Sperry, and D. A. Cimprich. 2006.
Second record of an American Woodcock (Scolopax
minor) breeding on the Edwards Plateau. Bulletin
Texas Ornithological Society 39:1-2.
Lockwood, M. W. 2001. Birds of the Texas Hill Country.
University of Texas Press, Austin.
Sauer, J. R., W. A. Link, W. L. Kendall, J. R. Kelley,
and D. K. Niven. 2008. A hierarchical model for
estimating change in American Woodcock populations.
Journal of Wildlife Management 72:204-214.
Smith, R. and J. S. Barclay. 1978. Evidence of
westward changes in the range of the American
Woodcock. American Birds 22:1122-1127.
Whitting, R. M., Jr. 2006. American Woodcock
singing-ground surveys: do they reflect population
trends? 10th American Woodcock Symposium.
Roscommon, Michigan.
The caption in Figure 2 (map) on page 106 of the paper authored by John Brush titled “The Breeding
Birds of Urban South Padre Island) in vol. 44 (1-2):105-107 incorrectly identified the area as Galveston
Island. The map and study site was on South Padre Island not Galveston Island. eds.
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
that species at the end of 2011. Species added to
the Review List because of population declines or
dwindling occurrence in recent years do not have
the total number of accepted records denoted as
there are many documented records that are not
subject to review (e.g.. Brown Jay, Tamaulipas
Crow, and Evening Grosbeak). All observers who
submitted written documentation or photographs
of accepted records are acknowledged by initials.
If known, the initials of those who discovered
a particular bird are in boldface but only if the
discoverer(s) submitted supporting documentation.
The TBRC file number of each accepted record
will follow the observers’ initials. If photographs
or video recordings are on file with the TBRC,
the Texas Photo Record File (TPRF) (Texas A&M
University) number is also given. If an audio
recording of the bird is on file with the TBRC, the
Texas Bird Sounds Library (TBSL) (Sam Houston
State University) number is also given. Specimen
records are denoted with an asterisk (*) followed by
the institution where the specimen is housed and the
catalog number. The information in each account
is usually based on the information provided in
the original submitted documentation; however, in
some cases this information has been supplemented
with a full range of dates the bird was present if that
information was made available to the TBRC. All
locations in italics are counties. Please note that
the county designations of offshore records are used
only as a reference to the nearest point of land.
TBRC Membership—Members of the TBRC
during 2011 who participated in decisions listed
in this report were: Randy Pinkston, Chair; Keith
Arnold, Academician; Mark Lockwood, Secretary;
Eric Carpenter, Secretary; Tim Fennell, Mary
Gustafson, Jim Paton, Martin Reid, Byron Stone,
and Ron Weeks. During 2011, Mark Lockwood
resigned as Secretary and Eric Carpenter was
elected to replace him. Martin Reid was re-elected
as a voting member after his first term expired. The
Chair and Academician were also re-elected.
The Texas Bird Records Committee (hereafter
“TBRC” or “committee”) of the Texas Ornithological
Society requests and reviews documentation on any
record of a TBRC Review List species (see TBRC
web page at Annual
reports of the committee’s activities have appeared
in the Bulletin of the Texas Ornithological Society
since 1984. For more information about the Texas
Ornithological Society or the TBRC, please visit The committee reached a final
decision on 92 records during 2011: 78 records of 39
species were accepted and 14 records of 12 species
were not accepted, an acceptance rate of 84.78% for
this report. In addition, there was 1 record which
was withdrawn by the submitters (Red-breasted
Sapsucker, 2010-89). A total of 126 observers
submitted documentation (to the TBRC or to other
entities) that was reviewed by the committee during
In 2011, the TBRC did not accept any first state
records. Therefore the official Texas State List
remained at 636 species in good standing. This total
does not include the 4 species on the Presumptive
Species List.
In addition to the review of previously
undocumented species, any committee member may
request that a record of any species be reviewed.
The committee requests written descriptions as
well as photographs, video, and audio recordings
if available. Information concerning a Review List
species may be submitted to the committee secretary,
Eric Carpenter, 5604 Southwest Pkwy #2222,
Austin, Texas 78735 (email:
Guidelines for preparing rare bird documentation
can be found in Dittmann and Lasley (1992) or at
The records in this report are arranged
taxonomically following the AOU Check-list of
North American Birds (AOU 1998) through the
53th supplement (Chesser et al. 2012). A number
in parentheses after the species name represents
the total number of accepted records in Texas for
4710 Canyonwood Drive, Austin, Texas 78735
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
The author thanks Randy Pinkston and Martin Reid
for reviewing previous drafts of this report.
Additional Abbreviations—AOU = American
Ornithologists’ Union; NP = National Park; NWR
= National Wildlife Refuge; SHS = State Historic
Site; SNA = State Natural Area; SP = State Park;
TBSL = Texas Bird Sounds Library (Sam Houston
State University); TCWC = Texas Cooperative
Wildlife Collection (Texas A&M University);
WMA = Wildlife Management Area.
Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator) (9). 1 at
Midland, Midland, from 18-21 February 2011 (SS;
2011-23; TPRF 2943).
Masked Duck (Nomonyx dominicus) (90). 1 at
Attwater NWR, Colorado, on 25 January 2005 (BCa;
2011-60; TPRF 2962). Up to 2 at the King Ranch,
Kleberg, from 8 March - 30 April 2011 (MG, BK,
CTa; 2011-35; TPRF 2949). Up to 3 at Sabal Palm
Sanctuary, Cameron, from 22 May - 9 July 2011 (RZ,
MBS, JM, RP, THi; 2011-57; TPRF 2960). 1 north
of Combes, Cameron, from 19 July - 1 August 2011
(TZ, RZ, MG; 2011-74; TPRF 2968).
Red-necked Grebe (Podiceps grisegena) (23).
1 at Lake Benbrook, Tarrant, from 6-14 February
2011 (GC, LB, AlW; 2011-31; TPRF 2945).
Red-billed Tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus)
(13). 1 offshore, 20 miles east of Port Isabel,
Cameron, on 16 July 2011 (EC,DM, TFr, PF, BM,
RP; 2011-72; TPRF 2967).
Snail Kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis) (4). 1 at El
Franco Lee Park, Houston, Harris, on 17 June 2011
(SL; 2011-62; TPRF 2964).
Short-tailed Hawk (Buteo brachyurus) (38). 1
at Santa Ana NWR, Hidalgo, on 11 August 2009
(MaR; 2010-69; TPRF 2910).
Red-necked Stint (Calidris ruficollis) (2). 1 at
Bolivar Flats, Galveston, from 26 June - 8 July 2011
(KT, PH, JK; 2011-70; TPRF 2966).
Red Phalarope (Phalaropus fulicarius) (38). 1
at Sal del Rey, LRGV NWR, Hidalgo, from 30-31
October 2010 (DaJ, MG; 2010-74; TPRF 2915).
1 at Port Isabel, Cameron, on 15 November 2010
(SC; 2010-88; TPRF 2926).
Black-legged Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) (88).
1 at White Rock Lake, Dallas, from 20 November
2010 - 19 January 2011 (CR; 2010-75; TPRF 2916).
1 at Belton Lake, Bell, on 20 November 2010 (RP;
2010-79; TPRF 2920). 1 at Lake Livingston, Polk/
San Jacinto, from 28 December 2010 - 14 March
Contributors—John Arvin, Chris Bailey (CBa),
Becky Baker, Jim Bangma, Lynn Barber, Matthew
Baumann (MBa), Mikael Behrens, Devin Bosler,
Jeff Bouton, Gil Bozeman, Erik Breden, Winnie
Burkett, Carol Burlinson, Brad Carlson (BCa),
Eric Carpenter, Jeff Cheney, Karen Chiasson, Bill
Clark (BCl), Chuck Clark, Scarlet Colley, Greg
Cook, Mel Cooksey, Bob Creglow, David Dauphin,
Tripp Davenport, Jim Derington, Jon Dunn (JDu),
Marc Eastman (MEa), Maryann Eastman, Gil
Eckrich, Robert Epstein, Mark Esparza (MEs),
Amy Farrell, Terry Ferguson (TFe), Shawneen
Finnegan, Joe Fischer, Linda Forrest, Ray Forrest,
Phyllis Frank, Tony Frank (TFr), Brush Freeman,
Gary Froehlich, Andres Garcia, Raul Garza,
Joseph Gebler, Dave Grise, Steven Gross, John
Groves (JGr), Mary Gustafson, Martin Hagne,
Mitch Heindel, Troy Hibbitts, Carol Hobby, Tom
Hobby (THo), Petra Hockey, Steve Howell, Mark
Hubinger, Huck Hutchens, Al Jibb, Dexter Johnston
(DeJ), Dan Jones (DaJ), Irme Karafiath, Bill Keim,
Joseph Kennedy, Gayle King, Marcin Kotjka, Tom
Langschied, Greg Lasley, Javier de Leon (JdL),
Michael Lindsey (MLi), Mark Lockwood (MLo),
Stephan Lorenz, Jason Luscier, Jon McIntyre, Brad
McKinney, Darlene Moore, Roy Morris, James
Naismith, David Nelson, Bruce Neville, Rick
Nirschl, Kyle O’Haver, Brian O’Shea, Carolyn Ohl-
Johnson, Jay Packer (JaP), Jim Paton (JiP), Tom
Pendleton, Barrett Pierce, Randy Pinkston, Bob
Rasa, Janet Rathjen, Martin Reid (MaR), Michael
Retter, Roy Rodriguez, Forrest Rowland, Chris
Runk, Christopher Rustay, Kelley Sampeck, David
Sarkozi, Steven Schafersman, Mark Scheuerman,
Benjamin Schwartz (BSc), Bruce Sherman (BSh),
Jim Sinclair, Rex Stanford, Harlan Stewart, Byron
Stone (BSt), Mary Beth Stowe (MBS), Bryan
Tarbox, Clay Taylor (CTa), Kent Taylor (K Ta ),
Kerry Taylor, Samuel Taylor, Carol Thompson
(CTh), Joe Thompson, Matt VanWallene, Doug
Weidemann, Dave Welling (DaW), Jana Whittle,
David Wolf (DWo ), Adam Wood (AdW), Alan
Wormington, John Yochum, Barry Zimmer, Robin
Zurovec, Troy Zurovec.
Acknowledgments—The TBRC is very grateful
to the many contributors listed above, without
whom this report would not be possible. The
committee would also like to thank Bill Clark,
Alvaro Jaramillo, Osao & Michiaki Ujihara, and
Bret Whitney for providing the TBRC with expert
opinion concerning records reviewed during 2011.
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
(Vega) Herring Gull (Larus argentatus vegae)
(4). 1 in east Houston, Harris, on 21 February
2007 (MaR; 2011-11; TPRF 2936). 1 in northeast
Houston, Harris, on 12 February 2008 (MaR; 2011-
12; TPRF 2937).
