High Island / Bolivar Peninsula (Early May 2023)


High Island is an unincorporated community located in Galveston County, Texas. The community - a nationally famous destination for birdwatchers - is located in the extreme eastern part of the county on Bolivar Peninsula, less than one mile from Chambers County and less than two miles from Jefferson County.

Birding Tourism

The Houston Audubon Society operates four (4) bird sanctuaries at High Island: Boy Scout Woods,Smith Oaks, Eubanks Woods, and the S.E. Gast Red Bay Sanctuary. Boy Scout Woods is the headquarters, which is staffed by volunteers during peak spring migration season from mid-March to mid-May. Smith Oaks is the largest sanctuary and home to the Rookery.

High Island, with its substantial wooded areas unlike elsewhere on the upper Texas coast, is a natural refuge for migrating birds making their perilous way across the Gulf of Mexico from the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico into their northern summering grounds in the United States and Canada. During this spring migration, the birds must navigate the hundreds of miles of overwater flight to find refuge and food on their journey northward.

During a normal spring migration, birders from around the world can find concentrated and high numbers of species of migratory birds in High Island that winter in southern Mexico, Central America, and South America, and make their summer breeding homes in the north.

The most spectacular bird viewing is during a spring northerly storm, which causes a "fall out" at High Island. During these storms, the migrating birds encounter strong head winds and a prolonged and energy-draining flight over the Gulf. Every bird that comes off the Gulf near High Island is then exhausted, and immediately seeks a dry land perch. In such conditions, the beaches of the Bolivar Peninsula can be covered with tens of thousands of birds. With its wooded areas and more ample feeding opportunities, almost every tree and open space in High Island is covered with exhausted birds.

Fall southerly migration also concentrates along the Gulf at sites such as High Island, but is more dispersed as the southerly moving birds find ample cover and food as they move southward through the United States.

Visitor Information

  • High Island Maps (PDF) - Map of High Island and trail maps for Smith Oaks and Scout Woods Sanctuaries
  • Accommodations, Food, and Other Useful Addresses (PDF) - 2022 edition
  • Spring Coastal Migration and Fallouts
  • High Island Spring Migration Facebook page
  • Bird Sightings - Visit Texas eBird to find out what's being reported. All of Houston Audubon's High Island sanctuaries are eBird hotspots.
  • High Island Bird Checklist (PDF)
  • High Island History

  • Sanctuary Rules

    You are visiting habitat that is critical to birds and wildlife. Please respect the following rules put in place to protect wildlife and provide an enjoyable visitor experience.

    • Respect all wildlife, and be cautious of venomous snakes, mosquitoes, fire ants, poison ivy, and armadillo burrows
    • No dogs or other domestic animals
    • Stay on marked trails
    • No littering–leave nature as you found it
    • Walking only, no bicycles
    • No collecting or introduction of plants or animals
    • Do not block trails and boardwalks with tripods
    • Chairs and wheeled equipment carts are not allowed on boardwalks. Child strollers, wheelchairs, and walkers are allowed when used as intended by the manufacturer
    • No drones/unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) allowed
    • No flash photography
    • Don’t agitate the birds. Bird calls, pishing, playback devices, and laser pointers are not allowed
    • No firearms or hunting permitted
    • No smoking or alcohol consumption
    • Be cautious- boardwalks and trails are slippery when wet and tripping hazards may exist

    Photography Guidelines For The Rookery Observation Platforms

    • Please show consideration for other sanctuary visitors and allow them to view birds from the observation platforms.
    • Limit your time at the front of the observation platforms to 20 minutes.
    • Flash photography allowed only within the photo blind at Boy Scout Woods.
    • If you are not taking pictures, please move your equipment off the platform.

    Getting There

    High Island is on the coast just off Highway 87. It can be reached by taking I-10 east from Houston, taking the exit at Winnie to go south on Highway 124. Another option is to use the free Galveston - Bolivar ferry and proceed up the coast on Highway 87.

    If you have any questions about this event, please contact Club President David Swinney.

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