Bird City, USA
Port Aransas is for the birds. The South Texas town, along with Bastrop, Dallas, and Houston, are among the first certified Bird Cities in Texas. The certification from Audubon Texas and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department recognizes these communities for undertaking community engagement, habitat management, and threat reduction for birds.
It comes at a time of growing scientific evidence of stress on our feathered friends. Scientists recently estimated that since 1970, North America lost more than one in four birds, or nearly three billion total. The causes include pesticide use, insect declines, climate change, outdoor cats, and glass skyscrapers (birds are killed when flying into reflective glass). Migratory species also deal with changing conditions along their routes and in winter habitats. Audubon’s Survival by Degrees report says that two-thirds of North American birds face greater risk of extinction due to increasing temperatures globally.
By preserving green spaces, Bird Cities help people, too. Humans enjoy better health and well-being around nature. According to TPWD, bird-friendly habitat increases property values and helps control insects. Plus, the designation provides economic benefits to communities by helping them attract more of the state’s 2.2 million bird watchers.
Those bird watchers and other travelers can take advantage of better nature-watching conditions and special events. Port Aransas has a website guide to the best destinations for those on a quest for birds and nature down at the coast.
Bastrop is also making its 277 different species of birds feel more at home by addressing light pollution and adding infrastructure. Top birding spots include Bastrop and Buescher State Parks and LCRA McKinney Roughs Nature Park.
Houston Audubon offers a website with a map to the city’s best birding spots as well as tips for novice birders and for residents who want to make their surroundings more bird-friendly. In Dallas, the Trinity River Audubon Center is a great place to start learning about and looking for birds, as are the city’s nature trails.
Olivia Schmidt, TPWD outreach specialist, says that communities must meet a minimum number of criteria and promise to continue to meet them three years in order to become certified.
“We had 10 communities apply for this first round,” she says. “All of them have been doing wonderful work and we encourage them to continue those efforts. We’ll work closely with them to help them meet the qualifications. A valuable thing that comes out of this is it unifies a lot of conservation and environmental groups into one collaborative effort.
“This is a wonderful program for communities with a long-term vision that includes green spaces and wildlife. Birds are a great umbrella species; conservation for them benefits other wildlife as well.”
Current Bird City Texas certifications last through 2022. Other communities can apply for the next round of certifications in early summer 2020.