Slaty-backed Gull (Larus schistisagus) (5). 1 in
east Houston, Harris, on 21 February 2007 (MaR;
2011-07; TPRF 2933).
Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus) (48).
1 in east Houston, Harris, on 21 February 2007
(MaR; 2011-13; TPRF 2938). 1 at Port Aransas,
Nueces, on 11 November 2010 (JM; 2010-66;
TPRF 2907). 1 at East Beach, Galveston, from 30
December 2010 - 5 January 2011 (MaR; 2010-90;
TPRF 2927).
Thalasseus species (1). 1 at Bolivar Flats,
Galveston, on 15 April 2008 (MiR, BSc; 2010-84;
TPRF 2923). Photos showed a large Thalasseus,
presumably a Lesser Crested, Elegant or “Cayenne”
Tern. The record was accepted at the genus level.
2011 (DWo, JR, SG, DS, AdW, CBa; 2011-04;
TPRF 2931). 1 at Padre Island Nat’l Seashore,
Kenedy, on 4 January 2011 (PH; 2011-03). 1 at
Galveston, Galveston, from 6-11 January 2011
(KS, TFr, PF, MLi, JF; 2011-01; TPRF 2929). 1 at
Rollover Pass, Galveston, on 26 March 2011 (BO;
2011-33; TPRF 2947).
Little Gull (Hydrocoloeus minutus) (65). 1
at Hagerman NWR, Grayson, on 29 November
2010 (DaJ; 2010-81; TPRF 2922). 1 at Lake Ray
Hubbard, Dallas, from 7-23 December 2010 (CR;
2010-83). 1 at Southside Water Treatment Plant,
Dallas, from 15-16 January 2011 (BSt; 2011-05;
TPRF 2932). 2 in the area around the Port Aransas
jetties, Nueces, from 1 February - 31 March 2011
(JM, AdW, MBa, MC, MaR, EB; 2011-18; TPRF
2942). 2 at White Rock Lake, Dallas, from 5-14
March 2011 (CR; 2011-34; TPRF 2948). 1 at Sea
Rim SP, Jefferson, on 2 April 2011 (JW, HS; 2011-
38; TPRF 2951).
With only three previous Texas records of Snail Kite in Texas, this one day wonder in Houston’s El Franco Lee Park on 17 June
2011 was a most unexpected mid-summer treat on the Upper Texas Coast. Photo by Stephan Lorenz.
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
Mountains, Brewster, from 17 October 2010 - 15
February 2011 (COJ; 2010-60; TPRF 2903).
Violet-crowned Hummingbird (Amazilia
violiceps) (18). 1 in El Paso, El Paso, from 30-
31 October 2010 (BZ; 2010-72; TPRF 2913). 1
at the Davis Mountains Resort, Jeff Davis, from 8
November - 21 December 2010 (MEa, ME, MLo;
2010-65; TPRF 2906).
Tufted Flycatcher (Mitrephanes phaeocercus)
(3). 1 at Rio Grande Village in Big Bend Nat’l
Park, Brewster, from 21 November 2010 - 4 January
2011 (MV, MLo, RP, DB, BP, MaR, CTh; 2010-76;
TPRF 2917).
Greater Pewee (Contopus pertinax) (23). 1
at McAllen, Hidalgo, from 26 November 2010 -
17 January 2011 (AdW, JM, DB, GL, MaR, BM;
2010-78; TPRF 2919). 1 on the Davis Mountains
Preserve in Tobe Canyon, Jeff Davis, on 9 April
2011 (FR; 2011-44; TPRF 2954).
(Lawrence’s) Dusky-capped Flycatcher
(Myiarchus tuberculifer lawrencei) (12). 1 at
NABA National Butterfly Center, Hidalgo, on
3 December 2010 (MaR, DD; 2010-80; TPRF
Long-tailed Jaeger (Stercorarius longicaudus)
(22). 1 on west Matagorda Bay, Calhoun, on 7
September 2010 (PH; 2010-55).
Ruddy Ground-Dove (Columbina talpacoti)
(21). 1 at Estero Llano Grande SP, Hidalgo, from
10-12 November 2010 (JDu, RS, MaR, DaJ, MS,
RR, JBo; 2010-67; TPRF 2908). 2 at Canyon
Grande Creek, Maverick, on 7 April 2011 (BF;
Mangrove Cuckoo (Coccyzus minor) (13). 1 in
Brownsville, Cameron, on 1 January 1996 (JGe;
2011-75). 1 at Sabal Palm Sanctuary, Cameron,
from 26-30 June 2011 (JA; 2011-69).
Green Violetear (Colibri thalassinus) (72). 1
near Ratcliff, Houston, from 18-19 September
2010 (BB; 2011-02; TPRF 2930). 1 in Temple,
Bell, from 26-28 May 2011 (RP, JC, GE; 2011-55;
TPRF 2958). 1 in Ingram, Kerr, from 20-21 June
2011 (ST, EB; 2011-66; TPRF 2965). 1 in Abilene,
Taylor, from 8-10 July 2011 (JaP, JT; 2011-76;
TPRF 2969).
Costa’s Hummingbird (Calypte costae) (32).
A returning bird (same as 2009-99) at Christmas
A stunning Red-necked Stint present in the Bolivar Flats area from 26 June to 8 July 2011 was one of the highlights of 2011. Just
the second record for Texas, this individual was chased by many but seen by very few. Photo by Kerry Taylor.
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
(17). 1 in the NABA National
Butterfly Center & Rio-Bentsen
State Park environs, Hidalgo, from
17 November 2010 - 10 March
2011 (DD, JdL, TP; 2010-71; TPRF
2912). 1 at Laguna Atascosa NWR,
Cameron, from 21 November 2010
- 30 January 2011 (JM, DB, BM;
2010-77; TPRF 2918). 1 at Ft Inge,
Uvalde, Uvalde, on 19 February
2011 (MHe; 2011-25). Originally
thought to be different individuals,
details for 2011-09 and 2011-24
were merged back into and included
as part of record 2010-71 since they
all pertained to the same bird.
Varied Thrush (Ixoreus naevius)
(40). 1 at High Island, Galveston,
on 2 October 2010 (WB; 2010-70;
TPRF 2911). 1 at Lake Palo Duro,
Hansford, on 10 May 2011 (JDe; 2011-58; TPRF
Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) (8). 1
at Sea Rim SP, Jefferson, on 13 June 2011 (TFe;
2011-61; TPRF 2963).
Gray-crowned Yellowthroat (Geothlypis
poliocephala) (45). 1 at Southmost Preserve,
Cameron, on 26 December 2009 (MHa; 2009-108).
Rufous-capped Warbler (Basileuterus
rufifrons) (26). 1 at near Crystal City, Zavala, from
30 October 2010 - 5 January 2011 (BR, BN, AdW;
2010-63; TPRF 2904).
Yellow-faced Grassquit (Tiaris olivaceus) (4). 1
at Goose Island SP, Aransas, from 30 January - 20
March 2011 (ST, JM, BP, DB, AdW, TD, CRu, BSt,
MBa, RP, BN, DN, BM, RE, AlW, EB; 2011-16;
TPRF 2941).
Golden-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia
atricapilla) (35). 1 at Limpia Crossing, Fort Davis,
Jeff Davis, from 5-9 November 2010 (CH, THo,
MLo; 2010-64; TPRF 2905).
Flame-colored Tanager (Piranga bidentata)
(9). 1 at McAllen, Hidalgo, on 3 March 2011 (GK,
MG; 2011-27; *TCWC 16153).
Crimson-collared Grosbeak (Rhodothraupis
celaeno) (25). 1 at the Valley Nature Center in
Weslaco, Hidalgo, from 12-18 November 2010
(RG, MaR, SF, RR, SH, JBo, DaW; 2010-68; TPRF
2909). 1 at Pharr, Hidalgo, from 15 November 2010
- 11 April 2011 (JM, DoW, BN, JGr, DB, JA, AdW,
2921). 1 at Sabal Palm Sanctuary, Cameron, from
2 January - 1 March 2011 (MEs, BM, AG; 2011-10;
TPRF 2935).
Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher (Myiodynastes
luteiventris) (19). 1 at High Island, Galveston, from
25-28 April 2011 (MK; 2011-46; TPRF 2955).
Fork-tailed Flycatcher (Tyrannus savana)
(23). 1 at Galveston Island SP, Galveston, from 29
January - 2 February 2011 (TFr, PF, JR; 2011-15;
TPRF 2940). 1 at Pollywog Ponds, Nueces, on 30
April 2011 (BCr; 2011-53; TPRF 2957).
Black-whiskered Vireo (Vireo altiloquus) (32).
1 at the Port Aransas Birding Center, Nueces, on 10
April 2011 (MK, JM, MBe; 2011-39; TPRF 2952).
(Russet-backed) Swainson’s Thrush (Catharus
ustulatus ustulatus/oedicus) (1). 1 in El Paso, El
Paso, from 9-10 May 2011 (JiP; 2011-56; TPRF
2959). Swainson’s Thrush (olive-backed eastern
forms) is a regularly occurring non-review species
in Texas but there are no previous documented
records of the western Russet-backed subspecies.
White-throated Thrush (Turdus assimilis)
(14). 1 at Estero Llano Grande, Hidalgo, from 29
December 2010 - 27 March 2011 (TD, IK, MaR,
BN, DB, BM, MBa, AlW, EB; 2010-91; TPRF
2928). 1 on the King Ranch Norias Division,
Kenedy, from 22-23 March 2011 (JS,TL, DeJ;
2011-32; TPRF 2946).
Rufous-backed Robin (Turdus rufopalliatus)
A Tufted Flycatcher at Rio Grande Village in Big Bend National Park from 21
November 2010 (here) to 4 January 2011 delighted scores of birders. It was the
third Texas record, showing up in the same location and time of year as Texas’s first
Tufted Flycatcher, some nineteen years earlier. Photo by Matt VanWallene.
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
part of record 2011-08 since it pertained to the same
Black-vented Oriole (Icterus wagleri) (8). 1
in the Bentsen SP environs, Hidalgo, from 13
December 2010 - 11 March 2011 (JdL, CTh, BP,
MaR, RN, RP, BM, DB, AdW, RF, LF, MBa, BN,
DN, BSh, JBa, AF, AJ; 2010-87; TPRF 2925). 1
at South Padre Island, Cameron, from 28 April -
6 May 2011 (BCl, EB, BM, MBS, MG; 2011-47;
TPRF 2956).
A number of factors may contribute to a record
being denied acceptance. It is quite uncommon
for a record to not be accepted due to a bird being
obviously misidentified. More commonly, a record
is not accepted because the material submitted was
incomplete, insufficient, superficial, or just too
vague to properly document the reported occurrence
MG, MBa, RR; 2010-73; TPRF 2914). 1 at Corpus
Christi, Nueces, from 12-23 December 2010 (KTa;
2010-86; TPRF 2924). 1 at Estero Llano Grande
SP, Hidalgo, from 29 December 2010 - 3 January
2011 (CC, MG; 2011-36).
