Rio Grande Valley Texas Birding and Butterfly Watching Hot Spots
- Rio Grande Valley Texas Birding and Butterfly Watching Hot Spots
- South Texas Birding Parks
- Adolph Thomae County Park
- Bentsen – Rio Grande Valley State Park
- Boca Chica Beach
- Brownsville Sanitary Landfill
- Delta Lake
- Edinburg Wetlands World Birding Center
- Estero Llano Grande State Park World Birding Center
- Falcon State Park and Falcon County Park
- Frontera Audubon Sanctuary
- Harlingen Arroyo Colorado World Birding Center
- El Sal del Rey
- Inn at El Canelo
- Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge
- Llano Grande Lake
- Los Ebanos Preserve
- National Butterfly Center
- Old Hidalgo Pumphouse World Birding Center
- Quinta Mazatlan World Birding Center
- Resaca de la Palma State Park World Birding Center
- Roma Bluffs World Birding Center
- Sabal Palm Grove Sanctuary
- San Ygnacio Bird Sanctuary
- Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge
- South Padre Island Board Walk
- Valley Nature Center
- Weslaco Water Treatment Plant
- World Birding Center
- Rio Grande Valley Birding Itinerary
The Rio Grande Valley nature scene is filled with many natural hot spots. The more hot spots you visit in South Texas, the more species you will find. The Rio Grande has hundreds of good bird and butterfly spots, nature trails, and more.
The counties of Starr, Hidalgo, Cameron, and Willacy, also known as the Rio Grande Valley, make up the best Texas bird-watching area in North America. Texas has more than 500 species of birds, and the entire American Birding Association area has 914 bird species. The Rio Grande Valley has more than 50 native birds found nowhere else in the United States. Other birds pass through the area during seasonal migrations, making South Texas a hot spot for the richest and most diverse birding experience in the United States and Canada.
The area’s ecosystem is outstanding because of many factors, including the intersection of desert and tropical vegetation zones, the mix of ocean and freshwater resources, forest, bush, grassland, desert, and sand dune, and its location under the confluence of the major eastern and central migration flyways.
South Texas Birding Parks
- Cost – Most places charge a modest admission fee of about $2.50 per person to $5 per person. The National Wildlife Refuges charges $3 per car. Other Texas parks and wildlife places offer free admission.
- Hours – Opening times change, so it is best to check with websites for the latest information. Some private sanctuaries are closed Monday and Sunday mornings.
The Rio Grande Valley has 80 great bird-watching sites, with more being added each year, so birders from all over the world flock to this unique area to enjoy birding and to fill their lists of Texas birds they’ve seen. These are just a few of them.
Adolph Thomae County Park
Arroyo City, Texas
This brush area and wetland is a perfect Texas fishing spot. The site has many fishing piers to catch anything from catfish to speckled trout. The area is also a popular birding spot.
This Texas recreational park has many native trees on a Resaca adjoining the Rio Grande River. It is an excellent spot for birding, seeing such birds as warblers, Gray Hawk, Green Kingfishers, and Ringed Kingfisher along the river bank. Check with the Mission Chamber of Commerce for contact information and directions.
Bentsen – Rio Grande Valley State Park
Texas wildlife is in full force at this Texas park. Brushland and some riparian forest trees sit between a Resaca and the Rio Grande River. The cost of entrance is $5 per person. Access to the park is restricted – no cars are allowed, but bike rentals are available, or you can wait up to 1 ½ hour to board a bus and be dropped off in the park. Outdoor lovers wanting to enjoy the Rio Grande Valley weather can also choose to hike several miles. Bird feeding has largely been eliminated, but the area is still good for bird watching. A new hawk watch platform, which is handicap accessible, is accessible off the Rio Grande trail. Three feeding sites can be viewed at Bentsen from behind blinds, which is excellent for photographers.
