In northwest Bexar County, 12,500-acres have been declared a Globally Significant Important Bird area by Birdlife International and the National Audubon Society.   The designation, known as the Southernmost Edwards Plateau region and one of only 16 in Texas, is reserved for areas of the world that host important habitat for at least one threatened bird species–in this case, the Golden-cheeked warbler.  The Golden-cheeked warbler has been listed as an endangered species since May of 1990.

Golden-cheeked warbler in oak-Ashe-Juniper
Golden-cheeked warbler on Ashe Juniper, photo courtesy Audubon. Credit: Courtesy / Audubon Society

The beautiful black and white songbird with gold-colored cheeks uses the shredded bark of old growth Ashe Juniper trees as nesting material and limits its breeding area to the Edwards Plateau of Central Texas.   Urban sprawl, the fragmentation of heritage ranches and our historic 2011 drought, have resulted in a decline in its nesting habitat over the years.   Some estimates suggest that 500 million trees were lost in last year’s drought, many of them Ashe Junipers, commonly known as “cedars.”   The establishment of the Southernmost Edwards Plateau region as a globally significant bird area is a hopeful sign that the warblers will have material for future nests.

Southernmost Edwards Plateau, map by Nicolas Rivard

Iliana Pena, Audubon Texas Director of Conservation, described in a press release the designation of northwest Bexar County as an “important bird area” as “unique, because of the proximity to such a large urban city [San Antonio] and the benefit of the great collection of state, city, and private, partners all willing to highlight and manage the sites” in a press release.   The conservation effort was a collaboration of Bexar Audubon Society, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), City of San Antonio Natural Areas, private landowners, local biologists, and volunteers.

Developed in the United States, the Important Bird Areas Program operates to promote and sustain effective local conservation for priority bird habitats. Texas contains just 32 of these sites;  of those, 16 are globally-significant—the highest ranking conservation priority level.  The Southernmost Edwards Plateau birding region in Bexar County includes Government Canyon State Natural Area, Emili and Albert Friedrich Park, Eisenhower Park, and Maverick Ranch.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department participated in the IBA process by helping to interview and supervise field biologists for GCW surveys in each IBA location and assisting with data entry, analysis, and mapping of bird sightings. In addition, TPWD focused efforts on blocking the development of a floodwater detention facility, proposed in Government Canyon State Natural Area, which would ultimately destroy hundreds of acres of critical GCW habitat.

Listen to the song of the Golden Cheeked Warbler

San Antonio Report co-founder Monika Maeckle writes about pollinators, native plants, and the ecosystems that sustain them at the Texas Butterfly Ranch website. She is also the founder and director of...