Blue Bunting (Cyanocompsa parellina) (42). 1
at LRGV NWR, Hidalgo, on 4 January 2011 (MG;
2011-30). 1 at Santa Ana NWR, Hidalgo, from 15
January - 13 February 2011 (GF, RM, MHu; 2011-
14; TPRF 2939). 2 at Bentsen SP, Hidalgo, from 21
January - 15 March 2011 (GF, KC, JM, MBa, RZ,
MBS; 2011-08; TPRF 2934). 1 at Rio Grande City,
Starr, on 27 January 2011 (AlW; 2011-40; TPRF
2953). 1 at Estero Llano Grande SP, Hidalgo, on
9 February 2011 (HH, JY, KO; 2011-19; *TCWC
16,156). 1 at Corpus Christi, Nueces, from 19-31
March 2011 (MC, CTa; 2011-37; TPRF 2950).
Originally thought to a different individual, details
for 2011-20 was merged back into and included as
Goose Island State Park hosted a mostly obliging Yellow-faced Grassquit from 30 January to 20 March 2011. With the previous
three records coming from the Lower Rio Grande Valley, a central coast record was certainly a surprise. Photo by Robert Epstein,
16 February 2011.
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
Short-tailed Hawk (Buteo brachyurus). 1 at
Pollywog Ponds, Nueces, on 20 April 2011 (2011-
Spotted Rail (Pardirallus maculatus). 1 at the
Port Aransas Birding Center, Nueces, from 2-3 May
2011 (2011-48).
Violet-crowned Hummingbird (Amazilia
violiceps). 1 in Austin, Travis, on 6 May 2011
Tamaulipas Crow (Corvus imparatus). 3 at Sabal
Palm Sanctuary, Cameron, on 4 February 2007
(2011-28). 1 at Sabal Palm Sanctuary, Cameron, on
24 February 2009 (2011-29).
Golden-crowned Warbler (Basileuterus
culicivorus). 1 at Los Fresnos, Cameron, on 10
March 2011 (2011-41).
Slate-throated Redstart (Myioborus miniatus). 1
at the Christmas Mountains, Brewster, on 20 April
2011 (2011-43). 1 near Johnson City, Blanco, on 17
May 2011 (2011-51).
American Ornithologist’ Union. 1998. Check-
list of North American birds, 7th Edition. American
Ornithologists’ Union, Washington, D. C.
Chesser, R. Terry, R. C. Banks, F. K. Barker, C.
Cicero, J. L. Dunn, A. W. Kratter, I. J. Lovette,
P. C. Rasmussen, J. V. Remsen, Jr., J. D. Rising,
D. F. Stoltz, and K. Winkler. 2012. Fifty-third
supplement to the American Ornithologists’ Union
Check-list of North American Birds. Auk 129:573-588.
Dittmann, D. L., and G. W. Lasley. 1992. How to
document rare birds. Birding 24:145-159.
while eliminating all other similar species. Also,
written documentation or descriptions prepared
entirely from memory weeks, months, or years
after a sighting are seldom voted on favorably. It
is important that the simple act of not accepting a
particular record should by no means indicate that
the TBRC or any of its members feel the record
did not occur as reported. The non-acceptance of
any record simply reflects the opinion of the TBRC
that the documentation, as submitted, did not meet
the rigorous standards appropriate for adding data
to the formal historical record. The TBRC makes
every effort to be as fair and objective as possible
regarding each record. If the committee is unsure
about any particular record, it prefers to err on the
conservative side and not accept a good record
rather than validate a bad one. All records, whether
accepted or not, remain on file and can be re-
submitted to the committee if additional substantive
material is presented.
Eurasian Wigeon (Anas penelope). 1 at Sherman,
Grayson, on 30 November 2010 (2010-82).
Yellow-billed Loon (Gavia adamsii). 1 at Nueces
Bay, Nueces, on 16 February 2011 (2011-26).
Red-necked Grebe (Podiceps grisegena). 1 near
Port Aransas, Nueces, on 20 December 2010 (2011-
Sooty Shearwater (Puffinus griseus). 1 off of
Freeport, Brazoria, on 15 June 2011 (2011-68).
Great Frigatebird (Fregata minor). 1 at Packery
Channel, Nueces, on 18 February 2011 (2011-22).
Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster). 1 at Packery
Channel, Nueces, on 29 January 2011 (2011-17).
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
Jack Eitniear1 and Don Schaezler2
1218 Conway Drive, San Antonio, Texas 78209
2Warbler Woods, 19349 Old Wiederstein Rd., Cibolo, Texas
was placed in a branch 4 m from the ground and 6
m from the trunk of a live oak tree.
Davis (1995) described the Hutton’s Vireo nest
as a globular hanging cup, usually suspended
from forks of horizontal twigs; externally of
various combinations of lichens (especially of
the genera Usnea and Ramalina), mosses, plant
down (particularly from oaks, sycamores,willows,
and cottonwoods), fine grasses, moth and spider
cocoons, feathers, pieces of paper and string,
small green leaves, and shreds of bark all held
together with spider silk; lined with fine grasses
and occasionally hair, feathers, or fine shreds of
bark. While our nest was smaller overall than those
from Oregon, California, and Arizona (Table 1) and
lacked string, paper, feathers or hair. It could have
been constructed by a young pair with little or no
nest construction experience.
Davis (1995) considered the species to be
an uncommon host of Brown-headed Cowbird
(Molothrus ater). Despite this our observation
augments that of Loman and Loman (2010) who
observed 2 Brown-headed Cowbirds being fed by
an adult Hutton’s Vireo.
Oberholser (1974) included Trans-Pecos records
of Hutton’s Vireo from Brewster, Jeff Davis,
Culberson and El Paso counties. Lasley and
Gee (1991) added northern Real County to the
distribution extending the range onto the Edwards
Plateau. Subsequently Loman and Loman (2010)
observed breeding in Real and Uvalde counties.
Lockwood and Freeman (2004) mention a February
and March sighting east of the Balcones escarpment
in Bastrop County and postulated that the sighting
Hutton’s Vireo (Vireo huttoni) is considered a
locally common summer and uncommon winter
resident in the Davis and Chisos Mountains of
the Trans-Pecos (Lockwood and Freeman 2004).
Recent observations indicate that the species is
also a low density resident on the Edwards Plateau.
This note verifies additional nesting in Guadalupe
County expanding the know range in Texas from
the Edwards Plateau to disturbed portions of the
Blackland Prairie.
Hutton’s Vireo have been irregular residents at
Warbler Woods Bird Sanctuary (29°3 6' 35.48"
N 98° 14' 40.92" W) in Cibolo, Texas since May
2009. For additional details on Warbler Woods Bird
Sanctuary see Smith (2011). Several Hutton’s Vireos
have been continually observed since October 2011
with at least 1 male singing on 7 April (Susan
Schaezler per com.). Lora Render photographed
(Fig. 1) the vireos constructing a nest in a live
oak tree (Quercus virginiana) on 1 May 2012. Gil
Eckrich, and Eric Runfeldt observed a Brown-
headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater) inspecting the
vireo’s nest on 5 May. Don Schaezler noted the
presence of 2 cowbird eggs in the nest (Fig. 2) on 10
May. The authors inspected the nest which lacked
the cowbird eggs on 11 May 2012. The nest was
then removed and donated to the Biodiversity and
Teaching Collection at Texas A & M University-
College Station.
Nest dimensions included 7.5 cm outside
diameter, 6.5 cm height, 4.2 cm inside diameter and
3.5 cm depth. The nest was constructed of lichens,
coarse and fine grasses, Tillandsia sp. and spider
webs attached it to the fork of a branch. The nest
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
Figure 1. Hutton’s Vireo constructing nest. Photo Lora Render.
Figure 2. Hutton’s Vireo nest with two Brown-headed Cowbird eggs. Photo Don Schaezler.
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
suggested Hutton’s Vireo could be a low density
resident on the Edward Plateau. Without providing
details Norwine and Kuruvilla (2007) added Bexar
County to the known range. This Guadelupe County
breeding attempt and sighting of 4 individuals
extends the range east of the Edwards Plateau onto
suitable habitat on the Blackland Prairie.
Davis, J. N. 1995. Hutton’s Vireo (Vireo huttoni). The
Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds. (accessed 10 November
Lasley, G. W. and J. P. Gee. 1991. The first nesting
record of the Hutton’s Vireo (Vireo huttoni) east of
the Pecos River, Texas. Bulletin Texas Ornithological
Society 24:23-24.
Lockwood, M. W. and B. Freeman. 2004. The Texas
Ornithological Society handbook of Texas birds. Texas
A&M University Press. College Station.
Loman, G. Z. and J. T. Loman. 2010. Hutton’s Vireo
establishment as a breeding species in the Texas Hill
Country. Bulletin Texas Ornithological Society 43:67-
Norwine, J. and J. Kurvilla. 2007. Rapid range
change in South Texas birds: response to climate
change. Pp. 137-146 in The changing climate of
South Texas 1900-2100: problems and prospects,
impacts and implications. J. Norwine and J. Kuruvilla,
Editors. Crest-Resaca Texas A & M University Press-
Kingsville, Kingsville.
Oberholser, H.C. 1974. The bird life of Texas (E. B.
Kincaid, Jr., Editor) Volume 1, University of Texas
Press, Austin.
Smith, D. 2011. Warbler Woods comes of age. Texas
Birds Annual 7:49-53.
Table 1. Dimensions (cm) of Hutton’s Vireo nests in Oregon, California* and Arizona compared to recent nest discovered
in Texas (Davis 1995).
Location n Outside diameter Height Inside diameter Depth
Oregon 1 8.3 7.0 5.1 4.4
California 1 7.6 7.0 4.8 4.1
Arizona 6 7.6 7.1 6.0 4.5
Texas 1 7.5 6.5 4.2 3.5
*Mean value
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
The behavior and date lead me to believe that
these birds were indeed on territory. I searched
for a female in the vicinity of the most vocal male
for approximately 2 h. At the end of that search, a
female was discovered foraging in a large Alligator
Juniper. During the observation the bird went to
what appeared to be a nest approximately 6.0 m
above the ground in the crown of the juniper. I could
see the side of the apparent nest, but could not see
the structure well enough to confirm if the bird was
sitting on the nest. Black-throated Gray Warblers are
known to nest as close as the Sacramento Mountains
in southern New Mexico (Hubbard 1978) which is
approximately 110 km to the northwest.
The discovery of nesting Gray Flycatchers
represents only the second breeding location within
the state. A population of Gray Flycatchers was
discovered in upper Madera Canyon in the Davis
Mountains in 1990 (Lasley and Sexton 1990) and
nesting was confirmed in 1991 (Peterson et al.