Boca Chica Beach
Near Brownsville, Texas
Boca Chica Beach offers a variety of outdoor recreational activities, including fishing, swimming, surfing, and more. It’s also an excellent area for Texas birding. It’s a good area to spot some specialty birds. Check with the Brownsville Chamber of Commerce for more information.
Brownsville Sanitary Landfill
Outside Brownsville, Texas
The Brownsville Sanitary Landfill is a well-known birding spot for a collection of gulls, vultures, some raptors, and waterfowl and waders after a good rain. The area is usually only open Monday-Friday during regular business hours. For more information, check with the Brownsville Chamber of Commerce or Sable Palm Audubon Sanctuary.
Falcon Heights, Texas
The old RV park is a good spot for Texas birding in South Texas. You can find a variety of Rio Grande Valley specialty birds, such as the Brown Jay, Audubon’s Oriole, Red-billed Pigeon, Muscov, and more. There are bird feeders on private land, and an admission fee is required. There is also public access to the river on a dirt road. However, it is a steep, rough road so drive very carefully. It is open seven days a week. For more information, contact the Roma Chamber of Commerce.
North of Weslaco, Highway 88
This area is a suitable habitat for Texas birding. Freshwater, grassland, and brush birds can all be seen here. Crested Caracara, White-tailed Hawk, White-tailed Kite, and many other raptors may be seen on surrounding farmland. Contact the Weslaco Chamber of Commerce for more information.
Edinburg Wetlands World Birding Center
This South Texas center is an excellent spot for birding – as it has an aquatic and brush habitat that attracts resident Texas birds and migrants. There are six acres of significant butterfly habitats perfect for butterfly watching.
Estero Llano Grande State Park World Birding Center
Texas wildlife is spread across 176 acres of wetlands, grasslands, and thorn brush. This is an excellent location for waterfowl, waders, migrants, and busy hummingbird feeders adjoining red-blooming Turk’s Cap. It has the most imaginative visitor center in the Valley, with its deck extending over the edge of a wetland. Birders can sit and bird watch from the covered patio. This new center is one of the favorite Rio Grande Valley hot spots.
Falcon State Park and Falcon County Park
Falcon Heights, Texas
One of the finest Texas parks and wildlife centers is located in South Texas and offers camping, swimming, excellent Texas fishing, a hiking trail, and more. The state park is 572 acres of land perfect for spotting dry land birds such as Scaled Quail and Black-throated Sparrow. It’s also an excellent area for the Greater Roadrunner. Another 30 acres is suitable for sparrows and smaller species. Both parks are good for camping and RVs. The area is open seven days a week.
Frontera Audubon Sanctuary
Perfect for Texas birding along its hiking trails, this Texas Park is 15 acres of tall trees and wetlands that attract many specialty and rare birds. There are good feeders and plenty of benches along the hiking trails.
Harlingen Arroyo Colorado World Birding Center
Also known as Hugh Ramsey Park, this Texas Park is 50 acres on the Arroyo Colorado, home to native trees and shrubs, and offers good Texas birding and butterfly watching. The park is open seven days a week.
El Sal del Rey
North of Alamo, Texas – West of Raymondville, Texas
This is one of over 100 tracts comprising the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge. It is accessed on foot from several entry points and hiking trails and is suitable for dry land Texas birding. For more information, contact the Alamo Chamber of Commerce.
Inn at El Canelo
near Raymondville, Texas
Texas birding takes a new direction at Inn at El Canelo with the spotting of the Ferruginous Pygmy Owl. The owl family lives next to the ranch headquarters, and it is the only place in South Texas where a birder can count on seeing this unique owl. This is a private ranch, and bird watching is by reservation only. A significant admission fee is also charged.
Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge
Rio Hondo, Texas
This wildlife refuge offers nature enthusiasts a variety of outdoor events and sights to see through numerous hiking and nature trails. The sanctuary has abundant plant life and waterways that attract multiple butterflies. Butterfly watchers are sure to see plenty of fluttering.
