The bird sounds of Houston

Open your Houston windows to the soft, hot humidity early in the morning and listen. You may hear tires on asphalt of the West Loop, but you will also hear the birds. Just five species fill much of the sound canvas, white-winged doves, Carolina wrens, northern mockingbirds, great-tailed grackles, and northern cardinals. Learn these five, and see how long into your day it takes to hear all of them.

White-winged dove

White-winged doves are new, surging into Houston from a Galveston introduction only in the late 1980s. To me their sound was once exotic, typical of McAllen along with the chachalacas down on the border.  Is it global warming or human transport that has let them overwhelm the dove community of Houston? Their song is barred owl-like, but much softer, who cooks for you?

Carolina wrens are the noisy, tiny birds no one ever sees. Put a little wren house up in a scrubby corner of your yard and help these jewels out. They have the long wren tail at an angle and a defiant white eye stripe. Pay attention to this song, for you will realize it is one you hear daily. You might even spot a little wren disappearing into a brush pile, or atop the wooden fence built after Hurricane Ike took down the original one.


Northern mockingbird

Of all the birds on this list, no doubt northern mockingbirds are the one you know. The males sing to their mates from up high, varying their song as they try for flamboyance. They will flutter up in fights as they divide Houston into mockingbird territories. Or they may be witnessed dancing along their borders, one hop after the other, as so many of my students discovered. If songs were tails, mockingbirds would be peacocks.


Great-tailed grackle


Great-tailed grackles make improbable sounds resembling cars backing up or metal clashing when the males court the females, rushing them with ever closing circles of blue-black feathers. Then here they nest in the trees along freeway medians when parks are not available.

Northern cardinals may sing the way a child might imagine the arch typical bird to sing, in pure simple notes. They will be a backdrop to any Houston morning.

High above are the chimney swifts, seldom settling except when they swoop into their night time roosts. Spring is here when their chips are above us.

Dusk is for the night hawks, night for the screech owls, and the toads. So leave your windows open as long as you can, Houston, at least through May.

About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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3 Responses to The bird sounds of Houston

  1. Pingback: Bigger and Better… | PAVEing a Blog

  2. Jo says:

    I was just in Houston for a conference, and I heard an astounding amount of birdsong (not doubt echoing and amplified by the buildings) when I walked downtown at night. I did hear some car-ish song, which you say above was grackles. Who else was singing to me on a January night from the small trees lining the streets?

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