1991). Subsequent surveys showed the species was
common in the oak-juniper woodlands above 1800
m above msl (Bryan and Karges 2003). Newman
(1975) suggested that breeding habitat for Gray
Flycatcher existed in the Guadalupe Mountains,
but this is the first documentation of nesting. The
Black-throated Gray Warbler has been suspected of
breeding in the Guadalupe Mountains since 1960
when Fred R. Gehlbach observed an apparent
juvenile bird on 2 August (Oberholser 1970). This
observation does not unequivocally document
nesting, but it is strong evidence that the species
breeds in at least the Dog Canyon drainage.
Other nesting species of interest found in Dog
Canyon were 2 territories of American Robin
(Turdus migratorius). The males were very vocal
and territorial disputes were frequently observed.
This species has become increasingly uncommon as
a breeding bird in the mountains of the Trans-Pecos
First nesting records were established for Gray
Flycatcher (Empidonax wrightii) and Black-
throated Gray Warbler (Setophaga nigrescens)
during 2 visits to the Dog Canyon area of Guadalupe
Mountains National Park, Culberson County in
May 2012. The only other known nesting area for
Gray Flycatcher in Texas is in the upper elevations
of the Davis Mountains. The Black-throated
Gray Warbler has been suspected of nesting in the
Guadalupe Mountains but had not previously been
At least 20 Gray Flycatchers were encountered
on 5 May 2012 in the lower portion of Dog Canyon,
including many singing males that appeared to be on
territory. A female was discovered during a survey
of the area building a nest in an alligator juniper
(Juniperus deppeana). The nest was approximately
2.0 m above the ground near the end of a branch.
The nest location was very well concealed due to
the extent of leaves on the branch and surrounding
branches. The area consisted of an open oak-
juniper woodland dominated by chinquapin oak
(Quercus muehlenbergii), bigtooth maple (Acer
grandidentatum), alligator juniper, and ponderosa
pine (Pinus ponderosa). A return to that location
on 26 May revealed the female incubating eggs
(Fig. 1). Numerous Gray Flycatchers were again
encountered with several singing males within the
area surveyed 3 wk earlier.
Two male Black-throated Gray Warblers were
vociferously singing in the lower portion of Dog
Canyon as well during the 5 May visit (Fig. 2).
Both birds behaved as if they were on territory and
were easily detected through the day. A female
was observed with 1 of these birds although no
direct interactions were noted. The possibility that
these birds were migrants could not be discounted
which lead to a follow-up visit on 26 May. Three
singing males were encountered during the visit.
Mark W. Lockwood1
1Natural Resources Program, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, P.O. Box 1807,
Fort Davis, Texas
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
Figure 1. Female Gray Flycatcher incubating eggs at Dog Canyon, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Culberson County on 25
May 2012. Photograph by Mark W. Lockwood
Figure 2. Territorial male Black-throated Gray Warbler at Dog Canyon, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Culberson County
on 25 May 2012. Photograph by Mark W. Lockwood
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
Cliff Shackelford provided comments on a
previous version of this paper.
Bryan, K. B. and J. P. Karges. 2001. Recent bird
records in the Davis Mountains. Texas Birds 3:40-53.
Hubbard, J. P. 1978. Revised check-list of the birds of
New Mexico. New Mexico Ornithological Society.
Publication No. 6.
Lasley, G. W. and C. Sexton 1990. Texas Region:
summer report. American Birds 44:1154-1158.
Newman, G. A. 1975. Compositional aspects of
breeding avifaunas in selected woodlands of the
southern Guadalupe Mountains, Texas. Pp. 181-237 in
Biological investigations in the Guadalupe Mountains
National Park, Texas. H. H. Genoways and R. J. Baker,
Editors. Proceedings and Transactions Series, National
Park Service; No. 4. Washington, D. C.
Oberholser, H.C. 1974. The bird life of Texas.
University of Texas Press, Austin.
Peterson, J. J., G. W. Lasley, K. B. Bryan, and M.
Lockwood. 1991. Additions to the breeding avifauna
of the Davis Mountains. Bulletin Texas Ornithological
Society 24:39-48.
over the past decade. One nesting pair of Juniper
Titmouse (Baeolophus ridgwayi) was also observed.
This species’ breeding range in Texas is restricted to
foothills of the Guadalupe Mountains and the status
of the species in Texas is not well understood.The
territory of this pair included a portion of the lower
Dog Canyon that was on the state line. The pair was
observed foraging in both Texas and New Mexico
and the nest location was in New Mexico. The
nest was in a cavity in the trunk of a small gray oak
(Quercus gresia). The nest was ~ 0.6 m above the
ground and contained nestlings based on the frequent
visits to the nest cavity by the adults. A second pair
of Juniper Titmice was also observed 900 m north of
the state line. Other species observed at nest sites
or clearly on territory included the Broad-tailed
Hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus), Acorn
Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus), Western
Wood-Pewee (Contopus sordidulus), Cordilleran
Flycatcher (Empidonax occidentalis), Plumbeous
Vireo (Vireo plumbeus), Violet-green Swallow
(Tachycineta thalassina), Mountain Chickadee
(Poecile gambeli), Grace’s Warbler (Setophaga
graciae), Hepatic Tanager (Piranga flava), and
Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana).
Randy Pinkston1 and Tim Fennell2
13505 Hemlock Court, Temple, TX 76502
22018 Bent Tree Loop, Round Rock, TX 78681
The Green Kingfisher (Chloroceryle americana)
in Texas is an uncommon resident from the Edwards
Plateau southward to the Lower Rio Grande Valley
(Lockwood and Freeman 2004). Nesting occurs
from near sea level to 600 m along clear rivers and
streams (Oberholser 1974) from the lower Pecos
drainage in the west to the Colorado drainages in
the east. Field work with the Texas Breeding Bird
Atlas project from 1987-1992 produced evidence of
nesting primarily in rivers draining the southwestern
Edward Plateau, chiefly the Devils, Nueces, San
Antonio, and Guadalupe, and along the Rio Grande
southeast from Val Verde County and locally to the
Gulf of Mexico (Tweit 2008). Recent vagrancy
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
includes spring records from Lee and Washington
counties (Bert Frenz, pers. comm.) but nesting has
not previously been documented from the Brazos
River system. Herein we report 2 confirmed nesting
records from Brazos River drainages in Williamson
and Bell counties.
Nest #1, North San Gabriel River, Williamson
A male Green Kingfisher emitting a harsh,
buzzing tshzack call was discovered on 21 April
2002 along the North San Gabriel River at Rivery
Park in Georgetown, Williamson County, Texas.
Five days later a male and female Green Kingfisher
were located at the same site. The male appeared
agitated and alternated movements between 2
perches, vocalized the tshzack call, as well as a
high-pitched twittering call, and arched its back and
turned its head and body from side to side.
The male was observed again on 11 May,
perched quietly on a branch at the original site.
Two kingfishers were seen on the same day ~
1,600 m upstream from the original site. Later in
the afternoon a female kingfisher had assumed the
male’s perch. A male occupied a burrow (Fig. 1)
on the north bank ~ 800 m upstream from IH-35
on a steep bluff (. 10 m high) of clay-rich soil
opposite a flat alluvial bar on the south bank. A
small alluvial point also jutted from the north side,
thereby creating a protected backwater directly
below the burrow. A shallow rapid connected this
pool with another pool downstream. The burrow
opening was oriented downward and concealed by
overhanging branches (Fig. 2). It measured 4-5 cm
high by 5-6 cm wide and was placed 75 cm above
the flat bank and 90 cm above the water. It was
located 30 cm from the water’s edge. Three other
burrows were discovered nearby on the same bluff,
possibly representing previous or multiple nesting
attempts. Green Kingfishers have been observed
sporadically at this location but nesting has not been
documented since 2002.
Vegetation in the immediate vicinity included 1
large eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides) tree,
several small sugar hackberry (Celtis laevigata)
trees, Japanese privet (Ligustrum japonicum) trees,
and catbrier (Smilax bona-nox) thickets.
The kingfisher pair was observed outside and/or
upstream from their burrow on 6 occasions between
13 May and 27 May, but no fledging or young
birds were observed. A return visit to the site after
summer floods on 1 September led to the discovery
that a portion of the bank (containing the burrow)
had been broken away.
Nest #2, Lampasas River, Bell County
A female Green Kingfisher was discovered and
photographed along the south bank of the Lampasas
River downstream from Chalk Ridge Falls Park
(Stillhouse Hollow Lake) on 18 March 2012. The
next day a male Green Kingfisher was found and
photographed at the same location. The male
kingfisher was seen carrying minnows and holding
them in his beak while perching along a relatively
restricted segment of the river on 8 April. We
suspected possible nesting. The male’s behavior
caused us to search for a nest burrow, which was
eventually identified on the river’s steep (north)
Figure 1. Green Kingfisher nest location on North San
Gabriel River, May 2002. Photo by Tim Fennell.
Figure 2. San Gabriel River burrow entrance. Photo by
Tim Fennell.
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
Figure 3. Green Kingfisher pair with prey on Lampasas River, Bell County, April 2012. Photos by Eric Runfeldt.
Figure 4. Lampasas River Green Kingfisher nest location. Photo by Randy Pinkston.
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
bank. The male kingfisher was observed entering
and exiting the burrow entrance on 2 occasions that
afternoon, each time delivering a 5-8 cm minnow.
On 1 occasion the female had departed the burrow at
the moment of the male’s arrival, so we assumed the
pair was feeding young. Multiple observers returned
to the site over the following 9 d and observed
both Green Kingfishers delivering food items to
the burrow (Fig. 3). Both parents were quite wary
and avoided approaching the burrow when humans
were nearby in plain view. They would perch with
minnow in beak for perhaps 5 min before flying to
another perch and waiting, or perhaps disappearing
from view for several minutes. One observer
reported hearing “scolding notes” from the female.
Most observers reported the parents along a 2.4 km
stretch of the river upstream (west) of the burrow. A
pair of Belted Kingfishers (Megaceryle alcyon) was
simultaneously active along the same stretch of the
river, though no interaction between the 2 species
was observed. The Green Kingfisher nest had either
fledged or been abandoned by 20 April (Gil Eckrich,
pers. comm.). A Green Kingfisher(s) with female
plumage was observed along the same river stretch
on 7 June and 1 July, but definite confirmation of
offspring did not occur.
Prevailing drought conditions were evident at
the river on 1 July. The river channel immediately
below the burrow was shallow (ankle to mid-shin
depth) and roughly 4-5 m wide, connecting both
upstream and downstream with much wider and
deeper clear pools. The burrow was placed on the
steep north bank about 2 m above and 2 m in from
the water’s edge (Fig. 4). The south river bank
consisted of a broad dry gravel bar with scattered
lush vegetation. The burrow entrance was oriented
downward and concealed by overhanging roots and
vines (Fig. 5). It measured 7-8 cm high by 6-7 cm
wide and quickly narrowed to a 5 cm circular tunnel.
The floor of the entrance had a pair of deep grooves
on either side (Fig. 6), presumably from repeated
scraping by the kingfishers’ feet upon entering. The
tunnel was oriented slightly upward and to the left to
a maximum depth of 56 cm. Perches were located
both upstream and downstream from the burrow.
