• Welcome to BirdForum, the internet's largest birding community with thousands of members from all over the world. The forums are dedicated to wild birds, birding, binoculars and equipment and all that goes with it.

    Please register for an account to take part in the discussions in the forum, post your pictures in the gallery and more.
ZEISS DTI thermal imaging cameras. For more discoveries at night, and during the day.

High Island - BirdForum Opus

Photo by HelenB
The grandstand overlooking Purkey's Pond, Boy Scout Woods, High Island, Texas, April 2009

United States, Texas


High Island is a small community on the Gulf Coast of SE Texas, which is famous as a migrant trap for birds returning to the USA in the Spring. There are 4 sanctuaries, owned and maintained by the Houston Audubon Society, the most well-known being Boy Scout Woods (photo right) and Smith Oaks. The area was impacted quite dramatically by 3 hurricanes in 4 years, most recently Hurricane Ike (Sept. 2008), but has recovered with the help of the Houston Audubon Society and many dedicated volunteers.

High Island is on the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail, site nos. UTC 51-55.

Photo by HelenB
Viewing area, nicknamed "The Cathedral", Boy Scout Woods, High Island in April 2009


Notable Species

High Island is famous for the many warblers, tanagers, vireos and other passerines, which drop into the sanctuaries during spring migration. Occasionally there may be a spectacular fallout with the right weather conditions. Fall migration is also a good time for a variety of species.


Connecticut Warbler (1978), Greenish Elaenia (1984)


Birds you can see here include:

Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Fulvous Whistling Duck, Greater White-fronted Goose, Snow Goose, Ross's Goose, Wood Duck, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Mallard, Mottled Duck, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Greater Scaup, Lesser Scaup, Hooded Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Northern Bobwhite, Common Loon, Pied-billed Grebe, Horned Grebe, Wood Stork, Magnificent Frigatebird, Northern Gannet, Neotropic Cormorant, Double-crested Cormorant, Anhinga, American White Pelican, Brown Pelican, American Bittern, Least Bittern, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Reddish Egret, Western Cattle Egret, Green Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, White Ibis, White-faced Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, White-tailed Kite, Swallow-tailed Kite, Mississippi Kite, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper's Hawk, Bald Eagle, White-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Swainson's Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Clapper Rail, King Rail, Virginia Rail, Sora, Purple Gallinule, Common Gallinule, American Coot, Black-bellied Plover, American Golden Plover, Snowy Plover, Wilson's Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Piping Plover, Killdeer, American Oystercatcher, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Spotted Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs, Willet, Lesser Yellowlegs, Upland Sandpiper, Whimbrel, Long-billed Curlew, Hudsonian Godwit, Marbled Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone, Red Knot, Sanderling, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Baird's Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Dunlin, Stilt Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Long-billed Dowitcher, Wilson's Snipe, Wilson's Phalarope, Bonaparte's Gull, Laughing Gull, Franklin's Gull, Ring-billed Gull, American Herring Gull, Least Tern, Gull-billed Tern, Caspian Tern, Black Tern, Common Tern, Forster's Tern, Royal Tern, Sandwich Tern, Black Skimmer, Rock Dove, Eurasian Collared Dove, White-winged Dove, Mourning Dove, Inca Dove, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Black-billed Cuckoo, Barn Owl, Eastern Screech Owl, Great Horned Owl, Barred Owl, Common Nighthawk, Chuck-will's-widow, Chimney Swift, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Rufous Hummingbird, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Belted Kingfisher, Red-headed Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Pileated Woodpecker, Crested Caracara, American Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Eastern Wood Pewee, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Acadian Flycatcher, Least Flycatcher, Eastern Phoebe, Great Crested Flycatcher, Western Kingbird, Eastern Kingbird, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Loggerhead Shrike, White-eyed Vireo, Yellow-throated Vireo, Blue-headed Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Philadelphia Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue Jay, American Crow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Purple Martin, Tree Swallow, Bank Swallow, Barn Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Cave Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, House Wren, Winter Wren, Sedge Wren, Marsh Wren, Carolina Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Eastern Bluebird, Veery, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Swainson's Thrush, Hermit Thrush, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, European Starling, American Pipit, Cedar Waxwing, Ovenbird, Worm-eating Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, Northern Waterthrush, Blue-winged Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Swainson's Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Mourning Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Hooded Warbler, American Redstart, Cape May Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Northern Parula, Magnolia Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Palm Warbler, Pine Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Canada Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Eastern Towhee, Chipping Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Seaside Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Lincoln's Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Harris's Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Summer Tanager, Scarlet Tanager, Western Tanager, Northern Cardinal, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Painted Bunting, Dickcissel, Red-winged Blackbird, Eastern Meadowlark, Common Grackle, Boat-tailed Grackle, Great-tailed Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, Orchard Oriole, Baltimore Oriole, House Finch, American Goldfinch, House Sparrow

