A golden cheeked warbler, like this one found in San Antonio, was spotted at Dogwood Canyon Audubon Center in Cedar Hill last spring. Photo by Sam Kieschnick.
March 29, 2023
A North Texas city has been declared a prime destination for our feathered friends.
The Bird City certification distinguishes Texas cities that have implemented science-based initiatives and community centric actions to ensure birds, wildlife and people thrive in their communities, says Chloe Crumley, public affairs and engagement manager for Audubon Texas.
“Since 2020, Audubon, Texas and Texas Parks and Wildlife have been working on the Bird City Texas certification program and encouraging cities to apply for it as an opportunity to then receive this certification and have an opportunity to recognize the work that they're putting in to display their leadership as a bird-friendly city,” Crumley says. “Certified communities excel in three criteria areas — community engagement, habitat enhancement and protection and creating safer spaces for birds.”
Both Cedar Hill and Austin received Bird City certification this year, joining the flock of eight other cities that have received the recognition since the program began and bringing the total number of Bird Cities up to 10 in the state.
“Dallas is a Bird City and they were one of the first to apply. You also have Houston, Bastrop, Port Aransas, San Antonio, Galveston, Dripping Springs and Surfside Beach,” Crumley adds.
Crumley says people cannot overestimate just how important birds are for a healthy community. According to Crumley, the measurable benefits that birds bring to communities include reducing the number of rodents and undesirable insects as well as spreading the seed of native plants that prevent erosion and mitigate pollution.
A pond at Cedar Hill State Park. Courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
With both the 200-acre Dogwood Canyon Audubon Center and 1,800-acre Cedar Hill State Park within its city limits, the City of Cedar Hill has a keen interest in ensuring that birds and people find the community a hospitable place.
For this reason, Cedar Hill has adopted practices and policies to keep the city wildlife-friendly, says Michelle Hernandez, destination marketing manager for Cedar Hill.
Among the practices adopted by the city to qualify for the distinction is participation in the promotion of turning off unnecessary outdoor lighting during bird migration season each spring and fall, the use native plants on city property to provide food and lodging for wildlife, and the promotion of its Birding Backpack program.
The free program for adults offers basic bird-watching tools and resources in a backpack that can be checked out by residents and visitors from the city’s environmental services department. Tools include binoculars and phone telescopic lens kit with tripod. (Minors must have a parent or guardian to check out the backpacks.)
“We provide some very nice binoculars. There's some information in there about birding and information about Cedar Hill. So, people can contact us to be able to check out the backpack and be able to explore in case they didn't have the equipment with them,” Hernandez says. “I think [Bird City certification] helps kind of open us up to a new niche group of tourism for our city and expand our name. There's over 2.2 million birdwatchers in Texas, and so we're excited about them coming to our community.”
Learn more about the Bird City Texas Program. Courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Crumley says Cedar Hill’s recognition came after a community-wide push to gain the Bird City honor.
“Russell Read was with the City of Cedar Hill and he sits on the Audubon board for Audubon Texas. And he really pushed for this application. So all the folks that helped to apply and fill out the application included folks from the City of Cedar Hill Parks Department, Dogwood Canyon, some fellows from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. We had some citizens who were passionate about birding in their community, some folks from the tourism council, and this large collaborative body all helped to push for the application and fill it all in,” Crumley explains.
The Bird City certification is a three-year accreditation that must be renewed at the end of each term. More than a mere honorary distinction, Bird City certification requires cities to adopt nine initial policies that include building a bird-friendly native landscape on city property for educational purposes, the promotion of dark skies information to residents and business through which unnecessary outdoor lighting is turned off during bird migration seasons, and outreach on how to control invasive plant and animal species.
Cities then must meet five of 14 criteria from the category of community engagement, eight of 19 criteria in the category of habitat enhancement and protection, and four of 13 criteria in the category of making safer spaces for birds.
Criteria within these three categories include such actions as building bird-watching amenities like observation decks and bird blinds in public parks, hosting native plant sales, managing bird-friendly habitats on protected properties, leaving dead trees on public property wherever safe to do so, educating residents about the bird-hazards of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and reducing blue light in outdoor fixtures and implementing shielding to direct light only toward the ground, along similar measures that help wildlife to thrive.
Crumley says that the Bird City program has a second tier of certification for Bird City Texas High Flyers that recognizes cities that move on from the first tier and undertake more stringent requirements such as habitat creation projects, building policies that deter bird collisions with windows and structures, and the prohibition of single-use plastics.
“There are no cities that have applied for High Flyer, but we are hoping to encourage some of our communities who have been a part of the program for a while to apply for that,” Crumley says.
Now in its fourth year, the Bird City program is part of a nationwide effort to stop the decline of bird populations that has been documented throughout North America. The most notable study perhaps was Cornel Lab of Ornithology’s finding in 2019 that three billion birds have disappeared from North American skies since the 1970s.
“Urban sprawl is becoming more of a concern. Human dominated landscapes, though, can support functioning ecosystems. From urban centers to rural towns, we believe that everyone can take steps to benefit birds," says Crumley. "Since the 1970s, our bird population has declined dramatically due to urban sprawl, lack of habitat, and climate change and so we want to make sure that we can mitigate the decline of bird populations and the health of birds by providing better habitat across the state and elevate urban areas to be ecologically richer so they can be more beautiful and resilient and be helpful places for all of us to live.”
Last spring, the news of a visiting golden cheeked warbler spotted at Dogwood Canyon Audubon Center brought bird watchers to the center from throughout the state. The species is endangered and is the only bird species that nests exclusively in Texas. While bird lovers rejoiced in the rare sighting, experts speculated the bird could have been seeking new territory due to shrinking habitat or global warming, driving the species to expand its range.
Last spring, the news of a visiting golden cheeked warbler spotted at Dogwood Canyon Audubon Center in Cedar Hill brought bird watchers to the center from throughout the state. Experts speculated the bird could have been seeking new territory due to shrinking habitat or global warming, driving the species to expand its range.
TEXAS PLAYS KEY ROLE
Texas is an important state for birds. Each spring, almost all migratory species pass over Texas landscapes as they migrate from south of the border into North America. Again in the fall, they funnel down through Texas as they migrate back down toward South America to go where the weather suits their feathers.
“We see about a billion birds every year, and we want to make sure that when they're passing through, they're also having the ability to stop in communities that are providing water, safe habitat, and food for them, to kind of help our feathered friends,” Crumley says.
All states share responsibility for keeping one or another species of bird surviving and thriving, and the Bird City program has been devised to help states coordinate their efforts.
“The main idea of Bird City actually comes from the American Bird Conservancy,” Crumley says. “They have a Bird City network and help to guide the program all across the country.
“So there are numerous states that are involved in Bird City programs. Everyone's criteria is similar as it meets those three categories, but everyone has a little bit of flexibility on how they create their program.
Using that as a guiding force, Audubon Texas then collaborated with Texas Parks and Wildlife to use that information from the American Bird Conservancy.
“We did some trial runs with community partners all through 2018 and 2019 to develop our program here in Texas. So, really, it's a joint opportunity between Audubon Texas and TPWD to help recognize communities that are doing the most for birds and wildlife in their cities.”
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