Vegetation in the immediate vicinity included
Figure 5. Parent Green Kingfisher entering Lampasas River burrow. Photo by Eric Runfeldt.
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
large pecan (Carya illinoinensis) trees, boxelder
(Acer negundo) trees, catbrier, and peppervine
(Ampelopsis arborea).
Oberholser (1974) noted that the breeding period
for the Green Kingfisher in Texas extends from late
February through late June with egg dates from 4
March through 29 May. Breeding dates are similar
in a study by Moskoff (2002) with peak egg dates
occurring from late March through the end of April
and peak hatchling dates from late April through
the end of May. Incubation takes 19-21 d and both
parents participate in both incubation and brooding/
feeding. While no young birds were confirmed
here, our dates fall well within these predictions
with the Bell County nest being somewhat early. It
is likely that the Lampasas River pair was already
incubating when first discovered on 18 March
and that young had hatched when the burrow was
discovered on 8 April.
The authors would like to thank Dr. Jim Giocomo
of the American Bird Conservancy for his initial
recognition that so little is known about Green
Kingfisher nesting ecology and suggesting that we
write this note. Thanks also to other keen observers
of both nests, including Eric Carpenter, Gil Eckrich,
Eric Runfeldt, Dr. Chuck Sexton, and Scott Snyder.
Thanks also to Grant Critchfield for his assistance
with plant identification at the Lampasas River site.
Lockwood, M. W. and B. Freeman. 2004. The Texas
Ornithological Society Handbook of Texas Birds.
Texas A & M University Press, College Station.
Oberholser, H. C. 1974. The bird life of Texas. E. B.
Kincaid, Jr., Editor. Vol. I. University of Texas Press,
Tweit, R. C. 2008. The Texas Breeding Bird Atlas. K.
A. Arnold and K. L. P. Benson, Editors. Texas A &
M University, College Station. Retrieved from: http:// 2012).
Moskoff, W. 2002. Green Kingfisher (Chloroceryle
americana), The birds of North America. No. 621.
Retrieved from:
species/621.(July 2012).
Figure 6. Lampasas River burrow entrance. Photo by
Randy Pinkston.
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
harvest of Clapper Rails or locally called marsh
hens. Coastal populations in Texas and Louisiana
are stable enough to allow liberal bag limits. Even
with liberal harvest limits, hunter harvest rates tend
to be low. There has been a long-term decline in
active rail hunting, and birds are usually taken in low
numbers by waterfowl hunters. The exceptionally
high tide used to effectively harvest Clapper
Rails is unpredictable, resulting in fluctuation
of harvest opportunities. Natural catastrophes
may cause declines in isolated populations, but
they tend to rebound. Where rail habitat is more
limited, protection has been granted to localized
populations. The Yuma Rail (Rallus longirostris
yumanensis), the only rail found in fresh water of
the lower Colorado River, California Clapper Rail
(Rallus longirostris obosoletus), and the Light-
footed Clapper Rail (Rallus longirostris levipes) are
subspecies on the federal endangered species list.
There is an unusual cause of mortality associated
with the fencing of property boundaries with barb
wire in that Clapper Rails are found impaled on barb
wire property fences. There seems to be no pattern
on time of year or location on the fence. Rails are
poor fliers with short erratic body movements and
dangling legs. This erratic flight may lead to birds
being impaled on barb wire fences on windy days
or on escape flights. Clapper Rails, have been
observed to fold up and crash on contact in cane
(Phagmites ausrtule) or cattail (Typha sp.) stands
during escape flushes. This appears to be the normal
escape flight.
I observed impaled rails on a barb wire fence
(Figs. 1 and 2) in a saline marsh in southeast
Texas several months apart. The height (1.2-1.5
m) and structure (5-6 strands of wire) of fences
were similar to the normal cattle enclosures found
throughout the county. Both fences appeared to
have been in use for several years. I observed a
total of 6 fence impalements of Clapper Rails and
Clapper Rails (Rallus longirostris) inhabit
saline wetlands on East Coast coastal marshes
from southern New England (Enser 1992, Veit
and Peterson 1993); south to the Florida Keys
(American Ornithological Union 1983); west to
Texas and Tamaulipas, Mexico (16 km south of
mouth of Rio Grande, Banks 1974); on west to
the lower Colorado River drainage in Arizona and
California (Todd 1986, Rosenberg et al. 1991); and
north along the west coast to 2 isolated locations
in the west coast salt marshes at San Francisco
and San Pablo Bays (American Ornithological
Union 1983, Small 1994. Most populations are
non-migratory, except the northernmost population
(Meanley 1985).
Clapper Rails (R.l saturatus) in Louisiana inhabit
low tidal salt marshes dominated by cordgrass
(Spartina sp.) of moderate height and salinity levels
exceeding 7,100 pm at low tide and 5,600 ppm at
high tide (Meanley 1985). There could be possible
temporary changes of distribution of Clapper Rails
in wetter months in adjacent intermediate and fresh
water marshes. Gulf coast populations tend to feed
on fiddler crabs (Uca sp, Sesarma sp.), periwinkle
snails (Littorina inornata), and clamworms (Nereis
sp.) in the saltier habitats. Freshwater events change
food availability to grasshoppers and crayfish
(Procambarus sp.) until the saltwater reestablishes.
Clapper Rails are subject to natural mortality
from a variety of natural predators that prey on
nests, eggs, and adults.
Populations have also been impacted by the
introduction of exotic predators such as red foxes
(Vulpes vulpes), stray feral felines (Catus sp.),
feral hogs (Sus scrofa) and Norway rats (Rattus
norvegicus). Feral hogs in coastal marshes may
have long-term impacts on populations from the
predation on eggs and young, ground disturbances
of vegetation, and competition on food sources.
Thirteen states on the east and gulf coast allow
Bobby J. Schat1
PO Box 163, Everglades City FL 34139
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
wetlands, impalement deaths are likely to increase
on all rail populations.
An even stranger case of Clapper rail mortality
was 1 caught in power lines above the brackish
1 Tricolored Heron (Egretta tricolor) during 2006-
2008. All birds were impaled below the breast.
The level of rail mortality due to barb wire fences
is unknown, but as more development pushes into
Figure 1. Implement on thigh region of a Clapper Rail on
the med-level strand of barb wire fence in southeast Texas
(Bobby Schat/USFWS).
Figure 2. Lower breast impalement of a Clapper Rail on
top strand of a barbed wire fence in southeast Texas.
Figure 3. Rail caught on a power line near Texas Point National Wildlife Refuge Jefferson County, Texas.
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
marsh along HWY 87 in southeast Texas (Fig. 3).
This rail was found 3.7-4.6 m above the ground,
with its lower bill between the main cable and a
smaller wrapped cable. Utility lines capture maybe
an isolated case, but an example of the poor abilities
of rails to maneuver around aerial obscures. One
can only theorize that rails have not had a chance
to adapt to the many obscures now in place across
American Ornithologists’ Union. 1983. Checklist
of North American birds. 6th Edition. American
Ornithological Union, Washington, D.C.
Banks, R. C. 1974. Clapper Rail in Tamaulipas, Mexico.
Wilson Bulletin 86:76-77.
Eddleman, W. R. and C. J. Conway. 1994. Clapper Rail.
Pp 167-179 in Management of migratory shore and
upland game birds in North America. T. C. Tacha and
C. E. Braun, Editors. International Association of Fish
and Wildlife Agencies, Washington, D.C.
Enser, R. W. 1992. The atlas of breeding birds in Rhode
Island. Rhode Island Department of Environmental
Management. Providence.
Meanley, B. 1985. The marsh hen: a natural history
of the clapper rail of the Atlantic coast salt marsh.
Tidewater Publishers, Centerville, Maryland.
Rosenberg, K. V., R. D. Ohmart, W. C. Hunter, and
B. W. Anderson. 1991. Birds of the lower Colorado
River Valley. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.
Small, A. 1994. California birds: their status and
distribution. Ibis Publishing Company. Vista,
Todd, R. L. 1986. A saltwater marsh hen in Arizona: a
history of the Yuma Clapper Rail (Rallus longirostris
yumanensis). Federal Aid Project W-95-R, Completion
Report. Arizona Game and Fish Department, Phoenix.
Veit, R. R. and W. R. Peterson. 1993. Birds of
Massachusetts. Massachusetts Audbon Society,
Eleanor Stoddart1 and Daniel M. Brooks1, 2
1Houston Museum of Natural Science, Department of Vertebrate Zoology,
5555 Hermann Park Drive, Houston, Texas 77030-1799
A variety of factors can cause avian mortalities,
and one that has attracted recent attention is the
ingestion of foreign objects. Several species of
aquatic piscivorous birds have died from ingesting
recreational fishing tackle, including fishing hooks
and lead weights (Arnold 1994, Magee and Brooks
2006, Brooks 2009). Brooks (2009) reported a
case of a Common Loon (Gavia immer) ostensibly
dying from lead poisoning due to fishing weight
ingestion. Herein we describe a second possible
case of a Common Loon dying from lead poisoning
due to fishing weight ingestion. Additionally, we
compare other cases of Common Loon mortality
from the same region to assess potential patterns of
environmental hazards.
Houston Museum of Natural Science‘s (HMNS)
Department of Vertebrate Zoology received a
Common Loon (HMNS VO 3333, Fig. 1) salvaged
on 3 January 2011 from Quintana Beach, Brazoria
County. The bird was prepared as a study skin
on 15 December 2011 by ES. This adult (skull
completely ossified) loon weighed 2.7 kg and had
0 fat content on a scale from 0-7 (0 = complete
absence of fat and 7 = full subcutaneous fatty layer).
The salvager, Dana Simon, indicated the bird had
suffered from acute lead poisoning, including the
diagnostic trait of neon green diarrhea (Michigan
Department of Natural Resources 2012). A
radiograph verified the presence of a lead weight
in the bird’s gizzard, so systemic treatment with
2E-mail: -
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
CaEDTA and D-penicillamine was initiated.
Although plans were made to surgically remove
the lead weight, the bird died # 48 hs after the
radiograph. During specimen preparation, the
stomach was dissected and the small, pear-shaped
fishing weight (1.5 cm high 3 0.65 cm maximum
width) was confirmed (Fig. 1). The stomach also
contained 5 small pebbles (largest size: 1 cm x 1
cm, smallest: 0.8 cm 3 0.7 cm, Fig. 1). The lack
of food residue inside the stomach suggested the
bird had not eaten for some time prior to death.
The neon green urates, lack of appetite and noted
emaciation suggested that the cause of death was
lead poisoning.
