Texas trails close for spring while endangered birds mate

Kayla Jonsson

Some central Texas trails are closing for the spring to protect an endangered bird species’ mating season.

The golden-cheeked warbler is a small endangered songbird found only in central Texas because it relies on a combination of juniper and oak trees for nesting. To ensure a successful mating season for the birds, San Marcos’ Purgatory Creek Nature Area and Spring Lake Nature Area will partially close trails through May 31, said Brian Calvin, San Marcos Parks and Recreation intern.

“When we bought this land for parks and trails we knew we were going to have to take the golden-cheek warblers into account for part of the year,” Calvin said. “Only two trails are closing and even those are just partially closing, so people can definitely still come out and enjoy the parks for the spring.”

Calvin said the partial closing of the trails will help the bird’s mating season by reducing stress through peace and quiet.

“In closing the trail, what we’re hoping to do is stop traffic and minimize noise in the warbler’s environment,” he said. “People talk and bring their dogs, and all of that stresses the warblers out and prevents successful mating.”

Christopher Murray, land steward of the Baker Sanctuary which provides a secure woodland for the golden-cheek warblers, said the Austin and San Marcos areas are the core of the nesting ground for the birds because the necessary trees are abundant.

“The warblers need juniper trees to strip the bark off for their nests because juniper bark is softer and easier to tear for a nest,” Murray said. “Sometimes they’ll nest in that tree but a lot of times they build their nests in oak trees because they like to be up higher.”

Murray said the golden-cheek warblers have been reported in 39 counties in Texas but he believes the number has declined to closer to 25 now because of city development in their habitats. He said there are between 10,000 to 30,000 golden-cheek warblers total.

“We don’t have an exact number of how many are left because they are difficult to count,” he said. “Their song travels a great distance, so when we’re trying to count, we’ll hear one song and then another and not know if that was the same bird or not.”

Austin Parks and Recreation spokesman Victor Ovalle said there are no planned trail closings in Austin because the warblers were taken into account during construction of the trails.

“There may be a few areas where trails close but usually you might just see a trail that suddenly ends and that’s because it has entered a place where endangered birds are, so construction was stopped,” Ovalle said.