Top 5 Reasons to Bird in the Winter on Galveston Island

Galveston is one of the top locations for birding in the United States.

With year-round birding, the Island is a central location for novice and expert birders offering a wide variety of species. Here are the top five reasons to bird in Galveston this winter:

pictured: Birding in Galveston

Holiday Birding on Galveston Island

Whether you’re trying to entertain family or just want some time alone, winter birding on Galveston Island offers a peaceful respite from the holiday hustle and bustle. The weather is beautiful, there are less people in the parks and on the beaches, it’s fun for all ages, and best of all, it’s free of charge. You can spend a couple of hours or a couple of days exploring, it’s up to you! Open sunrise ‘til sunset, the East End Lagoon Nature Preserve is a hidden gem just off the end of the Seawall that provides easy access to both coastal prairie and beach habitat. Birds and butterflies are always abundant along the well-maintained interpretive trail, which showcases native plants and wildlife along its half-mile length.

Those wishing to explore a little further can do so just across the road, where there is an amazing amount of bird activity in the small ponds alongside the Gulf. This is the best spot on the Island to see Galveston’s official bird, the Reddish Egret, as well as a variety of other egrets, herons, shorebirds, gulls, terns, and more. Early birders and photographers will also be rewarded with incredible sunrise views.

While you’re in that area, be sure to take advantage of the shorter lines for Galveston’s free ferry ride over to Bolivar Peninsula and back. The ferry landings provide close views of many species such as American White and Brown Pelicans, Red-breasted Mergansers, Common Loons, and both Neotropic and Double-crested Cormorants. Photographers and families alike will enjoy the crossing, with lots to see in addition to birds, including Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins. It’s always a lot of fun!

If you’re on the West End, check out the Oppenheimer Bird Observatory at Artist Boat’s Coastal Heritage Preserve. Also open from dawn ‘til dusk, this small park has a short boardwalk that winds through native plants to an elevated observation deck overlooking a small freshwater pond. A half-mile trail loops through coastal prairie and hugs the edge of another small pond. Visitors will enjoy seeing raptors, waterfowl, sparrows, shorebirds, and more this time of year.

The West End of the Island also provides great birding and free beach access from FM 3005, with many pocket parks, lovely boardwalks across the dunes, and elevated views of the Gulf that can’t be beat at sunset.

1. Winter Migrants

Winter migration is in full effect, and this is the only time of year you can see some of the exciting migrants currently overwintering in our area – species such as Sandhill Cranes, American Kestrels, Belted Kingfishers, Red-breasted Mergansers, Common Loons, Vermilion Flycatchers, and too many others to mention.

2. Visibility

If you’ve ever tried to focus binoculars on a warbler flitting around in the top of a tree during spring, you know how challenging foliage can make it to get a clear view of a bird, much less identify it. With many of our trees completely bare right now, it’s easy to spot birds perched in them. There’s also less vegetation around ponds, making it easier to see birds on the water as well.

Red-shouldered Hawk, Photo by Kristine Rivers

East end lagoon nature park and preserve
Birding in Galveston
3. Less Crowds

It can be difficult to enjoy birding when parks and public beaches are crowded and full of activities that startle or otherwise interfere with birds. With less people out during winter months, there is less disturbance, and you can often get much closer to observe and photograph them.

4. Free Cost

Places like the Galveston Island pocket parks only charge access fees during the busier months of March through October, so it’s free to visit them right now.

5. Pleasant Weather

Although we do have some frigid days now and then, our weather is quite lovely most of the time during the winter months. Not only that but there tend to be fewer mosquitoes, which is always a good thing!

Vermilion Flycatcher, Photo by Bobby Rivers

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Kristine Rivers Galveston Island Nature Tourism Council

Kristine Rivers has been an avid birder since childhood. As an adult, she loves sharing her passion for nature with people of all ages, encouraging them to slow down and have fun as they observe the world around them. She founded Birding for Fun in 2015, providing guided tours and workshops that embrace her philosophy that birding should be accessible to everyone.