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Special Collections & University Archives: Native Birds

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Native Birds Research Guide


The purpose of this guide is to provide a list of research resources for anyone interested in learning about native birds of the lower Rio Grande Valley of deep South Texas, including the green jay, chachalaca, great kiskadee, hook-billed ite, white-tipped dove, common pauraque, and couch's kingbird. Included in this research guide are links to our archival and digital collections along with recommendations for reference materials and books from our catalog. Also included are resources available from external sources. 


The Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas stretches across 4,300 square miles and four counties - Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr and Willacy.  The LRGV is home to more than 500 species making it one of the most popular birding areas in the United States. Birds play an important role in the building of a healthy ecosystem by dispersing seeds especially of native plants. They also serve as pollinators and feed on a variety of insects, rodents and other small animals ensuring a proper balance in their ecosystem. 

Native Birds of the Rio Grande Valley

Black and white photograph of a green jay

Green Jay

Green Jays (Cyanocorax yncas) are typically found where there is sufficient cover and dense forested areas. The best way to see these South Texas specialties is to travel to one of the area’s great refuges and parks, such as Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge and Sabal Palm Grove near the visitor center feeders. Though these loud birds are hard to miss in the open, they can be hard to spot among the leaves when they are silent and still. 

What do I sound like? Click here to listen.

Cool facts: The oldest recorded Green Jay was at least 11 years, 7 months old and lived in Texas.

Migration Pattern

Permanent resident.  

Black and white photograph of a chachalaca standing on a broken tree branch


Plain Chachalaca (Ortalis vetula) is a locally common resident throughout the Valley, occupying dense woodlands from Falcon Dam to the Laguna Madre. Most often seen at refuge feeders these noisy birds often travel in small groups, yet sometimes are found in large groups of up to 30 birds or more. Chachalacas are often seen foraging along the ground, climbing in trees, or gliding from the mid-canopy levels of tall shade trees. These birds feed in trees or on the ground on fruit, diet in south Texas is mostly vegetarian including berries of coyotillo, pigeonberry, and hackberry plus seeds, leaves, buds, and flowers. Also eats a few insects and snails.

Migration Pattern

Permanent resident.

Black and white photograph of a great kiskadee

Great Kiskadee

The Great Kiskadee (Pitangus sulphuratus), named for its ringing kis-ka-dee calls, is part of the tryrant flycather family. This common, noisy, omnivorous bird can be found in open grasslands with scattered trees to urban areas. Its radiant pattern is unique in North America but in tropical areas these birds look almost identical to other flycatchers. These birds can be found mostly in South Texas, Central America and Argentina they are also very common in Bermuda, where they were introduced in the 1950's in attempt to control the number of lizards. Kiskadees like to hunt on their own or in pairs, this aggressive bird has a strong maneuverable flight that helps catch insects in the air, it also grabs lizards from tree trunks, eats many berries, and even plunges into ponds to catch small fish.  

What do I sound like? Click here to listen. 

Migration Pattern

Permanent resident throughout its range. Very rarely strays north to Arizona (from western Mexico) and Louisiana.

Color photograph of a hook-billed kite with something in its beak

Hook-billed Kite

Hook-billed Kite (Chondrohierax uncinatus) a permanent resident, most commonly found in Hidalgo and Starr Counties. These birds like to wander to areas where there is high concentration of tree snails. Part of the Hawk and Eagle family, this sluggish tropical hawk was found in south Texas in 1964 and has frequented the area since 1975. They tend to flock in groups and are most often seen from April through October. (Photo by John Arvin. Image Source: World Birding Center)

What do I sound like? Click here to listen. 

Migration Pattern

Apparently permanent resident throughout its range; present year-round in southern Texas.

Color photograph of a white-tipped dove standing

White-tipped Dove

The White-tipped Dove (Leptotila verreauxi) part of the pigeons and dove family is a common resident throughout the Rio Grande Valley. Often seen in dense woodlands and identifiable by it's distinctive low pitched wo-woo-ooo call. These birds feed on berries and fruits near the ground including those of hackberry and prickly pear cactus. (Photo by Brad McKinney. Image Source: World Birding Center)

What do I sound like? Click here to listen. 

Learn more: Factors Influencing Nest Survival of White-tipped Doves in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Texas



Migration Pattern

Permanent resident throughout its range.

Photograph of the Common Kingfisher camouflaged by the ground cover

Common Pauraque

Image Source: Kingfisher Newsletter, Vol.11, No. 1 (2014)


What do I sound like? Click here to listen.

Migration Patron

Permanent resident, but less conspicuous in winter.

Couch's Kingbird

Couch's Kingbird (Tyrannus couchii) are most often seen perched on telephone lines along highways. These migratory birds are easier to spot in the summertime and can be found in a variety of habitats including urban areas, woodlands and on trees near water. The Couch’s Kingbird is named for Lieutenant Darius Nash Couch, a naturalist and soldier from the United States who collected the first scientific specimen near San Diego, Nuevo León, Mexico, in 1853. (Photo by John Arvin. Image Source: World Birding Center).

What do I sound like? Click here to listen. 

Strange fact: RGV is home to the least popular bird in the United States, the Couch Kingbird. 

Migration Pattern

Present all year in southern Texas, but more common in summer; winter numbers are variable. Rarely strays north along Gulf Coast; accidental east to Florida.

Archival Resources & Digital Collections

Archival Resources

Reference Files (ELIBR-0062)

The reference files contain articles, clippings, flyers, brochures, maps, and other ephemera collected by the Library Special Collections on topics concerning the Lower Rio Grande Valley Collection pertaining to the geographic region of southern Texas and northeastern Mexico. Many of these materials are protected by U.S. Copyright Law.

Ruben Hinojosa Congressional Papers (ELIBR-0146)

The Congressional Papers of Rubén Hinojosa consists of 291 linear feet of materials dating from 1997 - 2016. The papers were created during Rubén Hinojosa's time as an elected official in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1997 - 2016, representing the 15th Congressional District in South Texas. The collection consists of legislative material as well as casework of local projects and issues.

RGV Promotional Literature Collection (ELIBR-0151)

Digital Collections

Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge

Selected photographs from Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge was founded on 2,088 acres in 1943 and is home to nearly 400 bird species, and on the migration route of thousands of birds. Half of all butterfly species found in North America may be found in Santa Ana, and 450 types of plants. It has also been the home of the ocelot and jaguarundi. An ancient Spanish cemetery resides within its borders surrounded by 100-year-old hand-hewn ebony fence.

Theses and Dissertations - UTB/UTPA

External Organizations & Resources

Research Compiled by Adela Cadena

Adela Cadena is a Library Assistant II with UTRGV Special Collections and Archives. She joined the legacy institution, UTPA, in 2002. Adela earned a Bachelor of Business Administration in Management from UTRGV in 2019. She has over 20 years working in academic and public libraries and is passionate about customer service.

Books from Our Catalog

Did You Know about the Legend of Big Bird

In January 1976 several reports were collected by officials of sightings of an enormous, man-sized bird that was seen soaring through the skies. in South Texas eyewitnesses described this big bird to be around 5 feet tall with wings folded around its body and large dark red eyes. Feathers found by eyewitness claimed that they were over 3 feet long and 3 inches wide. Sighting of this big bird continued for a few months in the Valley and up to San Antonio. 

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