Birds of a Feather: Why Young Adults are Flocking to McAllen, TX

From recent grads to new families, McAllen offers something for young adults of every age and in every phase.

Brittany Anas
On Wednesday, April 22, 2020 - 14:34

The McAllen area has established itself as a bonafide bird-watching destination, where residents can catch glimpses of birds seen nowhere else in the country. Quinta Mazatlan, a Spanish Revivalstyle adobe mansion turned urban sanctuary, attracts many of these otherwise elusive “Valley specialties.”

The Plain Chachalacas nest in the palms and sing a raucous song that sounds like “get the ball,” and the spunky Olive Sparrows with beautiful green backs have calls that sound as though they are sung to the beat of a bouncing ball. The two would make quite an entertaining duet.

The birds of the Rio Grande Valley are lively and fascinating. And so, too, are the people who flock to McAllen. Thanks to high-ranking quality of life metrics — such as low crime rates and affordable housing —McAllen is a draw for millennials and Gen Z residents settling into their careers and starting families.

Urban ecologist John Brush of Quinta Mazatlan World Birding Center helped link some of the area’s birds with the different personas of young residents in McAllen. Think of these esteemed birds as mascots of sorts for the city’s 20- and 30-somethings. To go even one step further, we asked McAllen residents in these subcategories how they like to spend their free time. Here’s what McAllen’s youngest residents are talking (or perhaps, Tweeting) about:

McAllen Chamber of Commerce

Young Families: The Green Jays

Green Jays are known for traveling in flocks and, Brush says, spend most of their time in family groups.

Family is certainly important to Stephanie Rios, 28, who is a wife and a mother of two boys, ages 4 and 2. As a professional photographer, Rios specializes in shooting weddings and family portraits and appreciates the flexibility of her career, which lets her stay home with her children. When she’s scouting locations for photos, she’s drawn to the southern part of the city.

“It’s really full of beautiful trees and is forest-like,” she says.

Then when it’s play time, she loves the abundance of parks — McAllen has 25 of them — where she can take her boys since they are clean and feel safe, she says.

Rios’ sister, Marienma Valencia Martinez, 35, lives nearby in McAllen. Valencia Martinez, who earned her master’s degree in social work and works for a foster care agency, says she and her husband agreed McAllen would be a great place to start a family. As parents to a newborn, they chose a neighborhood that feeds into great schools and where neighbors gather for block parties on the holidays. On the weekends, they enjoy going to the farmers market and picking up bags of seasonal veggies, heading to a dog park to let their pup play, and eating arepas at a Venezuelan food truck.

For those raising families, safety is of the utmost importance. McAllen is one of the safest cities in Texas, according to an independent study by, which ranked McAllen 23rd out of nearly 3,000 cities with a population of 10,000 or more.

Nathan Lambrecht

Young Professionals: Green Parakeets

Green Parakeets are urban, full of character, like to mingle and are organic vegetarians, Brush says.

John Brush, 29, grew up in the Rio Grande Valley and began birding at a young age, learning from his father who has a Ph.D. in zoology. Brush’s profession as an ecologist aligns with his interests, as the birds of McAllen put on a year-round show.

The city has a mix of South Texas specialty birds, he explains.

“Yet, like the Valley at large, there is a constant influx of other birds,” he says. This includes neotropical migrants, hawks and warblers, summer breeding birds and winter visitors, including the neotropical rarities for which the Valley is so well known. “One of my favorite Saturday outings is to mix nature exploration with food,” he says. “It varies, but typically, the day involves visiting one – or both – of our nature centers, Quinta Mazatlan or the McAllen Nature Center.”

Some days, he’ll switch things up and go for a walk at Bill Schupp Park or Fireman’s Park. Some of his favorite places to dine with groups of friends include Hop Tung, Universal Market Indian Restaurant and Kabob Guys.

For busy, young professionals who like to mingle, there are plenty of hiking and biking trails to explore in McAllen. Then grab a bite to eat at one of the many locally owned restaurants, with menus that specialize in everything from Tex-Mex to barbecue to Indian.

Courtesy of McAllen Metro

Recent College Graduates: Clay-Colored Thrush

The Clay-Colored Thrush is a fairly recent addition to the Valley’s avifauna, becoming noticeable in the last quarter of the century, Brush says. Ecologists still have lots to learn about this species, which is becoming more a part of the bird community here.

Orazel Alexis Hernandez, who was born and raised in McAllen, graduated in 2019 from South Texas College with an associate degree in computer science. She’s a Gen Z mom of two girls who has decided to stay in McAllen largely because she wants to be close to her family, and the spicy food she loves is a plus, too, she says.

Hernandez’s husband heads up Wrestling Revolution, which puts on live, professional wrestling matches every Friday night, and she helps him out with the business side of things.

“McAllen has a lot of hidden gems that people don’t know about,” she says. “There’s always something happening at the McAllen Convention Center, whether it’s Comic Con or Anime Fiesta or WrestleFest.”

She also enjoys pedal or paddle boating on Fireman’s Lake or catching a show downtown at Cine El Rey.

For recent graduates, the affordable housing market and the cost of living is a big draw, too, as the median home price is $136,000 — about $85,000 less than the national figure.


Brittany Anas is a former newspaper reporter who accidentally became a federal background investigator before quickly retreating back to journalism.