McALLEN — Quinta Mazatlán played a part to ensure children stay busy, and learning, over winter break. From Dec. 27-30, the nature center hosted special holiday programs for “the whole family,” according to the website.

Two sessions took place each day, with one lasting an hour in the morning and another in the afternoon. According to Jose Zuñiga, Quinta Mazatlán volunteer coordinator, the 26-acre urban sanctuary has seen a spike in visitors throughout the month of December.

In the winter season, visitors have come out all the way from Maryland and beyond. On Thursday, Adam and Lena Woodis made it out, along with their infant daughter, to scope out the gardens, sculptures and of course birds.

The couple visit every year and excitedly recalled sighting a Chacalaca a few years back.

These programs have been running for a few years, due in part to positive feedback and popular demand, along with the nature center’s desire for families to spend time together doing outdoors activities.

Zuñiga said, “Rather than just having the kids indoors, playing games. We provide them the opportunity to be out, explore nature and maybe learn something new with the skills that we provide.”

The courses aim not only to provide fun, but also to teach valuable skills that children will carry with them throughout their life. For instance, “Survivor Skills Saturday” was held Dec. 30. Among the activities was a lesson on how to make rope, build a fire and trap animals using materials that can be found in nature.

Zuñiga instructed the “Thornforest Thursday” course, which offered a close-up look at creatures found in the thornforest, and said his curriculum is focused on the five C’s of survival: cordage, combustion, cutting, containers and cover.

What Quinta Mazatlán wishes for families to take away from these events is an appreciation and better understanding of nature.

Haylee Giorux, a 9-year-old from Point Venture, Texas, was in attendance the same day on a group birding tour. This was her first visit to the historical sight and was on a venture to “see ones (birds) that we don’t have in our part of the world.”

Lessons are geared toward all ages.

“The best thing is for the whole family to come in,” said Zuñiga.

On Wednesday, the center hosted “Watercolor Wednesday,” which was well-received with generations of families attending — from grandparents, trickled down to elementary-aged students.

“I think what they like the most about it is that they’re not at home and they’re all just kinda having a good time, genuinely,” said Education Coordinator David Flores.

Throughout the year of 2017, due to efforts and contributions from volunteers and staff at Quinta Mazatlán, the conservation center has observed a change in bird population.

“ Just recently … we saw a rare tiger stripe queen butterfly,” said Zuñiga. “As more of the birds discover Quinta Mazatlán, so do guests.”

The center is also a favorite for those from the region. Katherine Cappon from McAllen makes it a point to visit when the weather dips. The “natural vegetation, quietness and place to walk” attracted the local.

Cappon is also a bird enthusiast and expressed her gratitude to the center for the great effort they put forth in “making it an attraction for people living here.”

A complete list of activities, including guest speakers, can be found on the Quinta Mazatlán website,