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Just passing through – a few migrating birds to discover

– a few migrating birds to discover

Nashville Warbler. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Published in the McAllen Monitor, November 18, 2023,

Story and photos by Anita Westervelt, Texas Master Naturalist

The Nashville warbler probably won’t be crossing the stage at a Country Music Awards ceremony, but one crossed the path of my camera recently. It was perhaps just passing through on its way to its winter territory which may be anywhere from central Mexico to northern South America, although they can winter as far north as the tip of Texas.

The bird caught my attention working a mesquite tree, looking for insects, its main diet. They forage in middle levels at the outer edges of trees, which is where I noticed the busy fella. The bird’s food choices include flies, grasshoppers, caterpillars, leafhoppers, aphids and beetles.

The Nashville warbler is a small bird, less than five inches long with a wingspan of seven- and one-half inches. It has a prominent white eye-ring, a plain olive back and wings, yellow throat, chest and undertail, a white belly and a gray head. The Male has a rust crown patch that is just visible in the image I captured.

The Nashville warbler does not breed in Tennessee but is a common migrant across that state in spring and fall. The name comes from the specimen that pioneer birdman Alexander Wilson collected on the banks of the Cumberland River while the bird was migrating through Tennessee in 1811. They breed in New England, eastern Canada and the Pacific Northwest.

Other birds you may see this time of year include pewees, flycatchers and other warblers. Blue-gray gnatcatchers might be seen around the outer branch tips of trees, flicking their tail to startle insects so they can catch them in flight. Some may stick around the Valley, although many continue on into Mexico for the winter.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Least Flycatchers migrate to Southern Mexico to Panama (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

The orange-crowned warbler is a fairly common winter Valley visitor, but many migrate from their breeding grounds in Canada to spend the winter in Mexico, Guatemala and Belize. They flit from the ground to treetops, foraging for ants, beetles, spiders and flies.

Orange-crowned Warbler. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

The Eastern wood-pewee, noticeable because of its yellowish-orange lower mandible and blackish colored upper perch on exposed branches in a tree, fly out to snag an insect from the air and return to its perch. Their home range is the eastern half of the United States above the lower Southern states. They mostly migrate over land through Texas and Mexico, while some cross the Caribbean to get to their winter home in northern South America.

Eastern Wood-pewee. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

For an overview of Rio Grande Valley wildlife parks and refuges that foster native habitats for birds and other wildlife, visit

In addition, this year marks the 100th anniversary of Texas State Parks. Estero Llano Grande State Park’s 100-year event is being celebrated today, Saturday, November 18, with an Outdoor Family Fiesta, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Park entry is free for the day. The event includes guided tours, wildlife displays, archery and an afternoon bike tour. Park staff keep a running tally of birds seen in the park, and list them on a board at the visitor center. The park is at 3301 International Boulevard in Weslaco.

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