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Tapping Into Money Trees
by Keith Hackland (alamoinn@aol.com)
published September 2015

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 birders.

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 busy. 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 and photographs.

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 study.

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.

Alamo Inn Bed & Breakfast

The Tram Tour at Santa Ana NWR