Alligators Find a New Home at South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center

South Padre Island Birding & Nature Center

The lower Rio Grande Valley in south Texas is a mecca for birders. Two major flyways converge there and bring an abundance of migrating species. South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center is the easternmost of the nine properties that make up the World Birding Center in the Valley. It is located near the tip of South Padre Island, the longest barrier island in the world. In May, the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center became the new home of some rescued alligators.

pond with alligators and text overlay: Alligators get a new home South Padre Island Birding, Nature Center & Alligator SanctuaryThis was my third World Birding Center to visit and each is very special in its own way. Nothing makes me feel more at peace than being around or on the water and South Padre Island Birding & Nature Center really fills the bill.

boat and fishermanEven though it was a pretty warm day, the ocean breezes kept things comfortable. When you visit, though, be sure to wear a hat as the only shade you’ll find is in one of the bird blinds.

Inside bird blindInteresting Features

The center features a 1/2 mile of boardwalks, 5 bird blinds, a 5-story observation tower, a butterfly garden, an auditorium and a nature gift shop. When you enter and pay your entrance fee, you can also purchase alligator and tortoise food. The alligators, and the tortoises around the corner from them, are the first areas you encounter outside.

Have fun feeding the tortoises and alligators with food you purchase at the entrance. #alligators #travel #travelthesouth Click To Tweet

South Padre Island Birding, Nature Center and Alligator Sanctuary entrance

Sulcata tortoise

Sulcata tortoise

Juvenile alligators waiting for food at South Padre Island Birding, Nature Center and Alligator Sanctuary

Juvenile alligators waiting for food

Outside the sanctuary fences, there are wild alligators. It is unlawful to feed them as that is one of the main things that causes them to become a nuisance. You are reminded about these wild alligators along the boardwalk as well as when you leave the sanctuary area.

a sign that says "no feeding of alligators past this point" with regulation verbage
sign that reads "warning live alligators stay on boardwalks do not fee alligatos"

From the boardwalks over the marshes and the water of Laguna Madre, you can see not only many species of birds but also fish, plants and other animals. Lots of interpretive signs add to the understanding and enjoyment of the surrounding beauty.

From the boardwalks over the marshes and the water of Laguna Madre, you can see not only many species of birds but also fish, plants and other animals. #birding #nature Click To Tweet

Boardwalk and bird blind

Common moorhen

Common moorhen

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Great egret

Great egret

Roseate spoonbills

Roseate spoonbills

a fishboardwalk over lagoon

sign about common freshwater plants
sign about common salt marsh plants
sign about the importance of sea grass

Climbing the five stories to the top of the observation tower rewards you with breathtaking views of the surrounding area. From one side, you’ll get a bird’s eye view of the center grounds. From the other, you can see across the narrow island to the Gulf of Mexico.

Climbing the five stories to the top of the observation tower rewards you with breathtaking views of the surrounding area. #lagunamadre #gulfofmexico Click To Tweet

Panoramic view from observation deckView from observation tower

View towards Gulf from observation tower

View across the narrow island to the Gulf of Mexico

Related: Estero Llano Grande State Park — My First RGV Birding Experience
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South Padre Island Birding, Nature Center & Alligator Sanctuary

With the arrival of 51 alligators in May, the South Padre Island Birding & Nature Center became the South Padre Island Birding, Nature Center & Alligator Sanctuary.

Alligators that are deemed a nuisance must either be “harvested” or kept confined. The nuisance alligators that came to South Padre Island were rounded up from backyards, ponds and swimming pools, along with alligators that were stranded after severe weather and floods.

All but one of the alligators are babies and juveniles. The pond size in South Padre Island is only big enough to house 50 alligators that are between three and five feet long.

Along with these youngsters came Big Padre, a 12-foot, 700 pound, 50-year old adult. They say it took nine people to get him in the trailer so he could make his journey to safety. Big Padre has his own pond separate from the juveniles. One of the highlights of a visit to South Padre Island Birding, Nature Center & Alligator Sanctuary is to watch him getting a meal.

All but one of the alligators are babies and juveniles. Big Padre is a 12-foot, 700 pound, 50-year old adult. #alligator #southpadreisland Click To Tweet
Big Padre being fed - the only adult of the 51 alligators brought to South Padre Island Birding, Nature Center and Alligator Sanctuary

Big Padre

Gator Country Brings Alligators to South Padre Island

The idea for a sanctuary on South Padre Island came from Gary Saurage, owner of Gator Country in Beaumont, Texas. He was aware of the increasing wild alligator population on South Padre Island and knew it would be good to educate tourists as well as locals about them.