Photo by HelenB
Viewing deck at Smith Oaks Sanctuary, High Island, Texas, April 2008

Other Wildlife

Coyote, bobcat, racoon, possum, rabbit, spotted ground squirrel, kangaroo rat, nutria, American alligator, several species of snakes (some venomous), various reptiles and amphibians, butterflies, dragonflies and many other insects.

Site Information

History and Use

High Island is not an "island" as such, but got its name because the area rises 32 feet above the surrounding marshes, due to the salt dome below (see diagram below). Trees were able to grow in the improved soil on this hill, and so it became a very important first landfall for the exhausted birds which have just flown the 600 miles across the Gulf of Mexico, on their return from their wintering grounds in the Tropics.

Areas of Interest

Photo by HelenB
The Rookery in Clay Bottom Pond, Smith Oaks Sanctuary, High Island, Texas, April 2008
  • Boy Scout Woods, the headquarters for Spring Migration, consists of 60 acres of woods, coastal prairie and wetlands.
  • Smith Oaks, the largest sanctuary, is 177 acres of field, woods, wetlands and ponds.
  • The Rookery at Smith Oaks, a nesting and roosting site for colonial waterbirds on the island in Claybottom Pond.
  • Eubank Woods, a 9.5-acre sanctuary of woods and wetlands.
  • S.E. Gast Red Bay Sanctuary, 8.8 acres of woods and former pasture, which are being turned back into woods.
  • Hooks Woods, with 2 drips, owned by the Texas Ornithological Society, on 1st Street in High Island.

Access and Facilities

  • Open daily from dawn to dusk, all year
  • During Spring migration (March 25th to May 7th, 2017) there are volunteers on hand and there is an entrance fee of $8 per day, or a yearly pass is available for $30, in the form of the High Island patch, featuring a different bird each year. Proceeds from these entrance fees help support HAS's 3000+ acre sanctuary system.
  • Free daily bird walks (except Tuesday and Wednesday), 3 a day, during Spring Migration (April 7th - April 29th)
  • Photo blind (hide) at Boy Scout Woods ~ reservations needed during Spring Migration check availability
  • Viewing decks at Clay Bottom Pond
  • No dogs or other domestic animals are allowed in the sanctuaries
  • Also prohibited: the use of bird calls on tapes, iPods/iPhones or mp3 players, and laser pointers
  • No smoking except in the parking lots and on the porch of the Boy Scout Woods bathrooms
Photo by HelenB
Information board about why High Island is high. Click on image for a larger version.

High Island is on the coast to the east of Galveston Bay. From Houston, take I-10 east, exit for Winnie and go south on Hwy. 124. Another way is to go through Galveston and cross to Bolivar on the free ferry, then follow Hwy. 87 along the Bolivar Peninsula.

Contact Details

Houston Audubon Society
440 Wilchester Blvd.
Houston, TX 77079
Tel: 713-932-1639
Email: [email protected]

External Links

Content and images posted by HelenB