Llano Grande Lake
The Llano Grande Lake is an excellent Rio Grande Valley aquatic area for bird watching. Species such as the White Pelican and wading birds can be seen here. The species count varies with water level and is best in the winter. The bridge is a good spot for spotting cave swallows. Estero Llano Grande State Park will be opening this summer, providing only public access to Llano Grande Lake.
Los Ebanos Preserve
San Benito, Texas
Butterfly watchers and lovers can enjoy butterfly watching at its best at the beautiful 82-acre private nature park. There are many self-guided nature trails to see the Rio Grande Valley’s nature and wildlife in comfort and ease – on park benches or under a pavilion. Butterflies sighted at the preserve include Giant Swallowtails, White Peacock, Zebra, and more.
National Butterfly Center
The nation’s premier wild butterflies site is in Mission, Texas. This 100-acre nature center offers butterfly watchers the chance to see some of the most beautiful native and migratory butterfly species in incredible volume and variety. The National Butterfly center is dedicated to environmental education and conservation to protect wild butterflies.
Old Hidalgo Pumphouse World Birding Center
Offering 600 acres of rich river lands adjacent to the historic restored irrigation pump house, this recently opened site is a good bird stop for excellent bird watching in South Texas. It offers miles of bicycle and hiking trails through the native brushland. It’s a good spot for spotting Texas birds native to the Rio Grande Valley and migrants. It also offers the chance to explore the Rio Grande Valley’s history of taming the Rio Grande River and to see the massive irrigation pumps used to lift water from the river onto the land. The park is open seven days a week.
Quinta Mazatlan World Birding Center
This quiet 25-acre site in McAllen is a 10-minute walk or three-minute drive from the International Airport. It offers excellent birding in South Texas for many Rio Grande Valley specialties in a striking park with hiking trails through native thorn brush on its periphery. The park surrounds a historic adobe brick showpiece home and an impressive visitor center. Quinta Mazatlan offers the scents and sights of Tropical Texas in a beautiful package. This is a Texas Park not to be missed.
Resaca de la Palma State Park World Birding Center
The latest area to jump on board as one of the Rio Grande Valley’s premier Texas parks and wildlife locations are slated to open in the Spring or Summer of 2008. The area will be a perfect spot for birders alike to gather for one of the best Texas birding experiences in South Texas.
Roma Bluffs World Birding Center
An exciting dual birding and historic site is now open with many improvements in progress. The Roma Bluffs offer the best view of the Rio Grande in the Rio Grande Valley – from a deck on top of the Roma Bluffs, which is the focal point of this center. It is in the process of being restored, and in a building already restored is a visitor center with excellent displays and a nature bookshop. A trail will be opened to lead visitors to the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge tract on the river. The deck is open seven days a week.
Sabal Palm Grove Sanctuary
Since 2003, this wildlife center has been restoring 150 acres of fallow agricultural field, which now has dense shrubs and 20-foot trees. The butterfly garden center sees a variety of butterfly species. With more than 3 miles of nature trails and wildlife viewing areas, butterfly watchers are bound to see some interesting butterflies.
This site offers excellent winter birding. Volunteers maintain feeders from late November to late March, providing a great viewing bird watching spot. Good for Brown Jay, Audubon’s Oriole, Red-billed Pigeon, Muscovy (on the river), and other Rio Grande Valley bird specialties. There are limited hours of operation, usually from 7:30 am to 4:00 pm, 7 days a week. Donations are encouraged and recommended to pay for volunteers’ bird feed since volunteers pay for feed out of their pocket.
San Ygnacio Bird Sanctuary
San Ygnacio, Texas
This private bird sanctuary is the best place for viewing White-collared Seedeaters, and good for other Rio Grande Valley specialty birds and great for butterfly watching.
Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge
Described as the jewel of the U.S. National Wildlife system, this 2,088-acre sanctuary along the winding Rio Grande, with its extensive hiking trail system, is the top bird-watching spot in South Texas. It attracts 150,000 to 200,000 visitors a year but is never crowded. The refuge also has a productive butterfly garden perfect for butterfly-watching. Some great feeders attract Green Jays, Inca Doves, Buff-bellied Hummingbirds, and many other Texas birds. Santa Ana is also known for many sightings of rarities. In addition to South Texas mesquite brush and resacas, Santa Ana offers the best example of riparian forest remaining along the Rio Grande.
South Padre Island Board Walk
South Padre Island, Texas
The boardwalk is excellent for birding and watching shore and wetland birds. The shrubby regions are also very popular with migrants in season. It is a very productive area for such a small region.
Valley Nature Center
The center is one of the oldest Texas wildlife centers in the Rio Grande Valley. This 6- acre park offers the most incredible diversity of flora in the Rio Grande Valley and, therefore, also the most incredible variety of butterflies – perfect for butterfly watching. It’s also perfect for bird watching and some exciting odonates. The center is excellent in native plant nurseries. Membership is available and keeps you in touch with what is happening in the Rio Grande Valley and Texas wildlife.
Weslaco Water Treatment Plant
The plant is productive for waterfowl, particularly in the winter. Open 8 am to 5 pm Monday thru Friday. Contact the Weslaco EDC for more information.
World Birding Center
Rio Grande Valley
The World Birding Center is an organization with numerous Rio Grande Valley locations. From the western drylands of Starr County to the sandy shores of South Padre Island, the World Birding Center locations bring together a new appreciation of the Rio Grande Valley’s culture by expanding and maintaining our wildlife refuges and historical landmarks.
Rio Grande Valley Birding Itinerary
Whether you have a short stopover time in the Rio Grande Valley, a lovely long week, or an entire winter, and whether you’re here in Spring or Fall or whenever, here are some suggested itineraries to get you started. A few assumptions are made: You have not birded the Valley before and have access to a rental car. The sites listed will maximize both migratory and resident species. If you are near other birding sites, parks, or refuges not listed, visit them confidently! The birding up and down the Valley is consistently terrific.
1 DAY Rio Grande Valley Birding
- Estero Llano Grande State Park
- If on the west end of Lower Rio Grande Valley: Bentsen State Park
- If on SPI: Convention Centre / Birding & Nature Center boardwalks
- Laguna Atascosa NWR
3 DAYS Rio Grande Valley Birding
- Day 1: SPI / Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge (NWR)
- Day 2: Estero Llano Grande / Santa Ana NWR
- Day 3: Bentsen State Park / National Butterfly Center / Quinta Mazatlan
- Edinburg Scenic Wetlands (choose two)
5 DAYS Rio Grande Valley Birding
- Day 1: SPI
- Day 2: Laguna Atascosa NWR / Sabal Palm Sanctuary
- (via Old Port Isabel Rd)
- Day 3: Estero Llano Grande / Frontera Audubon
- Day 4: Santa Ana NWR
- Day 5: Bentsen State Park
7 DAYS Rio Grande Valley Birding
- Day 1: SPI / Laguna Atascosa NWR
- Day 2: Sabal Palm Sanctuary / Resaca de la Palma State Park
- Day 3: Ranch Country / El Sal del Rey
- Day 4: Estero Llano Grande / Santa Ana NWR
- Day 5: Roma Bluffs / Salineno / Upper Rio Grande / Falcon Dam
- Day 6: Bentsen State Park / NABA
- Day 7: Mop up! Return to your favorite park for missed species!
MORE THAN 7 DAYS Suggestions
Move slower, spending an entire day in the larger parks, or add in the north of South Texas – the Coastal Bend area of Corpus Christi and Port Aransas. Highly recommended if you are here from October to March when the wintering Whooping Cranes are in residence at Aransas NWR.