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Balcones Canyonlands
National Wildlife Refuge

This montage is of the black-capped vireo and the golden-cheeked warbler.  The refuge was established to conserve the habitat for these species.
24518 FM 1431
Marble Falls, TX   78654
E-mail: Kelly_Purkey@fws.gov
Phone Number: 512-339-9432
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Endangered black-capped vireo in nest and golden-cheeked warbler.
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Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge
"I hear him over there!" Birdwatchers exclaim in hushed whispers as a black-capped vireo pops up from the shin oak thicket. Hidden within the observation deck, the visitors gaze through binoculars at their first sighting of the rare songbird only 20 feet away.

Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge offers some of the best birdwatching and habitat left in Texas for two endangered songbirds - the black-capped vireo and the golden-cheeked warbler. Less than an hour from Austin, visitors can step off the streets into the wilds of the Texas Hill Country.

Getting There . . .
Headquarters is located on FM 1431. If you are coming from the Austin area go west through Lago Vista. The office is five miles from the Lago Vista High School. If you are coming from the west, the office is one mile east of the intersection with Cow Creek Road. If you don't want to get on the 183A Toll Road and you're going north on U.S. 183 from Austin, get off at the Lakeline Mall Drive exit. Continue north on U.S. 183.

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Wildlife and Habitat

Imagine planting one foot in the Great Plains and the other in the Gulf Coast. When you enter Balcones Canyonlands NWR, you stand at the juncture of these two geographic regions. Add the unusual limestone geology of the Edwards Plateau and it's not surprising to find plants and animals adapted to live here and nowhere else.

The Golden-cheeked Warbler is one of those animals and Ashe juniper is one of those plants that live in this Texas Hill Country. This warbler is dependant on this tree to provide virtually all of the material (loose bark from the older trees) to build a little nest for three to four eggs.

By August, these old juniper and oak forests are devoid of the warblers since they have migrated to their "second home" in Mexico and Central America. More abundant food is available there.

At least one-third of Texas's threatened and endangered species live or move through the Edwards Plateau. The Texabama croton, one of some 657 native species of plants, is a rare plant found on the refuge.

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Arrowheads and chipped rocks serve as reminders of the aboriginal people who hunted and gathered here for thousands of years, depending on bison, deer, small game and wild harvests. By the late seventeenth century, Apaches and Comanches moved onto the Edwards Plateau and defended their territories until overwhelmed by the thousands of settlers who migrated to Texas after 1848, at the end of the Mexican War.

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    Recreation and Education Opportunities
Wildlife Observation
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Management Activities
As the refuge staff diligently work to restore nature's cycles to former ranchland, visitors can expect to see and enjoy more Hill Country wildlife. Crews prune oak shinnery to match the needs of the black-capped vireo. They plant oaks to establish new vireo habitats in cleared lands, and replace domestic with native grasses that will become nesting, feeding and wintering areas for a suite of birds.

Scientists now know that it's not always a good idea to put out all flames. Before settlement, lightning storms frequently sparked fires that rejuvenated both grasses and the shin oak community. Thanks to a carefully managed prescribed burning program, each year more of the refuge returns to remind us of an era when buffalo roamed across a vast tallgrass prairie. Fire, too, keeps the shin oak in the brushy, low-growing state the vireos require for nesting.

Enhancing habitat for vireos is a start, but brown-headed cowbirds can wreak havoc. Cowbirds lay their eggs in other birds' nests, which proved an excellent strategy for a traveling lifestyle following bison herds. Today, cowbirds thrive in the company of livestock and people. Combine their abundance with the struggling black-capped vireos and the result spells trouble. These endangered songbirds can't afford to raise cowbird chicks at the expense of their own. The refuge solves the dilemma by removing cowbirds from vireo nesting areas to give the endangered birds a better chance for recovery.

Wildland fire has the potential to destroy prime Golden-cheeked Warbler nesting habitat. Shaded fuel break barriers are built around some of this habitat. This technique involves cutting the lower branches of trees and removing shrubs, reducing the amount of fuel available for fire to spread and destroy the habitat.

However, prescribed fire is used to enhance low quality woodlands for future nesting habitat. There fires recycle nutrients and stimulate hardwood forests to sprout. More palatable hardwood leaves offer a source of food for insects which, in turn, provide food for both the young and adult warblers.