Until May, Gator Country in Beaumont was the only alligator sanctuary in Texas. It has over 600 alligators, so this new facility at South Padre Island Birding, Nature Center & Alligator Sanctuary helped them decrease their population. Gator Country gets about 40,000 visitors a year but they anticipate having the opportunity to reach as many as 200,000 visitors the first year at South Padre.

American Alligators in Texas

The American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) is a semi-aquatic reptile that prefers the freshwater of swamps, rivers, bayous, and marshes but can also tolerate brackish water. Once on the verge of extinction, it made a complete comeback and was delisted as endangered in 1985.

Alligators live in the southern US, including the eastern third of Texas, with Louisiana and Florida having the largest populations. They are mostly inactive in Texas from mid-October until April when the breeding season begins.

alligator laying on bank of pond

Alligator Safety

Alligators generally avoid humans but there are common sense precautions, as with any large wildlife, that you should observe. Keep in mind that alligators can move quickly on land for short distances but you are more likely to be struck by lightening than seriously injured by an alligator.

  1. Don’t feed them
  2. Keep your distance – 60 feet
  3. Don’t attempt to move them
  4. Never disturb nests or small alligators
  5. Don’t keep them as pets
  6. Keep your pets and children away
  7. Avoid swimming in known habitats
  8. Don’t corner one

The Details:

South Padre Island Birding & Nature Center, located adjacent to the South Padre Island Convention Center, is a nonprofit created by the Town of South Padre Island’s Economic Development Corporation.

Hours:
Open daily 7am to 5pm

Contact:
956-761-6801

Admission:
Adults: $8.00
Seniors & Military: $7.00
Children ages 4 – 12: $5.00
* Annual passes available

Sources:
South Padre Island Birding, Nature Center & Alligator Sanctuary
World Birding Center
HOW TO BE SAFE AROUND ALLIGATORS
American Alligator

alligator on pond bank with text overlay: Alligators get a new home South Padre Island, Texas South Padre Island Birding, Nature Center & Alligator Sanctuary
Great blue heron with text overlay: South Padre Island Birding, Nature Center & Alligator Sanctuary, World-class birding including many Texas specialties

observation tower from boardwalk with text overlay: Spectacular views from the 5-story observation tower, South Padre Island Birding, Nature Center & Alligator Sanctuary
view of boardwalk over water with text overlay: South Padre Island Birding, Nature Center & Alligator Sanctuary, 3300 feet of boardwalks through dune meadows, salt marsh and intertidal flats

Until next time…



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10 Comments

  1. This would be quite a different experience for me! I like the turtles –not so sure about the gators! It looks like a fun place to visit, though!

    • It truly is a fun and educational place to visit. The rescued alligators are all safely confined and you just need to be aware of your surroundings with regard to the wild alligators. At the nature center, you are completely safe as the boardwalks keep you above the water.

  2. Lissy L'Amoreaux

    How fun! Had no idea things like this were in South Padre- I always just think of there as a spring break frenzy. It’s nice to see things like this to do. I would love to feed the alligators and the turtles!

  3. Thank you for your brilliant write-up. When you said “Nothing makes me feel more at peace than being around or on the water”, I totally related to what you were saying. Then I saw the Alligators and had second thoughts 😀

    • Your reply made me chuckle! Yes, I was surprised when I originally learned about wild alligators in Texas. We just need to take a few precautions. And you notice I said “on the water” not IN the water!

  4. I will need to pass this sight on to my ornithologist daughter. She is definitely always looking for birding meccas. I would head off to find the alligators and tortoises. Although I would not want to really find either of them on the boardwalk! Thanks for sharing.

  5. Awesome post Ava. We went down there in early spring. Yes, during spring break. I guess we should have paid more attention to the dates. It was our first time to visit the birding center. We fell in love with it. What a great place to relax and view a ton of wildlife. I was able to get a few great images which is always a plus.

    • It is truly a wonderful place. I’m glad you enjoyed your visit in spite of the timing. There are so many opportunities for great photos, especially when you have the right equipment!

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