Not commonly thought of as an area with high biodiversity, Central Texas is actually home to a surprisingly wide variety of birds. Big and small, migratory and year-round, Central Texas has long been a favorite of bird watchers, specifically because of great numbers of species that can be sighted. Some of the most common are swallows, cardinals, warblers and hummingbirds, but rarities can also be found throughout Central Texas.
One of the most commonly sighted types of bird in Central Texas is the swallow. Each species makes its nest high above ground, owing its name to its preferred nesting location: barn swallow, cliff swallow and tree swallow. Averaging six to seven inches in length and differing only slightly in color, the main distinction between these three species of swallow is their tails. The barn swallow features a deeply forked tail, the cliff swallow features no fork at all and the tree swallow's tail falls somewhere in between the two, with only a slight fork. In addition, the northern rough-winged swallow, a duller brown swallow, is fairly common in Central Texas. It can easily be confused with the slightly less common bank swallow, which has a distinctive dark chest band. Cave swallows are rare in the region but thought to be increasing.
The regal-looking northern cardinal, a common visitor to suburban yards, is a hard one to miss. Standing tall at seven to nine inches and with males sporting the bright red coat that gives the species its name, the cardinal will stand out from most any brush. Unlike many birds, cardinals do not migrate and don't molt into a dull plumage, making them a noticeable year-round resident of Central Texas. They are also widely known and loved for their melodic early morning songs.
Of the many songbirds that can be sighted in Central Texas during their annual migrations from North America to South America (and vice versa), no group is more various or colorful than the warblers. At four to fives inches, they all feature nearly identical body structures, but their colors vary widely among species. Their names often highlight their bright colors, such as orange-crowned warbler, chestnut-sided warbler, yellow-rumped warbler and the rare cerulean warbler. Forty-two species of warblers have been recorded in Central Texas. The challenge of finding and identifying the rarer types as they pass through keeps many birders in the field on spring mornings.
There are two distinct species of hummingbird that are common in Central Texas: the black-chinned hummingbird and the ruby-throated hummingbird. Usually only three to four inches in length, the black-chinned hummingbird features a black head and tail with white belly and wings. The ruby-throated hummingbird is approximately equal in size and is named for its bright ruby-red throat. As is common knowledge even among non-bird enthusiasts, the hummingbird's greatest defining characteristic is its speed of movement. Almost insect-like, it can beat its wings up to 90 times per second and dart through the air faster than the human eye can follow. A number of less common types of hummingbirds have also been found in Central Texas.