The Valley Land Fund’s  South Padre Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary

The last half of the 20th century witnessed a drastic decline in the number of virtually all neotropic migratory birds. While there is a debate as to all of the causes of this decline, it is undisputed that migratory mortality is a significant factor. Such fatalities have always occurred, but their impact has greatly increased during the last few decades because of habitat loss and fragmentation, pollution, global warming, and introduced species.

Neotropic migrants typically fly at night when weather conditions are most stable, but such flights are nevertheless very dangerous. Spring migration across the Gulf of Mexico usually begins on southerly winds. If the birds encounter a cold front or other disturbance, millions of profoundly exhausted birds must battle severe headwinds far out to sea. Autumn cold fronts, with their northwesterly winds, frequently drive migrants off the coast. All too often, dawn again finds millions of birds over the open Gulf desperately trying to make it back to land. Those who do not make it to shore die; those who make it to shore but do not find food, fresh water, and shelter also die.

The Valley Land Fund (VLF), a non-profit land trust in deep south Texas, acquired ten adjacent lots on South Padre Island. Under the expert guidance of Billy Snider and Sue Griffin of Mother Nature’s Creations, VLF  re-introduced over 1,000 native plants. They also added much appreciated (by the birds) water features. In the meantime, orange and grapefruit sections placed in the trees provide migrants with much needed additional sustenance. VLF also works with its public and private neighbors to otherwise improve the wildlife carrying capacity of their properties

The price tag for VLF’s South Padre Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary (SPI-MBS) is $400,000, of which VLF raised $260,000. (Tax deductible contributions may be sent to The Valley Land Fund, 2400 North 10 Street, Suite A, McAllen, Texas 78501; www.valleylandfund.com.) Once the re-vegetation is completed, VLF will create, distribute, and implement educational programs about migration, habitat preservation and enhancement, and the restoration of natural habitats.

Not surprisingly, VLF’S biggest supporters are the neotropic migrants themselves who use its rest stop. Most of these are regulars, such as Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, Philadelphia and Blue-headed Vireos, Scarlet and Summer Tanagers, and many warblers and flycatchers. However, a nice variety of unexpected species have also stopped by, including Varied Bunting, Flame-colored Tanager, the only U.S. record of a White-crested Elaenia, and Gray Kingbird. The Bunting, Tanager, and Elaenia were photographed and seen by many. Unfortunately, the Kingbird was only seen by field guide author and raptor expert William S. Clark and a F&WS biologist. (I missed it by 10 minutes!) Not surprisingly, SPI-MBS attracts a number of butterflies as well, which just goes to show that preserving and enhancing habitat is a key element to any wildlife conservation effort.

All in all, the Valley Land Fund‘s South Padre Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary is a great success.

Mike Hannisian