Pair of crested caracaras resting on tower at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge.

Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge: A Bird Oasis an Hour from Downtown Houston

Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge consists of 37,000 acres of public land that was set aside to conserve native plants and animals along the Texas Gulf Coast. This land is part of the National Wildlife Refuge System, which is managed by the USFWS or United States Fish and Wildlife Service. The wildlife sanctuary is located an hour from downtown Houston, in Chambers County, TX.

As its name suggests, the refuge lies just south of the city of Anahuac. Anahuac is often referred to as the Alligator Capital of Texas because there are more alligators than people. In fact, alligators outnumber people 3 to 1 in the city. As a result, dozens of alligators reside at the refuge, making it one of the best places to see alligators in Texas.

Large American alligator resting near Frozen Point Road.

In addition to alligators, sightings of bobcats, coyotes, and wild boar are common. Although sightings are less frequent, the American mink and North American river otter also occupy the area. Several wildlife species live at the park, however, Anahuac NWR is famous for its abundance of birds. Countless species of migratory and native Texas birds stay at the refuge throughout the year, including the roseate spoonbill.

Birding at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge

Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge is for the birds….and the bird enthusiasts. Many people flock here to observe the plethora of birds that call the refuge home. Birdwatchers spot hundreds of bird species at the sanctuary every year. Common sightings include common gallinules, double-crested cormorants, great blue heron, and snowy egrets.

Common gallinule adult and chick swimming at Shoveler Pond at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge.

Several trails are located throughout the refuge, which provide visitors with unique birdwatching opportunities. However, the Shoveler Pond Auto-Tour Loop is by far the most popular. This trail is completely paved and is accessible by vehicle.

Observe Wading Birds and Waterfowl on the Shoveler Pond Auto-Tour Loop

The auto-tour loop is 2.6 miles long and circles around Shoveler Pond. Shoveler Pond gets its name from the northern shoveler, which is a duck that’s frequently seen swimming throughout the wetlands. The road is accessible through the main entrance to the refuge. To get to the auto-tour loop, turn right immediately after passing the nature store and follow the road until it forks. At this point, it’s important to note that the road turns into a one-way street, so turning around is not permitted. Keep right at the fork in the road and continue around the loop for its entirety.

Black-necked stilt wading through water at Shoveler Pond.

As its name implies, visitors can observe birds and wildlife on the auto-tour from the comfort of their own vehicles. Shoveler Pond is a safe haven for alligators, wading birds, and the occasional river otter. American coots, pied-billed grebes, and purple gallinules are common sightings along this route. In return, it’s one of the best places for birdwatching and wildlife photography at the refuge.

Stroll Through the Wetlands on the Boardwalk

A boardwalk is located about halfway around the Shoveler Pond Auto-Tour Loop. After parking, visitors have the opportunity to step outside and immerse themselves in the swamp life. The boardwalk stretches across the marshland for several hundred yards and gives guests an up-close and personal experience.

Even when crushed with time, the boardwalk is a must-see attraction. While walking along the boardwalk, visitors will hear the swamp come to life. This is a great time to stop and listen. Listen as a gust of wind blows in and the alligators rustle around in the reeds. Listen as frogs ribbit down below and red-winged blackbirds sing in harmony. Just take a second to stop and listen to nature.

Watch for Burrowing Owls and Crested Caracaras Along Frozen Point Road

Another great place for birding at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge is along Frozen Point Road. Unlike the Shoveler Pond Auto-Tour Loop, however, the majority of the roadway is unpaved and covered in gravel. Frozen Point Road is accessible through the main entrance to the refuge. After passing the nature center, continue straight for several miles.

Killdeer standing in puddle at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge.

Roundtrip, Frozen Point Road is approximately 11 miles long. The road weaves its way through grasslands and wetlands, giving visitors unique opportunities for birdwatching. While driving, birders may encounter a wide range of species. Common nighthawks, killdeer, white ibises, and yellow-crowned night heron tend to hang out near the road.

The crested caracara is one of the most astounding birds found along this route. These unique birds of prey commonly inhabit the area and are easy to identify by their size and coloring. Crested caracaras stand nearly 2 feet tall and are covered in brown and white feathers. Adults display bright orange beaks and yellow legs, while juveniles show lighter coloring. They commonly perch on fence posts, fly high in the sky, or rest atop the metal tower located in a field near Frozen Point Road.

Juvenile crested caracara resting on post at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge in Texas.

As visitors make their way to the end of Frozen Point Road, the terrain slowly changes from swampy grassland into Galveston Bay. Here, visitors are more likely to see shorebirds, including brown pelicans, least terns, and willets. There have also been sightings of a burrowing owl near the end of the road. Although seeing owls in the wild can be exciting, it’s important to remember that they’re a protected species. People should not approach or harass owls under any circumstances.

Visit Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge

In summary, Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge is an amazing birding destination. Nature lovers from around the world visit the refuge to observe unique birds found along the Gulf Coast and enjoy Texas wildlife photography. The refuge offers a wide array of outdoor activities, even for those who aren’t avid birdwatchers. Activities range from fishing and hunting to hiking and biking.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service operates Anahuac NWR, which is part of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Unless otherwise posted, the sanctuary is open every day from one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset. And the best part is, it’s absolutely free to visit! For more information, check out the resources provided below.

Leave a Reply