For this month’s edition of “Critterman’s Corner,” I thought I’d talk about an animal that most of us see every day, but few of us probably think about.

It’s not a plane, it’s not Superman—it’s a bird!

Critterman's sixth grade book report on the Red-tailed Hawk. (Courtesy of David Kleven)

The path that led to my becoming a professional wildlife educator developed over time. I recently rediscovered my very first written attempt at teaching people about wildlife. In sixth grade, we were assigned to write about something that inspires us. At the time, I had recently visited a nature center where I had come face-to-face with a live Red-Tailed Hawk. The beauty of the hawk and the information the volunteer shared about the hawk, mesmerized me.  That inspiration carried over to assignment, a short time later. To this day, Red-tailed Hawks are still my favorite bird. They are also one of the most common birds of prey found in Denton County.

According to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, there are 615 species of birds that have been documented in the state of Texas. Early spring is a great time for bird-watching in Denton County. It is easy to spot various bird species and their nests this time of year, before the trees start to bloom and the leaves return. For the Red-tailed Hawk, like many birds of prey, February is considered breeding season. They typically lay eggs at the end of February or the beginning of March.

Clear Creek Natural Heritage Center is a great place in Denton County to go bird watching. There are 90 species of birds that have been documented in that area, so make sure to bring a camera. The two best times of day to visit are early morning as the sun comes up, or late afternoon. Just before the sun goes down, you may even spot an owl.

During the spring, many people find baby birds on the ground. People frequently ask what they should do if they find a baby bird on the ground. Most people were taught as youngsters, by their parents to avoid touching baby birds because if your scent gets on them, the parents will reject them.  While I am not advocating handling baby birds, the truth is that most birds have little to no sense of smell. In most cases of grounded baby birds that lack flight feathers, it is because they were pushed out of the nest by a stronger sibling competing for food. It is a natural occurrence that ensures survival of the fittest. These baby birds may be carefully placed back into the nest, if you can find it, and it is safe to do so. However, they are likely to be ousted again, particularly in a weakened state. It is also likely that they sustained internal injury, and they will not survive. People often tend to romanticize “the wild,” thinking of it as being an idyllic place. In fact, this is the way of the wild. Fledglings may also be found on the ground for a period of time, before figuring out how to fly back up into the trees. Fledglings have flight feathers and are usually close to adult size. Often the adults are in the area and will still tend to them if they are not scared off by human presence.

If you ever find a bird that is injured, you have two options. First, you can let nature take its course. As compassionate humans, this can be difficult for some. However, many predators depend on opportunities like this to catch an easy meal. My second favorite bird, the turkey vulture, will also appreciate it. Your other option is to contact Texas Parks and Wildlife to find a rehabber. Rehabbing birds requires both a state and a federal license, so make sure you contact one that lists birds.

Birds have inspired humans throughout history. Their beautiful plumage, elaborate courtship displays, diverse calls and songs are all reflected throughout human history. Flighted birds inspired human air travel—but don’t blame them for all those less-than-fun airport experiences!

As I write this, it is sunny and 75 degrees – in February. While that’s not ideal winter weather, it is the perfect time of year to see hawks thermo-regulating in the leafless trees and vultures lazily riding the thermal air currents in the sky overhead. Denton is home to all kinds of wonders, so get outside and get inspired!

As always, if you have a question about wildlife or my work, don’t hesitate to ask at Critterman@animaled.com.

(Blog edited by Tyler Hicks)