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Birds of the Trans-Pecos

Birds of the Trans-Pecos
Foreword by Victor Emanuel; drawings by Gail Diane Yovanovich

Designed for intermediate to advanced birders, Birds of the Trans-Pecos provides an annotated checklist of all 482 species found in the Trans-Pecos region of Texas.

Series: Corrie Herring Hooks Endowment, Number Thirty-Seven

January 1998
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216 pages | 5.5 x 8.5 | 14 line drawings, 2 maps |

The Trans-Pecos, that huge region of Texas west of the Pecos River, is richer in recorded bird species than all but three of the United States. Hundreds of birders come here each year in search of species such as the Colima Warbler which are rarely if ever spotted in other parts of the country. Yet, until now, there was no comprehensive birding guide devoted to the entire region.

Designed for intermediate to advanced birders, Birds of the Trans-Pecos provides an annotated checklist of all 482 species found in the region. The species accounts include seasonal distribution, documentation of nesting, most likely habitat, and the bird's status as a "Texas Review Species." The authors also describe the geography and bird habitats of the Trans-Pecos; federal and state parklands in the area (including Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains), with the species that occur in each; and the mountain-breeding birds and species of special interest.

  • List of Illustrations and Tables
  • Foreword by Victor Emanuel
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • About the Book
  • The Trans-Pecos
    • The Geography
    • The Nesting Birds of the Trans-Pecos Mountains
    • The Parks, Reservoirs, and Recreational Lakes
    • The Human Element
  • The Trans-Pecos Birds
    • An Annotated List of Species
    • The Seasonal Distribution of Trans-Pecos Birds
    • Species of Special Interest
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Formerly Curator of Ornithology at the Dallas Museum of Natural History, where he led birdwatching tours throughout Central and South America, Jim Peterson is now Director of Technology at the Episcopal School of Dallas. Barry R. Zimmer, of El Paso, is a tour guide and naturalist for Victor Emanuel Nature Tours.


Birds of the Trans-Pecos will be an important companion guide for those interested in the bird life of the Trans-Pecos, Texas. The book is best used as a database of bird species found in the Trans-Pecos and their preferred habitats. Unlike other published material on the area's avifauna, it covers the entire Trans-Pecos geographic region (defined below) and all of Val Verde County.

It is a fact that few people come to the Trans-Pecos to visit any single destination. Travelers generally come by car and drive to several different locations within the area. Most often visited are national parks, state parks, historical sites, and recreational lakes. Published information on the bird life at these locations may be accurate, but details are frequently outdated and the big picture may be missing altogether.

The authors' intent in writing Birds of the Trans-Pecos is to put toether, in a useful format, the scattered and puzzling pieces of information that make up the area's ornithological sightings. Clearly, only the foundation is being laid. Much more work is needed, particularly in the mountain ranges where reports are rare and very irregular.

Birds of the Trans-Pecos is not meant to be used as a quick reference guide to birding hot spots, a life histories book of selected species, or an illustrated field guide. It is a simple annotated list of birds. It represents several years of research and concerns a unique and remote area in the southwestern United States.

The Trans-Pecos area outlined in this book is a place where unique ecological zones meet. East meets west (areas where Acadian Flycatchers nest near Gray Vireos), and north meets south (areas where Red Crossbills nest near Common Black-Hawks). Added to this ecological stew is the close proximity of the Mexican deserts, the Mexican mountains, the Colorado Plateau, the great U.S. prairies, the south Texas brushland, and the Edwards Plateau. All of these ecological areas are represented in the Trans-Pecos.

Birds of the Trans-Pecos is driven from the perspective that birds show a certain fidelity for specific habitats. In the Trans-Pecos, the various microhabitats and the associated bird species bear this out. Birds choose where to live and generally are loyal, year after year, to those areas where they experience the most success.

As an example of such site fidelity, an entire population (well over thirty-five pairs) of Gray Flycatchers was recently discovered nesting in a small pocket of habitat on the north slope of one Trans-Pecos mountain. Not one other nesting pair has been found within the state of Texas. For many birds like the Gray Flycatcher, a small creek on the north slope of a mountain would be considered acceptable habitat while the rest of the Trans-Pecos would not. If this book contains any moral message, it is to point out the importance of protecting these small, but unique, habitats.

Because the human population is so small in the Trans-Pecos, the historical database of bird observations is limited. Yet much has been accomplished with a few avid observers. Observers who have added critical information to this book include ranchers, tourists, bird-watchers, researchers, park rangers, and tour guides. Some were looking for a highly sought-after bird rarity. Others were just born curious and had the good sense to report their findings. Much work is still needed.

Only two other books are available at this time with information specific to the bird life of this area. Roland H. Wauer's book entitled A Field Guide to the Birds of the Big Bend is recommended for those traveling to Big Bend National Park to see birds. Edward Kutac's Birder's Guide to Texas is a site guide to birding spots in Texas and has some particularly relevant information on the location of Trans-Pecos birds. Another book by R. H. Wauer, entitled Birding Texas (1998), may also add information on birding locations in the Trans-Pecos. For visual identification, the National Geographic Society's Field Guide to the Birds of North America and the Peterson Field Guide series of Western Birds by Roger Tory Peterson remain the most commonly used illustrated field guides for Trans-Pecos bird-watching.

Pigeons and Doves: Family Columbidae

Rock Dove (Columba livia)
Abundant in urban centers like El Paso. Uncommon and local in small towns and rare elsewhere.
Band-tailed Pigeon (Columba fasciata)
Fairly common summer resident. Uncommon and sporadic in winter. Generally found in the montane habitat of the Davis and Chisos mountains and perhaps some of the smaller mountain ranges. Casual in other parts of the Trans-Pecos. These birds are known to travel widely and frequent fruiting mulberry trees or oak trees with good acorn crops.
White-winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica)
Common to fairly common summer resident. Uncommon and localized in winter, although large numbers can still be found in residential areas of El Paso in that season.
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)
Abundant to common summer resident and common to fairly common in winter.
Inca Dove (Scardafella inca)
Locally fairly common permanent resident, particularly in city suburbs. Less common outside of parks and residential areas.
Common Ground-Dove (Columbina passerina)
Accidental in all seasons except in Presidio, Brewster, and Terrell counties, where it is an uncommon to very rare permanent resident. There is one fall record from Hueco Tanks State Park. Most records from the northern Trans-Pecos are from March to October.
Ruddy Ground-Dove (Columbina talpacoti)
Casual. Two well-documented winter records from Big Bend National Park (December 12, 1987-early May 1988, and December 24, 1991-May 5, 1992), one record near Lajitas, Texas (Brewster County, February 22-March 22, 1990), and one record of two birds in El Paso (April 20-23, 1996). Records with photographs include TPRF #602 and #870. Review Species.
White-tipped Dove (Leptotila verreauxi)
Accidental. One documented record (TPRF #220, October 7, 1989) from Dolan Creek in Val Verde County and two summer sightings from Big Bend National Park (R. H. Wauer). Although this species is fairly common in south Texas, there are very few records for the Trans-Pecos.

Parrots: Family Psittacidae

Monk Parakeet (Myiopsitta monachus)
Locally uncommon. A small but growing population in El Paso has been present there for over a decade.



“Birders have shown that they want and need regional avian distribution books such as this one. This book will fill a gap in the effort to accomplish this sort of regional guide for all areas of Texas. The Trans-Pecos is a popular destination for birders-making this ever more important.”
Greg W. Lasley, Editor, Texas Region, Field Notes