A total of 7 Common Loons (1 male, 3 female,
3 undetermined gender) were salvaged from the
Surfside/Quintana Beach region between November
2004 and April 2011 and deposited into the HMNS
VO collection (Table 1). The birds were found
throughout the year, with 3 during Spring (42%), 2
in Fall (28%) and 1 each (14%) during summer and
winter (Fig. 2). All but 1 of these was adults (86%),
but only 1 of 7 birds (14%) was in breeding plumage
(Table 1). Mean fat content was 0.57 (range 5 0-2,
mode 5 0, n 5 7) and mean weight was 2.04 kg
(range 5 1.36-2.95 kg, n 5 7) for all birds, with a
mean of 1.82 kg (n 5 4) during warmer months and
2.34 kg (n 5 3) during cooler months.
The Common Loons in the HMNS collection
were significantly underweight compared with the
standard mean weight of 4.95 kg for this species
(Dunning 2008). This is not surprising considering
that only 1 of 7 birds (14%) had normal prey
remains (crawfish) in its stomach. Two of the birds
(28%) died from leg injuries, which are lethal to
Table 1. Parametric data for seven Common Loons in the HMNS VO collection salvaged from the Quintana/Surfiside Beach region, Brazoria Co., Texas.
Cat. # Location Date Age Gender/plumage wt (kg) Fat Stomach contents Injury
1580 Quintana 9 Nov 2004 Ad / sco ? / non-breeding 1.36 2 5.9 g gravel broken leg
2075 Surfside 18 Jul 2006 Ad / sco F / non-breeding 1.58 0
2076 Surfside 27 May 2007 Ad F / breeding 2.14 0 0.6 g gravel, ball of line, lead weight lead poisoning
2089 Surfside 27 May 2007 Subad / snco ? / non-breeding 1.66 1 empty
3318 Surfside 27 Nov 2010 Ad / sco M / non-breeding 2.95 0 0.25 g veg. matter, small pebbles
3333 Quintana 3 Jan 2011 Ad ? / non-breeding 2.72 1 Lead weight, 5 small pebbles lead poisoning
3351 Surfside 5 Apr 2011 Ad F / non-breeding 1.92 0 0.25 g crawfish shells injured leg
Figure 1. Common Loon (Gavia immer) specimen HMNS
VO 3333, with a close-up of stomach contents (lead fishing
weight and pebbles).
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
piscivorous species such as loons that depend on
their legs to dive for fish. Two additional loons
(28%) apparently died from lead poisoning due
to ingestion of lead weights used for recreational
fishing. Nearly one-third of mortalities resulted
from poorly managed non-commercial fishing
tackle that apparently broke off of a fishing line and
was not retrievable.
In New England direct anthropogenic factors
accounted for 52% of loon mortalities, with nearly
one-half of breeding adults dying due to lead
toxicosis from ingested fishing weights (Sidor et
al. 2003). Similar rates of lead toxicosis have been
found in other loon populations as well (e.g., Pokras
et al. 2009). While a solution to this problem is
uncertain, careful responsibility for fishing tackle
should be considered in light of the number of loons
using the Surfside/Quintana area year-round (Fig. 2).
Kind thanks to Dana Simon for providing the
salvaged specimens, data on cause of death and
proof-reading the manuscript.
Arnold, K. A. 1994. First specimens of Clark’s Grebe
for Texas: an environmental casualty. Bulletin Texas
Ornithological Society 27:26-28.
Brooks, D. M. 2009. A case of a Common Loon
(Gavia immer) ingesting fishing gear. Bulletin Texas
Ornithological Society 42:89-90.
Dunning, J. B. 2008. CRC Handbook of Avian Body
Masses (2nd edition). CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL.
Magee, M. E and D. M. Brooks. 2006. A case of
a Magnificent Frigatebird (Fregata magnificens)
swallowing a fishhook. Bulletin Texas Ornithological
Society 40:31-32.
Michigan Department of Natural Resources. 2012.
Lead poisoning.,1607,7-153-
Pokras, M., M. Kneeland, A. Ludi, E. Golden, A.
Major, R. Miconi, and R. H. Poppenga. 2009. Lead
objects ingested by Common Loons in New England.
Northeastern Naturalist 16:177-182.
Sidor, I. F., M. A. Pokras, A. R. Major, R. H Poppenga,
K. M. Taylor, AND R. M. Miconi. 2003. Mortality
of Common Loons in New England 1987 to 2000.
Journal of Wildlife Diseases. 39:306-315.
Figure 2. Monthly abundance of Common Loon (Gavia immer) specimens in HMNS VO collection salvaged from the Quintana/
Surfiside Beach region, Brazoria Co., Texas (2004-2011).
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
Marc C. Woodin1
1Aythya Environmental, Corpus Christi, TX 78412
Ruddy Ducks (Oxyura jamaicensis) are common
breeding birds of wetlands of the Prairie Pothole
Region and Great Basin of interior North America
(Bellrose 1976, Brua 2002), but they rarely nest
across Texas, including the coast (Oberholser 1974,
Tweit 2001). Here I document in Nueces County
a further rare successful nesting by Ruddy Ducks
in Texas. I periodically observed Ruddy Ducks,
including young, at a pond on northern Padre
Island, 25 June-15 July 2012. Previous valid sight
records for Ruddy Duck ducklings in Texas are 5
June-19 August (Oberholser 1974).
The pond (Fig. 1) was an excavated basin located
in a residential development within the city limits of
Corpus Christi (27.61º N, 97.23º W). It was encircled
by a loop road serving only the local neighborhood,
so vehicle traffic was light. Pedestrian traffic was
limited to only an occasional recreational walker.
The pond was roughly rectangular, with an area of
about 0.3 ha, and was fringed by a narrow band of
un-mowed vegetation, primarily grasses, sedges, and
bulrush. The only dense emergent cover was a stand
of tall cattail (Typha sp.), approximately 1-3 m wide,
which encircled one end of the pond. The presence of
cattail is a reliable freshwater indicator. I could detect
no evidence of submerged vegetation, and I did not
measure the depth or conductivity of the pond.
I first observed a male and a female Ruddy Duck
and 1 duckling at the pond on 25 June. The male
was in post-breeding plumage and so had lost its
rich chestnut color on the backside. The large white
cheek patches and dark crown and nape were readily
apparent. The bill was mostly dark, but it retained
a faint bluish wash. The dark gray on the crown
of the female extended unbroken down the facial
disk to eye level. The cheeks of the female were a
slightly lighter gray. Beneath the eye, the female
sported a broad, dark line, briefly interrupted about
midway along its length. The duckling appeared to
be out of the downy stage.
While I observed the Ruddy Ducks on 25 June
(1850-1920), the female and duckling were loafing
and lightly preening near each other in the open
water, just outside the outer edge of the emergent
cattail. Dense, tall emergent vegetation (including
cattail) is the typical nest site for this species (Brua
2002), so the successful Ruddy Duck nest may have
been located there. The male was not associated
with the female and duckling, as it was located
along the edge of the pond, about halfway toward
the other end. I did not see the male after this initial
sighting of the birds on 25 June 2012.
I next visited the pond on 2 July 2012. During
the time I observed the birds (1900-1925), the
female was once again in the open water, just
along the outer edge of the dense cattail, into
which she abruptly disappeared when a Great Egret
(Casmerodius albus) alighted a few meters away. I
also observed 2 Ruddy Duck ducklings, which were
slowly swimming near each other at the far end of
the pond, seemingly unattached to the female.
I again visited the pond to observe the Ruddy
Ducks from 1020-1115 on 15 July 2012. Once
again, I saw the female near the stand of emergent
cattail, resting and preening. I also saw 1 duckling
diving at the far end of the pond. Later during the
observation period, I saw a Ruddy Duck duckling,
also diving in the open water, but much closer to
the female. I was unable to determine whether 1 or
2 ducklings were present on the pond at this time.
I last visited the pond mid-day on 1 August 2012,
during which time I observed no Ruddy Ducks.
Mean clutch size from multiple studies of this
species is generally 7-10 eggs (Brua 2002), and
duckling survival has been estimated to be on the
order of about 50-75% (Brua 1998, Pelayo 2001).
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
confirmed and 30 probable breeding records in the
Texas Breeding Bird Atlas occurred in multiple
counties throughout the western High Plains (Tweit
2001). A few records of breeding Ruddy Ducks
exist for the western reaches of the Rio Grande,
especially in El Paso County (Tweit 2001), while
the third cluster of records of breeding Ruddy
Ducks is in the counties of the lower third of the
Texas coast and along the lower Rio Grande (Tweit
Oberholser (1974), however, reported only a
handful of confirmed breeding records of Ruddy
Ducks in Texas counties: Tarrant County; Bexar
The presence of at most 2 ducklings in this brood
suggests that predation or some other mortality
factor may have limited duckling success for this
nesting effort.
Ruddy Ducks are a prominent component of the
breeding duck fauna of northern prairie and Great
Basin wetlands of North America (Bellrose 1976,
Brua 2002). This species also occurs widely in
disjunct breeding populations (Brua 2002). The
Texas Breeding Bird Atlas shows three distinct
geographic clusters within the state (Tweit 2001)
where Ruddy Ducks are known to breed, albeit
perhaps only intermittently. Many of the 12
Figure 1. Location of Ruddy Duck nesting site. Images Wikimedia/USFWS and Google Earth.
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
of male and female Ruddy Ducks (Oxyura jamaicensis)
in southwestern Manitoba, Canada. Dissertation.
University of Dayton, Dayton, Ohio.
Brua, R. B. 2002. Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis).
The Birds of North America, No. 696.
Lockwood, M. W., and B. Freeman. 2004. The TOS
handbook of Texas birds. Texas A&M University
Press, College Station.
Oberholser, H. C. 1974. The bird life of Texas. (E.
B. Kincaid, Jr., Editor). Vol. 1. University of Texas
Press, Austin.
Pelayo, J. T. 2001. Correlates and consequences of
egg size variation in wild Ruddy Ducks (Oxyura
jamaicensis). Thesis. University of Saskatchewan,
Tweit, R. C. 2001. Ruddy Duck. The Texas Breeding
Bird Atlas. Texas A & M University System, College
Station and Corpus Christi, (28
November 2012).
County; Harris County; Anahuac National Wildlife
Refuge, Chambers County; Welder Wildlife
Refuge, San Patricio County; and Willacy County.
While Lockwood and Freeman (2004) considered
the Ruddy Duck to be locally common as a
summer resident in El Paso County, they mentioned
confirmed breeding by Ruddy Ducks only along
resacas in Presidio County, where they noted
that “there were many successful nestings” when
wetland conditions were favorable.
My observations confirm successful nesting by
Ruddy Ducks on northern Padre Island, adding a
Nueces County record to the limited numbers of
confirmed records of breeding by this species in
Texas. Additionally, this report may represent the
only confirmed instance of successful nesting by
this species on a barrier island.
Bellrose, F. C. 1976. Ducks, geese, and swans of North
America. Stackpole Books, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Brua, R. B. 1998. Factors affecting reproductive success
Ray C. Telfair II¹
¹11780 South Hill Creek Road, Whitehouse, Texas 75791
Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) rarely
reuse nests (Wanamaker 1942); and until my report
of the reuse of a 2-year old nest platform (Telfair
2010), there was no record of the reuse of an old
abandoned nest from previous years (Halkin and
Linville 1999).
