The Valley has great native trees, which I call
money trees, that attract 540 species of wonderful
wild birds which in turn attract Birders
from across the U.S. and around the world.
These birders spend half-a-billion dollars a
year to be here watching birds at the Valley's
world class birding destinations which have
hundreds of acres of woodland (growing money
trees), wetland, and grassland. These subjects
were covered in previous columns, Growing
Money Trees and Locating Money Trees.
Now let's find out how to benefit from this
birding bonanza by Tapping Into Money Trees
According to a research study published by
Texas A&M University, the money spent by
birders in the RGV supports 6,600 jobs. The
most obvious of these jobs are people who
work at the top Valley birding destinations listed
in my August column.
These destination jobs include; Naturalist,
Ranger, Maintenance, Front desk, Custodian,
Educator, Interpreter, Law Enforcement,
and Manager. Some of these jobs have direct
contact with birders such as guiding them on
walks, while other jobs serve birders indirectly.
There is serious competition for top jobs at
birding destinations. For the top positions it is
best to have a degree, a masters degree, or a
PhD in biology or a related field. Employers
include the Federal Government, Texas State
Government, county, city, and other entities
that operate birding destinations. Veterans are
encouraged to apply for these positions. For
more information visit or google the destinations
listed in my August 2015 column and
look for employment information.
Birders stay in hotels and eat at restaurants.
There are many folks who work to take care of
them; checking them in, providing them with
information, doing housekeeping, cooking and
serving meals. There are many stores where
birders shop, and of course the airports they fly
into, cars they rent ... all of these folks are serving
There are also folks who build web sites, do
graphic arts, and printing for birding destinations.
In 1998, while looking for a job, my wife and
I came across an old building in Alamo. We
bought it and turned it into a bed and breakfast
inn, catering to birders. That became my
job, serving birders. We offer tours, guides,
and gear. Some people said we were crazy to
do such a thing, and we did struggle for a few
years, until birders discovered it, then it got really
We started with four suites and today we
have twenty. We have had people from 36 different
countries staying here often making reservations
a year in advance. We have to turn
people away during the busy season because
we are sold out.
There are ten birding bed and breakfasts
around the Valley that represent many jobs and
opportunities. see RGV-BedandBreakfast.com
Creative people who depict birds on products
can be very successful. There are many artists
in the Valley who paint and draw nature, butterflies
and birds and sell them. One lady in Willacy
County Art League creates tiny paintings
of birds on domestic parrot feathers. A graphic artist from McAllen prints his amazing bird
graphics on T-shirts and has them embroidered
on hats. These sell well to visiting birders.
The Valley Partnership prints free birding
and butterfly maps with advertising on them
(someone has to sell the advertising and that is
a great job). News media write about birds and
birding for their readers. TV stations videotape
birds for broadcast. There are several birding magazines to which folks sell birding stories
The Valley has a real shortage of good birding
guides who know the various species by
sight and call. There are more birders who want
to hire guides than there are guides available.
There are also guides and ranches who offer
specialized services for bird photographers.
Some guides work full time, others part time.
There is a need for both. A birding guide needs
to know the subject matter well and where to
find them. There are people who teach birding,
the hobby of watching birds. Courses are available
at birding centers, and enhance the lives
of those who take them. There are others who
teach ornithology, the profession of studying
birds. These courses are available at universities,
including UT RGV, and require serious
Believe it or not, there are people who are
paid to grow Valley money trees. Nurseries
grow native trees from seed for U.S. Fish &
Wildlife Service, who buy seedlings to reforest
tracts of refuge land in the Valley.
There are also many non-paying jobs for volunteers
who guide birders, feed the birds, and
do maintenance at birding destinations across
the Valley. If you are interested in volunteer
work, contact the front desk at a destination
near you, and ask for the volunteer coordinator.
There are birding clubs in the Valley such
as the Arroyo Colorado Audubon Society who
have meetings with speakers and field trips.
The RGV Birding Festival is held the second
week of November every year in Harlingen.
Birders come from around the country to
join field trips, listen to lectures, and visit the
trade show. The festival fills hotels, hires busses,
vans, guides and caterers and also needs
volunteers to help run the event. It is one of the
oldest and largest birding festivals in U.S.
My favorite Valley volunteer job with wild
birds, is watching and feeding the birds in my
yard. Folks who do this are called back yard
birders. Their reward is the pleasure of seeing
our colorful birds and learning more about
them. Many Valley residents love watching
birds at their feeders, birds foraging in their
money trees, birds splashing in their bird baths,
and birds calling and singing in their yard. Can
one place a value on that?
To those who enjoy wild birds, it is priceless.