Texas is well known for its unique and abundant wildlife. From the iconic nine-banded armadillo to the tiny Texas horned lizard, we share our state with lots of interesting critters. Especially the birds that not only Texas, but Southlake in particular. Our City falls in what is known as the Cross Timbers region of the state, which contains a distinct combination of prairies and forests – perfect for many types of birds to call home year-round or visit as they migrate. To learn more about the City’s unique avian life, we spoke to local ornithologist from the Southlake Ornithological Society, Dr. Ray Chancellor.
Chancellor has always been invested in the environment. As a Texas native who grew up in the countryside, having an extensive knowledge and connection to the outdoors comes natural to him. His career as a chemistry teacher was accompanied by being involved in bird banding efforts for 25 years and serving as the president of the Central Texas Audubon Society. While assisting with bird banding (a common practice used to track and identify birds in the wild for study), he discovered Southlake.
By 1993, he and his wife, Dinah, decided to make it their home specifically because of the abundance of wildlife that could be found here. Chancellor is an active voice in the region, having led and presented over 500 programs on the local environment and birds to various social clubs, city councils and residents. By conducting these programs, he hopes to eliminate the education disparity that many have when it comes to the natural world around them.
As for birds, Chancellor said there are nearly 150 to 170 different species that can be found in Southlake throughout the year. Yet, birds everywhere are facing many challenges such as climate change and habitat loss that are causing their numbers to decline. It now often falls to people to act and combat such challenges in support of our feathered friends. Locally, Southlake has been able to contribute to the rebound of an iconic bird species that was once facing the detrimental effects of habitat loss – the eastern bluebird. According to Chancellor, eastern bluebird populations fell by nearly 70% in the 1970s on account of being unable to find adequate sites to nest and reproduce. However, a volunteer effort to build and install bluebird boxes that began in the northeastern United States saw their population return to stable numbers.
Today, you can see Southlake’s role in bluebird conservation by visiting our City’s Bluebird Trailhead at Bob Jones Nature Center and Preserve and observing, from a distance, the various boxes along the trail that are carefully maintained by volunteers. If you live near a source of water and an open area where you can install your own nesting box, you may be lucky enough to even attract a nesting pair to your backyard!
When asked what threats are most pertinent to the vast array of bird life in Southlake, Chancellor said habitat loss and destruction. Although the provision of bluebird boxes has been beneficial in restoring eastern bluebird populations, there are still many other bird species who are seeing declining numbers primarily on account of habitat loss. We can help support these at-risk populations by maintaining both our wooded and open areas as well as providing the various plants these birds rely on for both food and shelter. Additionally, it is important not to disturb any birds you may encounter.
Beyond the eastern bluebird, Chancellor said another unique species people may be able to spot around town is the painted bunting. The males boast a vibrant array of blue, green and red feathers while the females are a beautiful yellow green. Each year, they migrate into Texas from their winter homes in Central America to breed. Other notable visitors include the indigo bunting, blue grosbeak and the endangered whooping crane – all of which visit Southlake as part of their annual migration patterns.
Additionally, Chancellor pointed out how few realize that as many as 19 species of sparrows can be found in Southlake during the year, making our City one of the very best sparrow viewing sites in Texas. His personal favorite birds that visit the area are the summer tanager, white-eyed vireo, and Harris’s sparrow.
If you are interested in learning more about bird life in Southlake or would like to interact with other local bird enthusiasts, visit the