Gulf Coast Bird Observatory

Mike stumbled on a different job for us in January/February of this year. Because of my new career (Tour Directing. Read that here), he had to find a solo job. We wanted to stay in Texas for the total eclipse in April. He found an interesting gig at the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory.

Gulf Coast Bird Observatory

It was particularly lucky because I’m sure they would rather have had active birders in this position.. and we know nothing! 27 years ago Dow Chemical donated the 37 acres of land to develop the bird observatory in Lake Jackson, TX. The observatory is dedicated to education and research of migratory birds that travel through. The observatory currently has 7 full time employees, one intern, and one maintenance volunteer.. that was Mike. On the property there is also one RV spot with full hookups for the use of the volunteer. They have regulars that volunteer consistently year after year, but the guy that usually does January/February was sick and couldn’t come this year… Lucky for us.

Gulf Coast Bird Observatory - RV Spot
Gulf Coast Bird Observatory – RV Spot

Mikes tasks are to fill bird feeders and hummingbird feeders, keep the trails cleared, mow the grass, and tackle maintenance projects as desired. He works completely on his own schedule. It’s kind of a dream job!

The intern is staying is an apartment in the maintenance shop.. Other than that, we are alone on the property after hours, and far from the activity during open hours. There is a Bayou (Looks like a river from New Mexico standards) 50 feet behind us. It is VERY peaceful, and we wake up to the multiple bird songs in the morning. I have even learned to recognize a few birds here.

Lake Jackson

Lake Jackson is a clean, very pleasant livable town about 30 miles south of Houston. If it wasn’t for the 100% humidity days we could consider this a permanent home.. But there is always something that keeps our itchy feet itching to move!

Lake Jackson Recreation Center

Being alone on the Observatory meant nobody to play pickleball (aside from no courts). So about the second day in we wandered over to the Rec Center in town where we could get a membership for the two of us for about $45 a month. That seemed worth it. So we have been playing pickleball (indoor) 3-5 times per week, and I have been taking the water aerobics followed by a sweat in the sauna about once a week.. Pure heaven!

Close to Houston

Close to Houston means close to IKEA (had to go there once, of course) and close to Kitty, a friend from college. I did take the opportunity to spend as much time as possible with Kitty, she even came down for a night.. Our first overnight guest in the RV!

Bird Banding

On the third Saturday each month they have a bird banding event. In January the weather canceled the event, but February was very interesting. The bird observatory invited us to volunteer, which we anxiously did. But because of our experience level and training, it turned out to be more watching,. It is a delicate and specialized operation.

Catching, transporting, weighing, looking for fat, recording, and banding

At the bird banding they raise 7-foot-tall nets in about 7 locations around the property. The volunteers check the nets for birds that the net caught every 20 minutes or so. They put them in mesh bags and bring them back to the workstation where they hung them on a carousel to await their turn for examination. We were not allows to go near the nets as it would stress the birds more than they already were and stress the collector potentially leading to a bird injury.

The examiners take each bird in turn. They record the species, age and sex of each bird. The wing is measured from the “elbow” joint to the wingtip, and weigh the bird. The volunteers blow air through a straw to view the skin and look for fat content, yellow fat reserve globules.

If the bird already has a band, they will take a record of today and note the last time it was seen and where. If they do not have a band they give them a new band before setting them free. They caught around 75 birds that day. About a third of the birds caught were already had a band. Of the banded, 100% received their band at this facility showing how birds typically are fairly consistent in their locations.


We also jumped at the opportunity when Martin, the Executive Director of the Bird Observatory, offered to take us out for a day and teach us about birds… Yes, yes, and yes!

Alligator Babies

In the middle of the observatory is a large pond with shelter blinds to watch the birds, and signs to beware of the alligators. We have not seen any large alligators, but we have watched a brood of eight (that we have seen) baby alligators.

At first I thought where there are babies there must be at least 2 adults, but on further speculation I don’t know that our little pond has enough food for 2 adult alligators. So this means they (or she) periodically wanders over from the bayou! I keep watching out my window for that, but haven’t seen it yet.

All good things come to an end

It has been a super enjoyable 2 months here in Lake Jackson. We will surely miss it but not too likely to wander back this way, and doubt we would be lucky enough to get this placement again (although of course the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory would welcome us back anytime). It does seem that being at the bird observatory has changed our perspective greatly on birds! Mike and I find ourselves looking at birds in a whole new inquisitive way. That is a positive for sure.

2 Responses

  • Wow.. great and lucky find in Texas. Mike isn’t sneaking off and bring home any exotic birds for the Barbie is he? I remember how much he loved hunting and fishing. Happy there’s Pickleball nearby.

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