Bat Falcon Is Spotted for the First Time in the United States

Why the bird ventured so far north is a mystery, but the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service says the raptor’s range seems to be expanding

A bat falcon flies against a blue sky
The bat falcon in Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in Alamo, Texas Josmar Olivares via Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge Facebook

Birders have been flocking to Texas over the last few months to lay eyes on the country’s first ever recorded bat falcon, a bird that can normally only be seen in Mexico and Central and South America. 

“It’s got everything going for it. It’s rare. It’s spectacular and it’s a bird of prey,” Jeffrey Gordon, former president of the American Birding Association who traveled to see the bird, tells Border Report’s Sandra Sanchez. “It’s showing up in a great location. It’s the perfect storm in the birding world.”

The bat falcon is a small, carnivorous bird with a white throat and a rust-colored belly, per eBird. They eat bats, birds, small rodents and large insects, usually hunting at dusk or dawn. The species is not particularly rare in its home territory. It’s classified as “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List, though its population is decreasing because of habitat loss and degradation. 

The falcon in Texas is thought to be a juvenile because of its “buff-(cinnamon) throat and (chest) bars,” the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge wrote on Facebook, adding that it seems like a male “judging by the thickness of the tarsus and beak.” 

Why the bird had ventured so far north is a mystery, but the U.S.Fish & Wildlife Service wrote in a Facebook comment that the species’ range “definitely seems to be expanding (according to birdwatching data from the last few decades) but we don't know why.” 

Dan Brooks, curator of vertebrate zoology at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, tells the Houston Chronicle’s Andrew Dansby that the bird may have just gotten adventurous because of climate change. He said those interested should go see it while it’s still there. 

"When it leaves, there's no guarantee he'll come back," he tells the Chronicle

Though the bird has been in the country since last year, it only began making headlines in mid-February, when the USFWS posted images of the visitor on Facebook. One photo, taken by Peter Witt, shows the young falcon perched on a branch with a large dragonfly clamped in its beak. 

Witt visited the refuge earlier this month specifically to see the bird, he tells KSAT‘s Mary Claire Patton. 

“We could see him fly off from a tree shag perch, skim the lake, grab an insect and return to chow down, then rest a bit and repeat. We watched him for about 20 minutes... a wonderful and unique experience,” he tells the outlet. 

Ray Sharpton, a 77-year old retiree, hopped in his car at 3 a.m. and drove 34 hours from upstate New York to see the bird, per Border Report

“I first heard about the bat falcon on eBird alert,” Sharpton told the website. “I’ve been watching it on the computer and finally one day I said, ‘I’m going!’” 

As of early February, about 4,000 birders have come to the refuge since the first sighting of the falcon, Joe Barnett, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service deputy refuge manager for the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge tells Border Report. “Somebody even came from Europe, so it’s drawing a lot of attention,” he says.