You know the spots: Whole Foods on Lamar, the Central Market Cafe and practically any H-E-B parking lot at dusk. No, we aren’t talking about places you can find groceries in Austin, we’re talking about birds. Specifically grackles: the urban birds that Austinites love to hate (grackles even have their own reviews on Yelp!). But despite their ubiquitous nature and distinctive call, grackles aren’t the only birds you’ll find around here. In fact, you might be surprised to learn that central Texas is one of the most diverse areas in terms of bird populations in all of the Americas. In addition to dozens of permanent species, it also serves as a stopping ground for hundreds of species’ migratory patterns.

So where are these birds? If you’re serious about birdwatching, or “birding” as the practitioners say, take a trip to the Hornsby Bend Observatory in Austin. Or, for the more casual observer, spending some time in your backyard might suffice. Below is a roundup of some of Austin’s most common feathered creatures and where to find them.

Green parrots: fact vs. fiction.

You’ve probably heard some version of the legend of Austin’s green parrots. Some say they escaped from an RV park near the downtown YMCA where they were caged pets in the 1970s. Others claim they arrived on the scene through a mishandled shipment that was lost at the airport. Whichever origin story you chose to support, here are some facts about these squawking, florescent birds:

  • Green parrot is an adequate description, but they are actually Monk Parakeets.
  • Monk Parakeets are native to South America where they nest in tall, deciduous and evergreen trees (aha moment: perhaps that’s why you often hear them before you see their nests in towering wooden and metal structures around the city).
  • They are the only species of parrot that nests communally (aha moment number two: maybe that’s why their nests are so massive).

There’s been quite a bit of chatter about monk parakeets on the Austin scene lately. First because they were displaced from the UT intramural fields when the field lights (where more than 300 birds nested) came down under renovation last October, and second because Austin Energy and the Travis Audubon Society are currently at odds regarding Monk Parakeets’ nesting habits. Austin Energy says the birds’ nests are a fire hazard for power lines and need to come down before they short-circuit the lines. Travis Audubon says the birds need to be removed humanely and not during the time they are laying eggs (April – July). While these two groups try to sort out their differences, in the meantime you can spot Monk Parakeets by the Town Lake Y, in Mueller and other areas—like Allandale and even along the Drag—in Central Austin. If you aren’t sure where to find them, look high for cell phone towers and electric boxes…or just keep your ears open for their noisy chatter.

Purple Martin: popular bird or artisan cocktail?

Is it possible that birdwatching has become more popular than batwatching in Austin? Just ask those who follow the Purple Martins, which also sounds like a professional sports team or a fancy cocktail. Purple Martins roost (that’s bird talk for settle or stay) in Austin during July and August. In recent years they’ve hunkered down at the Highland Mall then Capital Plaza and, this year, Austin Land & Cattle. If you’re cool with having hundreds of thousands of birds fly over your head at dusk, this is an event you don’t want to miss.  Stay up to date on “Purple Martin Parties” and other bird news by visiting Travis Audubon.

Backyard Birds:

From the hills of Westlake, where hummingbirds are often buzzing around, to most suburban landscapes where you’ll find Blue Jays, Cardinals, Mourning Doves and Red-Bellied Woodpeckers among others, your average Austin backyard can serve as its own bird sanctuary. Pay attention to the “regulars,” like the Northern Mockingbird and American Robin, and those who just stop in for a season or two, like the American Goldfinch and Cedar Waxwing (winter) or the Chimney Swift and Painted Bunting (summer into fall). Whatever your level of interest, be sure to grab a pair of binoculars and a camera to make the most of your birding adventures!