I found a Northern Cardinal nest in mid-June 2012
constructed on the top of a nest that cardinals had
built in 2011. It was located in a Chinese wisteria
(Wisteria sinesis) vine growing along the wall of
the garage at my home in Ennis, 209 N. Preston
Street, SE Ellis County, Texas (32º19'37.50"N,
96º37'55.88"W). It was the third nest the birds had
built. The first nest was built in mid-April behind
the garage in an eastern red-cedar (Juniperus
virginiana) sapling; the second nest was built in
mid-May in a bridal wreath (Spiraea prunifolia)
shrub beside the side porch of the house. The 3
nests were located at each apex of a triangle with
distances between the nests being: 21 m between
nests 1 and 2; 19 m between nests 2 and 3; and, 10
m between nests 1 and 3. Nest heights were: 2, 1.6,
and 1.2 m, respectively. All 3 nests were of similar
construction and size (~ 12.7 cm outside diameter
by 7.6 cm outside height) in comparison to those
described earlier in the same area (Telfair 2007).
The first nest contained 3 eggs of which 1 did not
hatch; the second nest contained 3 eggs of which all
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
hatched; and the third nest also contained 3 eggs all
of which hatched. All chicks were banded.
The third nest was found on the ground beneath
its site 1 week after the chicks were banded; so,
their fate in not known.
Northern Cardinal nests are not attached to the
nest-site vegetation; but, are wedged into position
(Halkin and Linville 1999). It appears that the
1-year old nest platform upon which the new nest
was build may have been weak and, thus, could not
support the weight of the chicks. Thus, the reuse
of old nest platforms may be a disadvantage to
successful breeding.
Halkin, S. L. and S. U. Linville. 1999. Northern
Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis). The Birds of North
America, Number 440.
Telfair, R. C. II. 2007. Adjoining nests of Northern
Cardinal. Bulletin of the Texas Ornithological Society
Telfair, R. C. II. 2010. Reuse of an old nest platform
by Northern Cardinals. Bulletin of the Texas
Ornithological Society 43:70.
Wanamaker, J. F. 1942. A study of the courtship and
nesting of the Eastern Cardinal Richmondena c.
cardinalis (Linnaeus). Thesis, Cornell University,
Ithaca, New York.
Ray C. Telfair II¹
¹11780 South Hill Creek Road, Whitehouse, Texas 75791
Telfair (2010) reported the 2-year abandonment
(2009 and 2010) of a breeding colony of Great-tailed
Grackles (Quiscalus mexicanus) that had a previous
annual re-establishment of about 15 years. It is
located in S Ennis, SE Ellis County (32º18'43.49"N,
96º35'56.76"W) in a small landscaped median
bordered by elevated Interstate Highway 45 and a
turn-off access road which connects to S Kaufman
Street (State Highway 75) near its juncture with
FM 85 under the highway overpass. A new similar
second breeding colony was found in 2010 about
6.3 km of the first colony N Ennis (32º21'41.26"N,
96º37'58.75"W) at the north end of a semicircular
median between the overpass of U.S. Highway
75 above the Interstate Highway 45 and the east
access loop from U.S. highway 75 leading N to join
Interstate Highway 45.
After the grackles returned to the first colony for
reestablishment of nesting in early April of both
years, there was an abrupt abandonment of nests in
early May, the cause of which I could not determine
(e.g., not related to human disturbance, weather,
nest parasites, or fire ants). The second colony was
not affected.
The nest site vegetation in the first colony is
mostly a dense close-spaced stand of crape myrtle
(Lagerstroemia indica) shrubs with adjacent close-
spaced clusters of yaupon (Ilex vomitoria) shrubs
and young Shumard’s oak (Quercus shumardii)
trees. The vegetation at the second colony is
composed entirely of crape myrtle shrubs of similar
size and spacing as in the first colony. Detailed
descriptions of the nest-site vegetation and nesting
colonies were given by Telfair (2010).
Weather conditions at the times of the first
breeding colony abandonment in 2009 and 2010
were normal (Ron Vestal, local National Weather
Service Weather Observer, pers. comm./data).
In 2011 and 2012, despite the drought, breeding
resumed in both grackle colonies and the breeding
seasons were successful.
However, in 2011, the crape myrtles in the first,
and oldest, colony exhibited signs of stress, probably
related to the many years of guano deposition and
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
the drought (the top branches of some plants were
dead and the leaves of all plants were withered, but
recovered after rain occurred). The plants in the
second colony remained in good condition.
In the first colony, in 2011, only 3 nests were
built in the 24 yaupons (48 in 2009, 22 in 2010);
no nests were in the 6 oaks (21 in 2009, 20 in 2010)
and the mean number of nests per plant in the crape
myrtles was 3.1 (median 5 3.0, range 5 1-7); thus,
slightly less than in 2010 (mean 5 3.7, median 5
4.0, range 5 1-6), but much less than in 2009 (mean
5 7.9, median 5 8.0, range 5 3-12). The mean
number of nests per plant in the second colony was
3.2 (median 5 3.0, range 5 1-6), about the same as
in 2010 (mean 5 3.3, median 5 3.0, range 5 1-8).
The first colony, in 2012, exhibited enhanced
deterioration caused by the combination of years of
guano deposition and the severe drought of 2011.
Although the winter of 2011 and early spring of
2012 were mild and wet, when nesting began, all
yaupons were dead; however, 1 plant contained an
active nest. Only 11 (38%) of crape myrtles were
in good condition, 8 (28%) had only a few living
stems with leaves and 10 (34%) were dead and
bare. However, all but 3 plants had active nests.
The number of nests per plant were: mean 5 2.5;
median 5 2.0, range 5 0-12; thus, fewer than in
previous years. Four red mulberry (Morus rubra)
saplings had grown large enough to contain nests
(2, 4, 2, 1, respectively). The 6 Shumard’s oaks
contained 2, 3, 1, 2, 1, 2 nests, respectively; thus,
about half the number in 2009 and 2010).
By 7 July, the colony was still producing
fledglings and new clutches. Even the dead bare
crape myrtles contained active nests.
The crape myrtles in the second colony were in
excellent condition in 2012. The number of nests
per plant was: mean 5 3.7, median 5 3.0, range 5
0-6; thus, about the same as in 2010: mean 5 3.3,
median 5 3.0, range 5 1-8 and 2011: mean 5 3.2,
median 5 3.0, range 5 1-6.
Therefore, whatever caused the first colony
abandonment in 2009 and 2010 was not in effect in
2011 or 2012 although there was major deterioration
of nest site vegetation as a result of drought.
Telfair, R. C. II. 2010. Abandonment of a unique
breeding colony of Great-tailed Grackles in north-
central Texas. Bulletin of the Texas Ornithological
Society 43:78-80.
Stephen Kasper1
1Lake Alan Henry Wildlife Mitigation Area, City of Lubbock, Lubbock, Texas 79457
The Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx
californianus) is an opportunistic predator of
insects, arthropods, birds, rodents, snakes, and
lizards (Hughes 2011). Problematic prey, such as
those too large, feathered, venomous, or armored,
may be avoided by innate and learned behaviors, or
they may be hunted, killed, and ingested by prey-
specific handling behaviors (Sherbrooke 1990).
Generally, a large prey is repeatedly beaten on
hard substrates and swallowed headfirst and whole
(Rylander 2002). The strategy of beating prey
disarticulates the skeleton, effectively narrowing and
elongating the carcass for subsequent swallowing
(Beal and Gillam 1979). However, some prey
specific difficulties have been documented in these
predation strategies (Sherbrooke 1990, Holte and
Houck 2000). The following observation describes
2 unknown learned behaviors for prey handling of
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
Texas horned lizards (Phrynosoma cornutum) by
an individual Greater Roadrunner from the Rolling
Plains of Texas.
On 29 July 2001, I observed a Greater Roadrunner
by binoculars at ~ 18 m feeding on a lizard at Lake
Alan Henry Wildlife Mitigation Area (LAHWMA),
~ 6.5 km N, 15 km E of Justiceburg, Garza County,
Texas. While perched on the top edge of a round
fiberglass stock tank (3.66 m diameter by 0.61 m
high), the roadrunner had the lizard under 1 foot and
was pulling the lizard’s body with its bill. It then
picked the lizard up and dipped the lizard up and
down 3 to 4 times in the water. The water level was
6 cm below the tank’s rim. The roadrunner returned
to holding the lizard under its feet and tearing at
the body for about 30 sec, then again dipped the
lizard in the water several times. The bird after
additional pulling dropped the lizard in the water
and retreated into nearby brush. I retrieved the
lizard carcass from the water and identified it as a
large Texas horned lizard. Remains included the
cranium, dorsal integument from the cranium to
tail, and one rear leg. The thick dorsal integument
appeared to be stripped or scraped of flesh from the
cranium to tail. The mandible, all internal organs,
and all skeletal-muscular structures (except the one
rear leg) were missing, and I inferred them to be
I collected the body of a second Texas horned
lizard from the bottom of the water tank on 5
August. The remains included the cranium and
dorsal integument only. This specimen was about
75% the size (based on cranial breadth) of the first P.
cornutum collected on 29 July. A third Texas horned
lizard carcass was found in the waters of the tank on
19 August. The remains included the cranium and
shredded dorsal integument. This specimen was
approximately the size of the second P. cornutum
collected on 5 August. I subsequently sieved the
debris from the bottom of the tank inclusive of the
locations of the 3 previously collected specimens (~
1.5 m) plus an additional 1.0 m laterally and 1.0
m inward of the tank’s edge. Two additional P.
cornutum craniums were collected within the size
range of the first 3 lizards; both were clean with no
integument attached. These 2 were found within the
span of the first 3 specimens. No other vertebrate
skeletal remains were found. By visual inspections
of the clear tank water, no additional Texas horned
lizard remains were discovered from 2002 to 2011.
Although I observed only 1 predation event,
I assumed all 5 of the Texas horned lizards were
prey of the same Greater Roadrunner based on site
preference and similar conditions of the P. cornutum
remains. This Greater Roadrunner demonstrated
2 major deviations from the known innate prey
handling behaviors of the species. First, the tearing
apart and stripping of flesh from vertebrate prey is
an unknown behavior for G. californianus. The
Greater Roadrunner usually kills its vertebrate
prey, manipulates it so that the prey is streamlined,
and then swallows the prey headfirst and whole.
However, a solution to the problem of swallowing
a prey with well developed, widely-spaced occipital
spines may have been observed.
