Bird Watching in Louisiana (in Winter)

We first spied them flying over to Stella Plantation from the batture along the Mississippi River. Four flycatchers with long, forked tails sallied over Highway 39 and alighted on the power lines. My husband, Tom, remarked, “You’d better check those closely. There might be a Fork-tailed Flycatcher among them.” Christie Riehl, who studies Greater Anis in Panama, was quick on the draw, and scanned them with binoculars. “There is a Fork-tailed Flycatcher with the Scissor-tails!” she exclaimed.

(The Fork-tailed Flycatcher. Photo from: Scott Buckel/Audubon Photography Awards)

The Fork-tailed Flycatcher seemed to know that his lavishly long tail streamers were in mint condition, for he sailed over us on numerous occasions, showing them off. I’ve seen this bird several times in Central America, but never in the U.S.! The company he kept was not too shabby either: at one point, a we were looking at the one fork-tail, 3 Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and 3 Western Kingbirds, all assembled in a field near Stella’s citrus grove.

(The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. Photo from: Vic Prislipsky/Audubon Photography Awards)

Stella Plantation is my favorite places to bird in winter. I love it because I am pretty much guaranteed to get good looks at elusive LeConte’s Sparrows while Bald Eagles soar majestically overhead. I’ve seen three species of owl there too: Eastern Screech-Owl, Barred Owl and Great Horned Owl, and others have observed Short-eared Owl and Barn Owl. Wood Ducks also gather in large numbers in Stella’s many canals to crop up on acorns.

(The Great Horned Owl. Photo from: Johann Schumacher/Vireo)

As an ornithologist, I have wondered why Stella Plantation is a magnet for a diversity of birds. Location is certainly part of the equation: Stella is sandwiched between the Mississippi River (a flyway, or highway for birds) and the Forty Arpent Canal with the vast marshes beyond it. Stella’s rich alluvial soils, live oak-dominated ridges traversing through bottomland hardwood forest, citrus grove, crawfish ponds, and fallow fields are also irresistible avian attractants.

Jennifer Coulson, Ph.D.

Jennifer is conducting a long-term, population ecology study on Swallow-tailed Kites nesting in Louisiana and Mississippi. She has a Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Tulane University, a M.S. in Biological Sciences, and a B.A., Biological Sciences from the University of New Orleans.

Jennifer is a Raptor Propagator and a Master Falconer (one of about 62 licensed falconers in Louisiana). She is also the Editor of the Journal of Louisiana Ornithology and President and Conservation Chair of the Orleans Audubon Society.

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