Huntsville State Park: Barn Swallows and Pileated Woodpeckers Flourish in This Forest

Palm plant at Huntsville State Park.

Huntsville State Park is located an hour north of downtown Houston. The park encompasses more than 2,000 acres of land and is covered by mixed pine-hardwood forest. Visitors can enjoy an array of activities including camping, fishing, horseback riding, kayaking, and swimming.

Birds of Huntsville State Park

However, the park also attracts wildlife lovers from around the world. Huntsville State Park is an excellent destination for birdwatching and wildlife photography. Over the years, staff and volunteers have identified more than 250 species of birds at the park.

Lake Raven is a large lake that attracts 11 species of waterfowl to the park throughout the year. Common sightings include blue-winged teal, canvasback, ring-necked duck, and wood duck. The dense forests also attract 7 types of woodpeckers. Visitors often report sightings of hairy woodpeckers, northern flickers, pileated woodpeckers, and red-headed woodpeckers.

In addition to waterfowl and woodpeckers, dozens of other bird species reside at the park. Other frequent sightings include the American kestrel, barn swallow, chimney swift, northern mockingbird, osprey, and yellow-crowned night heron. Continue reading to learn more about 3 bird species that can be spotted at Huntsville State Park year-round.

Barn Swallows: The Most Abundant Swallow Species in the World

One of the most fascinating bird species found at the park is the barn swallow. Barn swallows are the most abundant and widespread species of swallow in the world. It’s believed that there are more than 200 million barn swallows worldwide. These beautiful birds have dark blue feathers that cover their back, wings, and tail. Their underparts are covered in feathers that range from russet to tan. 

Barn swallow featured in Huntsville State Park photos by Sara Turbyfill.

From March through September, barn swallows nest in the park. Most pairs produce 2 clutches or sets of eggs per year. The average clutch size for this species is 3-5 eggs. Although barn swallows are known to nest on cliffs and canyons, they commonly build nests on manmade structures like open buildings and bridges. The barn swallows at Huntsville State Park build nests under the awning of the group recreation building.

Both male and female barn swallows work together to build the nest. Each bird collects mud and grass stems to create pellets used to form the nest. Barn swallows build their nests in about 2-3 weeks, after gathering and laying hundreds of mud pellets. For those trying to point out barn swallow nests, they look very similar to crayfish mounds stuck on the side of a building or under a bridge.

Barn swallow chicks photographed by Sara Turbyfill in Texas.

Pileated Woodpeckers: A Cousin to the Extinct Ivory-Billed Woodpecker

In addition to barn swallows, several species of woodpeckers are found in the park. In fact, staff and volunteers have reported sightings of 7 woodpecker species. The pileated woodpecker is just one of the species that resides at the park. Pileated woodpeckers are the largest species of woodpecker found in the United States. Adults can reach lengths of up to 19 inches. 

Pileated woodpecker featured in Huntsville State Park photos by Sara Turbyfill.

Pileated woodpeckers are covered in mostly black and white feathers. They are easily distinguishable by their long beak and red triangular crest that forms on the top of their head. Occasionally, the pileated woodpecker is confused for the ivory-billed woodpecker. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife published a proposed rule in 2021 that would delist 23 species from the Endangered Species Act due to extinction. Sadly, one of the animals on the list is the ivory-billed woodpecker.

Red-Headed Woodpecker: Like All Woodpeckers, This Bird Has an Interesting Tongue

Another woodpecker species that resides at Huntsville State Park is the red-headed woodpecker. As its name suggests, the red-headed woodpecker’s head is covered in bright red feathers. Their bodies are covered in black and white feathers, which create a distinct pattern and makes them easy to point out in the forest.

Red-headed woodpecker featured in Huntsville State Park photos by Sara Turbyfill.

Like all woodpeckers, the red-headed woodpecker has an interesting tongue. When a woodpecker pecks at a tree, the tongue is actually used to protect its brain. In fact, a woodpecker’s tongue is so long that it wraps around its entire brain. Therefore, their tongue provides an extra layer of protection. Depending on the species, a woodpecker’s tongue varies in length. However, some woodpeckers have tongues that are as long as one-third of their body length.

Visit Huntsville State Park

In summary, Huntsville State Park is an excellent place for birdwatching. Visitors can observe barn swallows nesting near the group recreation building or watch woodpeckers fly around in the dense forest. Even if you aren’t a bird nerd yourself, the park offers a diverse array of outdoor activities for anyone to enjoy. A few activities you can enjoy during your visit include camping, fishing, geocaching, horseback riding, kayaking, and swimming.

The park entrance fee is $7 per individual who’s 13 years of age or older. If you plan on visiting multiple state parks in Texas throughout the year, you can purchase a Texas State Park Pass for just $70. The pass gives one individual free entry to any of the 89 state parks in Texas for an entire year. Huntsville State Park is open daily from 6 am – 10 pm. For more information, check out the resources below.


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: