Birders and Butterfly Enthusiasts Find Their Nirvana in Mission, TX
Mission, Texas and the Rio Grande Valley are at center of one of the nation's richest areas for birding and the study of butterflies.
Nestled against the Rio Grande River just above the Mexican border, Mission, Texas has long been known as a center for citrus farming, home of the famous Texas Ruby Red grapefruit. But, what many don't realize is that Mission has a rich history of birdwatching with more than 465 species reported in the Rio Grande Valley alone, and that the area is considered the top destination in the United States for birders.
Mission's Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park is also headquarters for the World Birding Center, a 2,400-acre nature reserve that is one of the richest birding areas in North America. The park complex features a two-story observation desk, visitor center, exhibit hall and gift shop and is staffed by knowledgeable rangers and and visiting ornithologists.
In Mission and across the Rio Grande Valley, it seems everything is coming up butterflies. For years, scientists and naturalists have traveled from around the world to study the more than 300 varieties of butterflies that flutter throughout the area. In 1995, as a tribute to the colorful insects, the Mission Chamber of Commerce began organizing a three-day festival that provides hands-on learning opportunities for butterfly fans of all ages including field trips, seminars, an outdoor market and a parade.
Today, the Texas Butterfly Festival, which takes place in mid-October each year, is one of the largest annual gatherings of butterfly enthusiasts in the United States, attracting nearly 5,000 people for fun and engaged learning. Mission is also home to the North American Butterfly Association’s International Butterfly Park, an 84-acre park and learning facility. Located just south of downtown, the butterfly park features scenic gardens, walking trails, a visitor’s center and a specially recreated native habitat naturally populated with thousands of wild butterflies.
And the Bottom Line
Birdwatching grew by 155 percent across the country in the 1990s – faster than hiking, skiing, golf, tennis, climbing, camping, fishing and hunting, according to a national survey done by the University of Georgia. As such, birding has a major economic impact on the area, and it has a positive effect on the environment because it attracts tourism dollars without without harming the environment. Birders stay longer and spend more money than most tourists, which impacts local businesses.