Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary blog post by Sara Turbyfill.

Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary

Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary is a refuge that was set aside as a bird conservation area. The sanctuary is located near State Highway 87, along Rettilon Road in Bolivar Peninsula, Texas. This land is owned and managed by the Houston Audubon and is recognized as a Globally Important Bird Area. An Important Bird Area or IBA is a piece of land that uses an international set of criteria to help with bird conservation.

The sanctuary is located along the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail. As a result, many bird enthusiasts visit the sanctuary after stopping at other spots along the trail. A few other great birdwatching destinations along the trail include Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge and High Island.

Birdwatching at Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary

This shorebird sanctuary provides refuge to dozens of bird species and is one of the best places for wildlife photography along the Gulf Coast. Bird lovers from around the world visit the sanctuary to observe some of the most fascinating birds found in Texas. Depending on the time of year, common sightings include the American avocet, barn swallow, eastern kingbird, loggerhead shrike, reddish egret, and willet.

American Avocet: A Large Wader Bird in the Stilt Family

One of the most interesting birds found at Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary is the American avocet. During the winter, adult American avocets display gray and white feathers around the neck and head. When it’s breeding season, however, they display rusty plumage in both areas. They have grayish-blue legs and long upturned bills. Their bills allow them to easily sift through the water, looking for small fish to prey on. These exotic birds seem like they don’t belong on the Texas Gulf Coast, but dozens of these birds are commonly seen wading in the tidal flats near the shore.

American avocet standing on the beach near Galveston Bay.

Barn Swallow: The Most Widespread Swallow Species in the World

Another species of bird found in this Globally Important Bird Area is the barn swallow. The barn swallow is the most widespread swallow species in the world and is found on every continent except for Antarctica. Therefore, barn swallows are found throughout the United States. Often confused with the purple martin, barn swallows are easily identifiable by their dark blue back and cinnamon-colored throat. Barn swallows often perch on the barbed wire fence along Rettilon Road or near the sand dunes on the beach.

Barn swallow resting on a barbed wire fence at Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary in Texas.

Eastern Kingbird: A Member of the Tyrant Flycatcher Family

In addition to American avocets and barn swallows, eastern kingbirds are another common resident at the bird sanctuary. Eastern kingbirds belong to the tyrant flycatcher family and are native to North America and South America. These birds prey on small insects, which make up a majority of their diet. They have a black head, dark gray back, and white underbelly. Eastern kingbirds commonly perch on small shrubs and trees along Rettilon Road near the entrance to the sanctuary.

Eastern kingbird standing on a branch at Bolivar Peninsula Shorebird Sanctuary in Texas.

Loggerhead Shrike: A Passerine Bird with Aggressive Hunting Methods

Loggerhead shrikes are another bird species that frequent the bird sanctuary. Although these birds belong to the Laniidae family, they’re known for their unique and aggressive hunting behavior. Loggerhead shrikes prey on insects, lizards, crawfish, rodents, and even small birds. Like falcons, loggerhead shrikes scan the ground and dive for prey. Once they have ahold of their prey, they’re famous for impaling it on a sharp object like a barbed wire fence or cactus. These birds have a gray head and back, a white underbelly, and a black mask around the eyes. They often perch on fence posts or tree branches along Rettilon Road.

Loggerhead shrike resting on a fence post in Bolivar Peninsula, TX.

Reddish Egret: One of the Rarest Egrets Found in North America

Another frequent flyer at the sanctuary is the reddish egret. Reddish egrets primarily feed on fish and are known for their hyperactive hunting behavior. When hunting, these herons weave back and forth in the water with their wings spread open. This gives the illusion that they’re dancing. Dark-morph reddish egrets display gray and red plumage, while white morphs show only white plumage. Reddish egrets commonly wade in the water near the shore at Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary.

White morph reddish egret standing in the surf near Galveston Bay.

Willet: A Large Shorebird in the Sandpiper Family

Finally, willets stay at the sanctuary during all seasons. Even with their large size, these shorebirds belong to the sandpiper family. They display brown, gray, and white plumage and have long, narrow bills which allow them to hunt for small insects, crabs, and fish. Willets often rest on fence posts along Rettilon Road or scavenge along the beach.

White morph reddish egret standing in the surf near Galveston Bay.

Visit Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary

In addition to the birds listed above, dozens more visit the refuge throughout the year. Other regular visitors include the brown pelican, least tern, roseate spoonbill, and snowy egret. Even if you aren’t an avid birdwatcher, the sanctuary is a wonderful place to take a stroll along the beach.

Visiting the shorebird sanctuary is free; however, you must purchase a parking permit to park on the beach. Parking stickers cost $10 and are valid for the remainder of the calendar year in which they were purchased. The Houston Audubon owns and manages Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary. For more information, check out Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary.

Disclaimer: This blog post is for informational purposes only. Sara Turbyfill Photography & Design is not endorsed by or associated with the Houston Audubon or Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary in any way. All photos featured in this blog post were taken by Sara Turbyfill. To ensure the safety of the animals, these images were taken at a safe distance using a telephoto lens.

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