RIO GRANDE VALLEY, Texas – The Rio Grande Valley is home to a number of tropical birds that don’t venture much farther north. Richard Moore introduces us to one of the brightest and loudest of those Valley specialties.
Great kiskadees are bold in color and boisterous in attitude. Brandishing a black bandits mask, bright yellow belly and flashes of cinnamon brown on their wings, they are strikingly colorful and stridently vocal.
Southernmost Texas is home to a variety of tropical birds that historically don’t venture far north of the Rio Grande, and Great kiskadees are year-round residents of the Rio Grande Valley. However, like many other tropical species, they are gradually expanding their range and can occasionally be found as far north as San Antonio.
Named for its distinctive three-syllable call…”kiskadee”…this bird loudly announces its presence. Not the least bit shy or secretive, the kiskadee boldly calls from its perch while hunting.
With its big square head and stocky body, the kiskadee resembles a kingfisher in appearance and similarly perches over ponds where it dives for minnows, frogs, and insects.
Their black mask functions like eye-black athletes apply beneath their eyes, as this adaptation helps reduce glare which assists kiskadees when hunting in bright light over water.
Vibrantly vocal, kiskadees will frequently announce their return to their preferred perch after an unsuccessful dive, and sometimes they even call with their mouths full.
South of the border, kiskadees are called “bien te veo” or I see you well. That is an apt description, as these colorful and loud birds are certainly easy to spot and hear.
They build large bulky nests of grass and twigs where they will raise three to five young. Only the female incubates, but both the male and female feed young. These avian extroverts often nest in Valley neighborhoods, and once they take up residence they may linger for several seasons as they can live for at least seven years.