Deep in the heart of McAllen, Texas, lies the beautiful 1930sera Spanish hacienda, Quinta Mazatlan. Once a private estate, it is now an environmental education center, surrounded by a tropical garden with outlying acreage of wild Tamaulipan thorn forest enhanced with water and bird-feeding stations. The habitat is a bird magnet, attracting a host of Rio Grande Valley specialties—as well as bird watchers from around the world.
Quinta Mazatlan is crisscrossed by nearly a mile of trails. Though you can find birds all along the trails, the hotspots are Ruby Pond and the bird-feeding stations. More than 160 species have been seen in this lush urban sanctuary, but most birders flock here to see the valley’s Mexican species.
The first bird you’re likely to encounter is the Plain Chachalaca—a robust bird, slightly smaller than a turkey, that roams the grounds in small flocks. The colorful Green Jay is common, and their scolding calls are heard constantly along the preserve’s trails. Great Kiskadee, a large flycatcher, is a regular around the feeding stations. The Buff-bellied Hummingbirds in the preserve are often heard before they are seen. Listen for their soft, metallic clicks as you walk along the trails. Sighting one at a feeder is almost assured. Look for the Clay-colored Thrush and Olive Sparrow skulking in the underbrush in and around watering stations.
While scanning the underbrush, keep an eye out for the Common Pauraque (see photo below). This amazing bird hunts at dusk and dawn, roosting on the forest floor during the day. It is so well camouflaged among the leaf litter that it can be almost impossible to see, even when it’s only a few feet away. Other specialties include the Altamira Oriole, White-tipped Dove, Green Parakeet, and Red-crowned Parrot. Also be sure to search the Tamaulipan forest trails and feeding stations for Ladder-backed and Golden-fronted woodpeckers, White-winged, Common Ground-, and Inca doves, and Couch’s and Tropical kingbirds.
Birding is great at Quinta Mazatlan throughout the year, but fall and spring are the best times to see both local and migrant species, and temperatures are usually pleasant at this time. March through May is when most of the permanent resident species begin breeding.
With more than a dozen valley species concentrated on a 20-acre preserve, only a 2½-hour drive from Corpus Christi and a 3½-hour drive from San Antonio, Quinta Mazatlan is one of the best birding escapes in Texas.