Male black-capped vireo.

Wild beauty at Shin Oak Observation Deck, Balcones Canyonlands

Shin Oak Observation Deck at the north end of the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge is surrounded by black-capped vireo habitat. It is the only public viewing area for the species that’s open year-round in the refuge — with some exceptions. It closes for a few weekends in the fall and again in the spring, when the birds arrive to establish breeding territories and acquire mates. 

The black-capped vireo was listed as endangered until 2018. The Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1992 to preserve diminishing habitats for the black-capped vireo and the golden-cheeked warbler.

The black-capped vireo is a small songbird that stays low in the vegetation, hopping between branches in its search for insect larvae. It flies short distances from tree to bush to tree. 

The male’s black head with white-lined, red eyes make for a striking look paired with his yellow and white wings and complemented by a white-washed belly. The females are a duller gray with a hooked bill. Their wings are dark gray with white accents.  

The golden-cheeked warbler boasts a rich black plumage and golden, velvety cheeks. It was listed as endangered in 1990. It is the only bird species whose population nests entirely in the state of Texas, and it breeds in the Hill Country, making Balcones Canyonlands an excellent place to spot the species.

The refuge’s website suggests early mornings as the best viewing times. The Shin Oak facility has no hiking trails, just a short path to the observation deck.

Entrance to the refuge is free, but a visitors center is still available and staffed during business hours for anyone with questions. The center is located 5 miles west of Lago Vista on RR 1431 in Marble Falls.

The Shin Oak Observation Deck is located near Bertram, 1.3 miles east of the intersection of RM 1174 and RM 1869.

For more information, call 512-339-9432 or email Balcones_Canyonlands@fws.gov.

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