RIVER CAMP! Series: Birding Basics

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Last Updated on January 30, 2024

In our quarterly RIVER CAMP! Series, we invite younger supporters of the San Antonio River (and those young at heart) to learn more about this precious freshwater resource. Tune in for educational information, river-centric activities, great videos, and even ways families can take personal actions for a sustainable river!

IN TODAY’S RIVER CAMP, We’re Going Birding!

Have you ever seen the graceful flight of a Great Blue Heron ? Or maybe you’ve heard the piercing cry of the Red-shouldered Hawk and seen the brilliant plumage of the Green Jay. Birds sure have a way of captivating us! Luckily, the San Antonio River Basin is home to an incredible variety of our feathered friends. Located in the North American Central Flyway, Texas is home to a whopping 648 species of birds, more than any other state!

Left: Red-shouldered Hawk | Right: Green Jay

A great way to have fun outside and learn more about the nature around you is by trying to see how many species of birds you can find. This activity is called birdwatching or “birding,” and there are more than 45 million people in the United States that participate. You don’t need any fancy supplies to get started; just an outdoor space and your five senses!

Where can you find birds?

Look no further than your own backyard or neighborhood to start on your birding journey! You might check the ledges or nooks of buildings, including windowsills, gutters, and railings, for bird nests. One of our education team members even found a family of barn swallows near her front door.

Birding Tip: LISTEN. If you can’t see birds, which may often be the case, then maybe you can hear them! Zone in on your listening by closing your eyes and taking some deep breaths. It can also be helpful to memorize some familiar bird songs using a rhyme.

Barred Owls

Barred Owls have a distinctive hooting call of 8–9 notes, described as “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?”

Have you explored any River Authority-operated parks or trails recently? From the Jackson Nature Park in Wilson County to the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River Walk, there are so many places that offer excellent opportunities for birding! The San Antonio River Basin is also home to Mitchell Lake Audubon Center, where you can observe birds in wetland habitat and take classes and tours.

Remember: While birding is fun, it is important to not cause stress to the birds or damage their habitats. Therefore, always observe nests and nesting birds from a distance, and be aware that some birds are very shy!
Painted Bunting

Did you know? More than 200 species of birds (including the beautiful Painted Bunting) have been spotted along the Mission Reach!

How do you identify birds?

One of the most enjoyable parts of birding is identifying the kinds of birds you see. Think of it as a giant outdoor scavenger hunt! To make your birding adventure as exciting as possible, you can set a goal before you head out. For example, you can set a number goal (20 total birds) or a species goal (6 species), or even make a rainbow by finding one bird for each of the hues (ROYGBIV) that make up a rainbow!

In addition to color patterns, other key features to look for when trying to identify birds include their overall size and shape, behaviors, and the type of habitat they are found in. There are many tools to help you identify birds, from field guides to checklists and phone apps. Imagine finding out that the duck you spotted swimming on the Mission Reach is, in fact, a Neotropic Cormorant instead!

SEEK by iNaturalist is the perfect way to uncover what type of birds frequent your home. Snap a picture, and the app will tell you what sort of bird is visiting you. It even has beautiful photographs and maps to explore. SEEK is free and supported by the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society.  When you grow in your birding skills, you can be a part of the eBird citizen science community and help track bird hot spots! Be sure to keep a daily journal of bird visitors!

Northern Cardinal

Birding on the Mission Reach? Print off a copy of this Mission Reach Avian Checklist so you can keep track of birds that you spot, like this Northern Cardinal!

Do You need binoculars?

Two women with binoculars in a field bird watching.


The short answer is No. The most basic supplies you’ll need for a birding adventure are walking shoes, a hat, and your birding checklist or field guide. However, a pair of binoculars or a spotting scope can be helpful in identifying fast-flying birds or those that are too far away to see by eye.

Thinking about asking Santa for some binoculars this holiday season? Send him this binocular guide from the Audubon society. You can also make your own pair of DIY cardboard binoculars!

Birding Together is better!

One of the best ways to get better at birding is to meet other birders! Check out these community resources to connect with other young birders, which include birding clubs, camps, and events, as well as contests, scholarships, and blogs. Also, keep a look out on the River Authority Event page for upcoming programs in 2023!

Southside ISD observes birds at Confluence Park

Southwest ISD high school students went birding with the River Authority in 2022

Birding along the San Antonio River is a great way to show your support for these incredible creatures. The more #RiverProud we become, the more we will want to protect our avian friends and preserve their habitats. That’s a win-win for both birds and people. Happy birding and see you at the river!

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