A crow's tale

Nov. 30, 2017 at 10:01 p.m.
Updated Dec. 1, 2017 at 1 a.m.

Tamaulipas Crow on East Beach in Galveston.

Tamaulipas Crow on East Beach in Galveston.   Contributed photo by Denise Stephens for The Victoria Advocate

Martin Hagne

Every once in a while, birds do crazy stuff, like, getting lost. Migrating birds overshoot their destinations or go the wrong way altogether. Young birds disperse for new territory and keep going. Their internal compass may misfire. That's why at times we find a rare, very out-of-range bird that birdwatchers flock to see. About five weeks ago, a bird showed up in the weirdest of places, and after that the story kept growing!

The small Tamaulipas Crow lives in northeast Mexico. About 10 years ago, they used to also inhabit the lower parts of the U.S. in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Avian flu killed that small U.S. population off, or they retreated into Mexico, and none have been reported on this side of the border for a decade. Until one was photographed on an offshore fishing boat along the Texas coastal bend about five weeks ago.

Then two days before the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival, a birder saw a flock of 20 flying north on South Padre Island but dismissed them as grackles. The next day two were found by another birder while accompanying the same birder from the day before.

After that, the crows were found in several locations in the Brownsville and SPI area of the Rio Grande Valley by festival leaders and participants. They are still around there today, being seen one at a time or up to five at a time. They favor the Brownsville landfill, which is allowing birders to come see the rare birds! A great but stinky experience!

Fast forward to this past Sunday. The setting is the East Beach Park on Galveston Island about 10:45 a.m. A group of four birders (Denise, Kyle, Crystal and myself) were looking for Horned Larks, when I spotted a small crow on a parking lot fence post.

At first I called out "Fish Crow," another small crow that is native further up the Upper Texas Coast, and is a rare bird for Galveston Island. It was a life bird (a bird never seen by you before) for two of our birding group.

However, once we got out and the bird started to call, we took a better look at it and I soon realized that we had a much rarer bird find! The bird sounded like a Tamaulipas Crow, and looked like one! It was! We spread the word to the birding community, and soon birders were streaming in to see it from near and far.

The next day, Monday, I got a call from a local birder and friend saying a Tamaulipas Crow was being reported "right now" in Brazoria County up at San Luis Pass! It was hanging out at the dumpsters along with the Fish Crow that had been found by another birder weeks before. That Fish Crow had already stirred up a ruckus with birders flowing in to see it all on its own. . Now it was accompanied by an even rarer crow! So the chase was on! Picked up two other birders and sped off to San Luis Pass. A few others had already made the scene and one birder had both species of crows staked out. There they were, side by side in a palm tree for great comparisons. The Fish Crow slightly larger and heavier looking, a large bill, and deeper black color, while the Tamaulipas Crow is slighter in build and has that blue glossy sheen.

Who knows where the now seemingly adventurous Tamaulipas Crows will show up next along the Texas coast!

Martin Hagne is the Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory. The GCBO is a non-profit organization dedicated to saving the birds and their habitats along the entire Gulf Coast, and beyond into their Central and South America wintering grounds.


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