Sherbrooke (1990) found that when Greater
Roadrunners were offered a choice of 2 different
species of horned lizards as food, the Texas horned
lizards were killed and eaten in 50% of trials;
whereas, the smaller round-tailed horned lizard
(Phrynosoma modestum) with less pronounced
spines was killed and eaten in 92% of trials. One
bird half-ingested then regurgitated a Texas horned
lizard 5 times, re-beating it after each regurgitation,
and then finally swallowing the lizard. This
bird refused all Texas horned lizards offered in
subsequent feeding trials. A second bird had the
same experience after 3 bouts of regurgitation. It
refused the next Texas horned lizard, consumed 2
more, and then refused a fourth horned lizard. Also,
a juvenile Greater Roadrunner choked to death on a
large Texas horned lizard (Holte and Houck 2000).
Innate behaviors in birds are known to be
modified by operant conditioning (Rylander 2002).
The Greater Roadrunner that I observed learned to
bypass the problem of the occipital spines during
swallowing. It discovered a method for opening
the thinner ventral integument and stripped-out
the flesh, leaving only the cranium with spines
intact and the tough, elastic dorsal integument
unconsumed. Although it is speculative to address
exactly how this learned behavior was initiated,
a possible scenario could be that by probing and
puncturing during the action of killing and beating
a horned lizard the bird tore open the ventral
integument exposing the soft tissues. By operant
conditioning (trial-and-error), this individual
roadrunner learned to avoid risk-taking during
ingestion, which resulted in opportunistic predation
of an available and substantial prey.
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
Other bird species have seemingly adapted
methods for reducing the risk of predation in
preying upon P. cornutum. Swainson’s Hawk
(Buteo swainsoni), Harris’s Hawk (Parabuteo
unicinctus), Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura), and
Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus) prey on
horned lizards (Bednarz 1988, Thomaides et al.
1989, Espinal et al. 1998, Lazcano et al. 2008).
A Red-shouldered Hawk was found dead from an
occipital spine penetrating its trachea (Strecker
1908). Loggerhead Shrikes and some Swainson’s
Hawks exclude the problem of occipital spines.
Lazcano et al. (2008) reported Swainson’s Hawks
fed Texas horned lizards with decapitated heads to
chicks in Chihuahua, Mexico. The heads were left
in the nest. Loggerhead Shrikes prey on smaller
Texas horned lizards, and impale the lizards on
plant spines or barbed wire (Espinal et al. 1998).
The shrikes will strip and consume the flesh from
their lardered prey at a later time. This practice may
aid in degrading formic acid concentrated in the
lizards’ digestive tracts (Yosef and Whitman 1992).
A second deviation from the known innate prey
handling behavior is food washing or dunking.
This behavior has not been previously recognized
for the species. Dunking is a behavioral term
for the immersion of food items in water and is
a rare behavior in free-ranging birds (Morand-
Ferron 2005). Only 12 of 31 species of wild birds
summarized by Morand-Ferron et al. (2004) used
dunking as a food handling method to soften or soak
food prior to ingestion. Fifteen species washed their
food including 5 species handling vertebrate prey.
Dunking food into water may assist in eliminating
toxins or soiled elements from food items (Morand-
Ferron et al. 2004, Freeman 2008). I suggest that
washing may have removed toxic residue or soiled
components from the flesh of predated Texas
horned lizards. Adult Texas horned lizards almost
exclusively feed on harvester ants of the genus
Pogonomrymex resulting in a concentrated build-up
of formic acid in the digestive tract. In addition, the
blood of Texas horned lizards has complex defensive
compounds that may be synthesized from their
harvester ant prey (Sherbrooke and Middendorf
2004). Captive raised coyotes (Canis latrans)
regurgitated Texas horned lizard remains and their
oral and nasal cavity receptors exhibited adverse
effects from blood squirted from the lizard’s orbital
sinuses (Sherbrooke and Mason 2005). Kit foxes
(Vulpes macrotis) reacted negatively to the blood of
Texas horned lizards and learned to avoid them as
prey (Sherbrooke and Middendorf 2004). The bird
that I observed may have been dunking the horned
lizard to alleviate the effects of toxicity or bad
taste. Although little is known about the Greater
Roadrunner’s sense of taste (see Hughes 2011),
there may be some discrimination of food or prey
based on feeding experiences with negative effects
to the oral and nasal epithelial linings (operant
The original feeding event indicated an experienced
behavior, with no hesitation or awkwardness,
suggesting that the observed Greater Roadrunner
had previously learned the 2 new methods of
prey handling. This inference is supported by
the discovery of similarly handled remains of 4
additional P. cornutum at the same site, 2 of which
were after my original observation and 2 that were
probably prior to my observation. Rainfall was only
21% of the normal average for the months March
through July at LAHWMA. I also observed limited
insect prey availability. Greater Roadrunners may
refrain from attacking adult Texas horned lizards
if other foods are readily available (Sherbrooke
1990). Consequently during a season of limited
food choices, the Greater Roadrunner may have
been forced by hunger to switch to a prey that would
have been avoided during periods with a greater prey
base. It learned to strip flesh like a raptor or shrike
and overcame an additional secondary problem of
toxicity by washing its prey. The behavioral change
may have been a trade-off of more handling time
and effort in order to consume a larger dangerous
prey that is generally avoided. These alterations are
novel behaviors and important modifications to the
innate prey handling for the species. Dunking is
not a species-wide behavior, even in flocking birds,
but seems to be learned by only a few individuals
(Morand-Ferron et al. 2004). I suggest that this
Greater Roadrunner at LAHWMA demonstrated an
innovative adaptation from the species’ innate prey
handling behavior specifically designed for Texas
horned lizards and could have possibly involved
some complex cognitive processes.
Great appreciation is given to Kent Rylander
for prompting me to compile this information and
providing many useful suggestions concerning bird
behavior in general. I also thank Jim R. Geotze,
Clyde Jones, Mark W. Lockwood, Kent Rylander,
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
and Frederick B. Stangl, Jr. for reviewing an earlier
version of the manuscript.
Beal, K. G. and L. D. Gillam. 1979. On the function of
prey beating by roadrunners. Condor 81:85-87.
Bednarz, J. C. 1988. A comparative study of the
breeding ecology of Harris’s and Swainson’s Hawks in
Southeastern New Mexico. Condor 90:311-323.
Espinal, J. A. L, D. Chiszar, C. Henke, andH. M.
Smith. 1998. Phrynosoma cornutum (Texas Horned
Lizard): predation. Herpetological Review 29:168.
Freeman, B. 2008. American Crows separate imported
red fire ants from food items using water. Bulletin
Texas Ornithological Society 41:65-66.
Holte, A. E. and M. A. Houck. 2000. Juvenile Greater
Roadrunner (Cuculidae) killed by choking on a Texas
horned lizard (Phrynosomatidae). Southwestern
Naturalist 45:74-76.
Hughes, J. M. 2011. Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx
californianus). The birds of North America. No. 244.
Lazcano, D., B. I. Gonzalez-Garza, N. Cruz-
Maldonado, and J. I. Gonzalez-Rojas. 2008.
Phrynosoma cornutum (Texas Horned Lizard):
predation. Herpetological Review 39:90.
Morand-Ferron, J. 2005. Dunking behavior in
American Crows. Wilson Bulletin 117:405-407.
Morand-Ferron, J., L. Lefebvre, S. M. Reader, D.
Sol, and S. Elvin. 2004. Dunking behaviour in carib
grackles. Animal Behaviour 68:1267-1274.
Rylander, K. 2002. The behavior of Texas birds.
University of Texas Press, Austin.
Sherbrooke, W. C. 1990. Predatory behavior of captive
Greater Roadrunners feeding on horned lizards. Wilson
Bulletin 102:171-174.
Sherbrooke, W. C. and J. R. Mason. 2005. Sensory
modality used by coyotes in responding to antipredator
compounds in the blood of Texas horned lizards.
Southwestern Naturalist 50:216-222.
Sherbrooke, W. C. and G. A. Middendorf, III. 2004.
Reponses of kit foxes (Vulpes macrotis) to antipredator
blood-squirting and blood of Texas horned lizards
(Phrynosoma cornutum). Copeia 2004:652-658.
Strecker, J. K., Jr. 1908. Notes on the breeding habits
of Phrynosoma cornutum and other Texas lizards.
Proceedings Biological Society Washington 21:165-
Thomaides, C., R. Valdez, W. H. Reid, and R. J. Raitt.
1989. Food habits of Turkey Vultures in West Texas.
Journal Raptor Research 23:42-44.
Yosef, R. and D. W. Whitman. 1992. Predator
exaptations and defensive adaptations in evolutionary
balance: no defense is perfect. Evolution and. Ecology
Mark W. Lockwood1
1Natural Resources Program, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, P.O. Box 1807,
Fort Davis, Texas
A very dark plumaged woodpecker was
discovered in western Crosby County, Texas in
November 2012. Close examination of the bird
on 22 November 2012 revealed a Red-headed
Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) that
could be best described as melanistic. This aberrant
plumage condition has been described for a wide
variety of bird species, but it is apparently very rare
in woodpeckers.
The plumage characteristics of a first-winter
Red-headed Woodpecker with a dark brown head
with a few red feathers apparent suggested it might
have a dark red head upon molting into adult
plumage (Fig. 1). The underparts were slate gray
becoming slightly lighter on the upper breast. The
secondaries were also slate gray contrasting slightly
with the black primaries and back which exhibited
the black barring that could be discerned in direct
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
Figure 1. Melanistic first-winter Red-headed Woodpecker near Lorenzo, Crosby County on 22 November 2012. Photograph by
Mark W. Lockwood.
Figure 2. Same individual in Figure 1 showing barred gray secondaries and uniform color to body plumage. Photograph by Mark
W. Lockwood.
Bull. Texas Ornith. Soc. 45(1-2): 2012
sunlight (Fig. 2). This individual was first noted on
5 November 2012 in a rural homestead surrounded
by numerous trees including mature pecans (Carya
illinoinensis) and live oaks (Quercus virginiana).
These mast producing trees at the homestead
provided a sustainable food source for the bird,
and it remained in the same area through at least
early December 2012. It was observed caching
acorns in crevices of various nearby tree as well
as within cracks in utility poles in late November.
This activity was observed frequently from 22-25
November, suggesting it had stored food items
throughout the yard and surrounding utility poles
for an extended period.
There are few published accounts of melanism
in woodpeckers. Deane (1876) and Gross (1965)
included Red-headed Woodpecker within lists of
species in which this plumage abnormality had
been documented, but there is no indication of the
source of this species’ inclusion in either case. In
addition neither listed other species of Melanerpes
woodpeckers. There is a specimen of a melanistic
Red-headed Woodpecker at the Los Angeles
Museum of Natural History (LACM 6304) that
exhibits a gray wash over the plumage that is much
less extensive than the bird discovered in 2012.
That specimen is an adult collected in Washington
County, Pennsylvania on 11 March 1897. There
are published reports of a melanistic Pileated
Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) collected in
Georgia (Short 1965) and of a Hairy Woodpecker
(Picoides villosus) collected in New Mexico (Short
1969). There are recent photographs of melanistic
Downy Woodpeckers (Picoides pubescens)
published on the Internet ranging from a gray wash