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Houston Bird Survey
About the Survey
The Birdwatcher as Ecological Detective


  Houston Bird Survey

by Robert McFarlane, Houston Bird Survey Coordinator

What is the goal?

The goal of the Houston Bird Survey is to determine the distribution of birds that live in Houston. To accomplish this, the survey will initially focus on the summer, winter and permanent avian residents of the city. While the colorful songbirds migrating to and from the neotropics through our city are fascinating, they are, in essence, tourists, just passing through. They eat a bite, spend the night, wait for good weather, and move on. We will focus on birds that raise their young or spend the winter with us. We are asking for your help in collecting information during June and January of each year.

Who may participate?

Anyone who can correctly identify any bird.

What do you do?

Simply enter information on birds you have observed into an online data form and submit it electronically, or print a copy of the survey form and mail it in.

Where do you do it?

Anywhere that you like in or around Houston. The more different sites that you survey, the more information we will have. Survey your yard, your workplace, a park or green space near you, the route where you exercise or walk your dog. The City of Houston Parks and Recreation Department has an inventory of 515 parcels of park land totaling 20,651 acres within the city. These parcels range from fractions of an acre to 1000+ acres, but only 8 are categorized as reserves or natural areas. An analysis of the birds inhabiting these green spaces, playgrounds, playing fields, and woodlands of varying size may be very informative. We urge you to adopt a park land near you and record its birds.

When do you do it?

Anytime during the month of June for the Summer Bird Survey, or January for the Winter Bird Survey.

How do you do it?

Information can be provided in either of two ways, a survey or a list. For a survey bird observation will be your primary activity. It can be as short a time period as 5 or 10 minutes, or as long as you like. Simply record the time that you began and the time you stopped, the date, the locality, and the bird species that you observed. Preparing a list is more casual. Simply keep a list of the birds in your yard, or seen from an office window, or observed during some other activity. Submit a separate list for each separate site.


To ensure reliability of the information, report only birds identified with certainty. IF IN DOUBT, LEAVE IT OUT.

Then what happens?

The information that you provide will be assembled into a geographic database, converted into "intelligence", and disseminated back to you in the form of distribution maps, etc. on our website.

A word about habitat ...

Birds are influenced by the habitats available to them. A simple habitat classification is used in the survey.

  • Forest - large trees with crowns touching, forming an overhead canopy of branches.
  • Woodland - small trees and shrubs, frequently dense, without overhead canopy.
  • Parkland - large trees widely spaced; limbs seldom touch or create a canopy.
  • Open - smaller trees and shrubs, or none; lots of visible sky.
  • Commercial - little or no green space.

These categories may be distinguished by application of the "squirrel test." If a tree squirrel could travel a considerable distance within the tree canopy without coming to the ground, it is a forest. If a squirrel must descend to the ground, or resort to utility lines, to travel a distance, it is a parkland. If squirrels occasionally enter the trees but do not live there, it is a woodland. If squirrels are absent, it is open habitat.

Need help identifying a bird?

Try the online bird field guide at eNature.com.

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