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Highland Lakes wildlife refuge adds land to protect songbirds

Black-capped vireo

The black-capped vireo is a small songbird that nests in Central Texas’ scrublands, including at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge outside of Marble Falls. Photo courtesy of Melissa Cheatwood 

Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge recently acquired 441 acres of prime songbird habitat that will help maintain critical nesting grounds for species such as the black-capped vireo and the endangered golden-cheeked warbler

The refuge is located in the rugged limestone hills on the borders of Burnet, Travis, and Williamson counties. It is made up of about 28,000 acres dedicated to preserving native landscapes, wildlife, and plants. 

The recent land acquisition connects previously disjointed portions of the refuge.

Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge
A map of Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge illustrates its disjointed boundaries. The refuge’s recent addition of a 441-acre tract connects previously disconnected portions and creates a 5,000-acre block of contiguous, protected habitat. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service image

“This (441-acre) addition helps establish a connection between disjunct refuge tracts, creating a 5,000-acre contiguous block of important migratory and songbird habitat, including for the endangered golden-cheeked warbler,” reads a media release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “This tract also contains unique karst sinkholes, springs, and intermittent stream habitats and supports numerous species of resident birds and other wildlife, such as reptiles, amphibians, and mammals.”

Balcones Canyonlands is also a popular hiking destination. The refuge’s headquarters is located at 24518 RR 1431 outside of Marble Falls. Hikers can also access trails at the Warbler Vista Trailhead, 21646½ RR 1431 near Leander, and the Doeskin Ranch Trailhead, 10645 FM 1174 near Bertram.

Trails are free and open year-round from sunrise to sunset.

Golden-cheeked warbler
The golden-cheeked warbler is an endangered songbird that nests exclusively in the Ashe juniper forests of Central Texas. Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge provides critical habitat for the bird and many other native species. Photo by Steve Maslowski/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge is under the umbrella of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a federal agency tasked with preserving, protecting, conserving, and managing wildlife and wild places in the country.

The local refuge was created in 1992 to protect the nesting grounds of the golden-cheeked warbler and the black-capped vireo, both of which were endangered at the time. The vireo has since been removed from the endangered species list, but the warbler remains. 

The Ashe juniper forests of Central Texas are the only places in the world where golden-cheeked warblers nest. The small songbirds are the only bird species of the 360 found in Texas that nest exclusively in the state.