In the lower Rio Grande Valley of southern Texas, snowbirds flock for the winter. Not the dark-eyed Junco snowbird, but human winter visitors nicknamed “snowbirds” because they go south for the winter.
It’s hard to believe the term “snowbird” has been around for almost a hundred years. In 1923, it was used to describe seasonal workers who went south to work. Because the Rio Grande Valley had about 17-inches of topsoil, there was usually a crop growing year around.
By the time I was a young adult in 1979, it was a term commonly used in our home to refer to the large number of retiree tourists who came and spent the winter in one of my parent’s motels or RV parks.
It was my job to take these people on short day trips, often into Mexico. I fell in love with them. I realized they not only came south for the sun, they also came for their health. Living in severe winter climates can be very dangerous, especially for older adults. A fall on the ice can cause broken bones, and I definitely agree with them that shoveling snow is not fun! Plus, the cold weather keeps them from doing healthy things like walking, bike riding, and playing pickleball. Avoiding winter weather is a great way to take care of oneself and avoid injuries.
They loved our outings and would often get me to negotiate with a merchant for some item for their home or for souvenirs for their children. Then I would take them out for a meal and select food that wasn’t too spicy in order not to upset their stomachs. They told me the most wonderful stories about their lives, and I would sit mesmerized for hours listening about the places they had been, the careers they had, and the people they knew.
Many of my friends complained about the snowbirds’ slow driving, and the snowbirds complained about my friends’ fast driving. Today, my friends are the snowbirds. Wonder who’s complaining about their driving now! The majority of snowbirds today are between the ages of 50 and 69. These people are of the Baby Boomer generation, and are very active. They tend to be wealthy, well-educated, and able to adapt to new environments easily.
Snowbirds have shown up across the southern United States, from Florida to California, and there are quite a few of them migrating to Mexico and South America. They are a welcome addition to any economy and any community.
In the Yuma, Arizona area, many snowbirds prefer to park their RV in the desert or a less inhabited landscape instead of in an RV park. Without the advantage of hookups or electricity, the experience is much more rugged. We call those snowbirds “boondockers.”
We are fortunate to have our own snowbirds right here in Mesquite. They bring a wealth of knowledge, and many of them have invested in second homes here, bringing with them their “snowdogs” and “snowcats.”
Most snowbirds are very social, and are extremely pleasant to be around. Because they stay longer than tourists, they become a part of our community. They make friends and become involved in social events.
A large number of snowbirds will evolve over time and make their southern home their permanent residence while traveling back north a few months out of the year. I guess then we need to call them “sunbirds.”
But most of all, we call them “neighbors.”