WIRED TO NATURE • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •For outside-the-norm winter birding,
do go near the water
By Eric Duran
One of my favorite winter
wildlife occurrences along
the Gulf Coast of Texas is the
appearance of winter waterbirds. The
lakes and other bodies of water in our
area receive millions of ducks, but we
also get a variety of other non-duck
water birds, like grebes, loons, coots
and cormorants. To view some of
these birds, you need to head down to
the coast or out to a large state park or wildlife refuge.
In this month’s article, however, we’re going to look at three
species you can see at lakes and ponds in our area.
We’ll start with one of my favorite ducks. Wood Ducks live in
swamps and lakes bordered with trees across much of North
America. They nest in East Texas but only really venture into
the city in the winter (when they’re not breeding). Female
Wood Ducks nest in tree cavities, like old woodpecker nest
holes, as high as 60 feet. The ducklings usually jump from the
nest and into the water or (leaf padded) ground below within 24
hours of hatching. The females are mostly brown, and the males
have gorgeous green and white heads. The lake and reflecting
pond at Hermann Park are a good place to see them in winter.
American Coots are often mistaken for ducks, but a quick look
at their pointy wedge-like beaks and flanged toes (as opposed
to webbed toes) show you that they’re different birds. They are
actually more closely related to rails and cranes. We have Coots
in the area year-round, but their numbers greatly increase
here this time of year, as birds from the North migrate down to
overwinter. These noisy water birds can be found at many parks
in the area with ponds and lakes and are very common, often
being the only waterbird around.
Cormorants, like the Double-crested Cormorant, are also
not ducks but are related to gannets and frigatebirds. These
birds are well adapted to dive deep for fish and other small
aquatic animals. Unlike ducks, who waterproof their feathers,
cormorants have feathers that become water-logged, thus
keeping their buoyancy low, allowing them to stay underwater
for awhile. Cormorants are not found in our area during the
season but show up
around town in larger
lakes and along the bayous in winter. Buffalo Bayou Park and
Hermann Park are good places to view them.
If you head out to any parks with lakes and ponds this winter,
you should be able to see some of these wintering water birds.
Some recommended locations outside of the city for water bird
watching are Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, San Bernard
NWR, Anahuac NWR, Brazos Bend State Park and the Baytown
If you’d like to go out and look for water birds with one of
our Nature Discovery Center naturalists, join Mary Ann
Beauchemin on the third Saturdays of January and February at
the Willow Waterhole. More info about these bird counts can be
found at naturediscoverycenter.org/activities/willowwaterhole/
or by calling us at 713-667-6550.
Duran is the head naturalist at the Nature Discovery
Center, 7112 Newcastle Dr., Bellaire.