Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, just south of Mission, is not only Texas’ southernmost state park, but since October 2005, the headquarters of the new World Birding Center.
The park draws visitors from as far away as Europe and Japan hoping to spot some of the more than 325 species of birds and over 250 species of butterflies, many of them from neighboring Mexico and Central America.
As a result of the $7 million development of the World Birding Center headquarters, the state park’s 585 acres of river bottom forests and thick thorn scrub were expanded to 760 acres.
The center’s headquarters’ Quonset hut-style buildings, designed to resemble 1930s agricultural structures that dotted the region, incorporate a number of environmentally friendly “green” building features, such as a rainwater collection system, well-insulated ceilings and walls, and sustainable, chemical-free construction materials.
Extensive plantings of native trees and other vegetation surround the headquarters site, attracting the Valley birds and butterflies.
Witness amazing hawk migrations, and enjoy bird walks and natural history tours at this key migratory stopover.
You can spend a whole day exploring bird life along a one-mile walking trail through sugar hackberry, Rio Grande ash, and Texas ebony; and the six-mile paved inner and outer loops.
Or take the tram or rent a bicycle to meander around the loops. You can stop along the way; one prime spot is the ADA accessible hawk-watching tower. The Hawk Tower is not really a tower; it’s an elevated walkway with panoramic views of the surrounding brush country and the adjacent resaca.
Throughout the park you’ll see dozens of striking green jays gathered on platform bird feeders. With their bright green backs, purple-blue heads with black trim down to the chest, and yellowish-green under parts, these birds are just one of the tropical joys of the park.
And then there is the radiant orange Altamira oriole that reaches its northernmost range in the Rio Grande Valley from its Mexican and north Central American roots.
But don’t take for granted the drab brown, scrawny-looking, turkey-like bird called a plain chachalaca, a bird that also reaches its northern limits in the Valley. Chachalacas are members of the Cracidae family of tropical Latin American birds that include guans and curassows and represent the most endangered family of birds in the Western Hemisphere. However, at Bentsen they are raucous and plentiful.
Rare birds show up every winter, including a black-vented oriole last winter, shown in the photo below.
Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park and World Birding Center
Hours: 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. daily
Admission: $5 or Texas State Park Pass
Physical Address: 2800 S. Bentsen Palm Drive (FM 2062) Mission, TX 78572
Phone: (956) 584-9156
Please Note: This is the third in a series of stories on Rio Grande Valley nature hot spots
Texas Spoken Friendly
Legends say that hummingbirds float free of time, carrying our hopes for love, joy, and celebration. The hummingbird’s delicate grace reminds us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere, every personal connection has meaning and that laughter is life’s sweetest creation.