Volume 4 • Issue 8 • August 2010

Wildlife Expo to Feature Oklahoma's Outdoors this September

The 6th Annual Event is Approaching

Fall will be here in no time which means making memories and time spent outdoors — all of which can be done at the sixth annual Oklahoma Wildlife Expo.

The Wildlife Expo, sponsored by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and coordinated by hundreds of volunteer organizations and individuals, is slated for September 25-26 at the Lazy E Arena, just north of Oklahoma City. The event offers nonstop outdoor action for all ages and levels of experience with the outdoors. And it's free.

The Expo takes a hands-on approach to educating visitors about the outdoors.  Guests can try their own hand at shooting a shotgun or bow and arrow, riding a mountain bike or ATV, floating in a kayak, building a birdhouse, painting their own fishing lure, catching a fish and more.
Just one of the booths that offer activities. Photo by Lesley B. Carson.

Booths and other activities inside the arena offer information and resources about more outdoor opportunities than visitors may even know are available to them in Oklahoma. Visitors can learn about fly fishing or deer hunting or even go inside a “butterfly tent” to get an up-close glimpse of a variety of winged-wildlife.    

Snacking at the popular “Taste of the Wild” booth gives visitors a sample of wild game meat, and attending a seminar can enhance their knowledge on a number of outdoor topics ranging from aging deer on the hoof to training hunting dogs or caring for wild game meat in the field.  

Additionally, shoppers have a chance to glance through and buy some of the best outdoor gear available at the Expo's Outdoor Marketplace, a huge area at the Expo where vendors are set up to display and sell outdoor-related products and services.    

Expo hours are from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sept. 25-26. Admission is free. For more information about the Expo, log on to wildlifedepartment.com.

Written by Micah Holmes. Micah is an information and education supervisor with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Swift Fox

The Smallest of Its Kind

Did you know that Oklahoma has a fox that is only one foot tall and weight can only grow to seven pounds?  In fact, it averages the size of a large house cat.

The swift fox (Vulpes velox) is a furbearer species that is present in the three panhandle counties as well as portions of Harper and Ellis Counties.  They are native to the short and mixed-grass prairies of the Great Plains region. 

Swift foxes are a dark grayish-tan color that turns to a yellow-tan color on their legs.  The throat, chest and belly are pale yellow to almost white.  Their tails are black-tipped and they have large ears.  Swift foxes will only live three to four years. 

Their diet is quite varied.  It includes multiple items from birds to rabbits, prairie dogs to reptiles and ground squirrels to mice.  They have a relatively small stomach for their size and can only eat half as much food in relation to their body weight.

Swift foxes live an average three years in wild, and have been known to live 10 to 12 years in captivity. They are very territorial and normally live and hunt in the same area, which is usually about five miles depending on habitat.  They also mark their territory using urine and feces and will fight to defend it from other foxes.  In order to communicate, swift foxes use a wide variety of calls.  They range in intensity: from barks, screams, howls, yaps and growls. 

Foxes make their homes in underground dens, sometimes in abandoned burrows of other animals such as rabbits and beavers.  They will make them larger, adding extra rooms and entry ways.  This will allow them an easier escape should the need arise.  The same den may be used for several generations.

They received the name "swift” fox because of their speediness.  They can run up to 25 miles per hour.  Although they are social animals, they keep one mate throughout their lifetime.  Usually they have additional females that help with the raising of the pups.
The swift fox is known for its quick speed and small size. Photo by Mark Howery

One interesting fact about the swift fox is that it was of great importance to the culture of many different Plains Indians. Apaches believed the fox stole fire from the gods and brought it to man.  Many other tribes believed that foxes brought the power of healing.

Until the late 1800s the swift fox was very common in North and South Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas and into southern portions of Alberta and Saskatchewan.  Then at the beginning of the 20th century, their number declined due to many reasons.  The main reasons for the reduction of numbers include intense trapping, landscape changes including poor quality, loss and fragmentation. Approximately 45 percent of swift fox habitat throughout the historic range has been lost as a result of prairie conversion to cropland.  Even where natural prairies remain, they are often fragmented and isolat­ed, reducing habitat and prey while increasing preda­tion and competition. The prairie ecosystem itself has changed due to fire suppression, not use, and domestic live­stock grazing, making it difficult for populations of swift fox to persist.  Now only 40 percent of the swift fox’s historical range in the United States is currently occupied.

The swift fox is known as one of the most elusive animals that the Wildlife Department monitors.  Since they are located in one of the most vacant landscapes in the state, very few people have ever seen one.

The next time you venture into far northwest Oklahoma, keep an eye out for the elusive Swift Fox.  Their nighttime antics cannot be missed.

Written by Lesley B. Carson. Lesley is a wildlife diversity information specialist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Could be Another Neat Raptor...

The Mississippi Kite

During the month of July and into early August, wildlife biologists will occasionally receive calls about a whitish to light grayish “eagle” in an Oklahoma backyard.  This is an apt description of the incredibly acrobatic Mississippi kite, a member of a family of diurnal (daytime) birds of prey, a.k.a. raptors.  Mississippi kites, about the size of a crow, have pointed wings, light gray underparts, a dark gray back and a black unbarred tail.  Their wingspan is about three feet.  If you could get a good look at their eyes, you would see a pair of deep red eyes watching you!

It's just a Mississippi Kite. Photo provided by the Oklahoma City Audubon Society.

Mississippi kites are primarily insect eaters, preferring grasshoppers and cicadas.  These kites actually capture insects in flight with an incredible display of maneuverability.  People commonly see kites perched on utility lines and bare branches.  Kites will supplement their diets with lizards, frogs, snakes and small rodents.

Mississippi kites migrate from their wintering grounds in central South America, courting and establishing mating pairs as they migrate, arriving in Oklahoma around the early part of May.  Nesting begins soon after arriving where the pair will repair an old nest or construct a new one.  Many nests occur in elm, cottonwood, hackberry and oak trees and, with the exception of elm and cottonwood trees, the nest is usually less than 20 feet above the ground.  Two eggs are laid and both parents will incubate the eggs.  The incubation period is about one month and the young are able to fly and leave the nest in about another month.

Some people have come to know kites from their equally incredible protective behavior during the nesting period.  Some Mississippi kites will dive at and frighten people who venture too close to their nests.  Not all Mississippi kite pairs initiate the diving behavior (about 20%), but if you are one of the few, it is a very intimating experience.  Mississippi kites are fully protected under the Federal Migratory Bird Act and state regulations; therefore only by a permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can the kites be trapped or killed.

The best solution is to avoid about a 50-yard area around the kite nest (mid-June through mid-August).  If the nesting area cannot be avoided, placing protective netting in the kites’ path of flight will prevent them from diving in certain areas.  If attacked by a kite, waving your arms or other objects can frighten the birds. 

Kites live on average 8 years and nest site fidelity can be strong.  Before the kites return in the spring you may encourage kites to nest elsewhere by placing a life-size cutout of the Mississippi kite, basically a decoy, in a previously used nest and other potential nest trees within at least 50 yards of the area to be protected. 

As fall sets in and the flying insects slowly disappear, Mississippi kites gather in large flocks for their southbound migration consuming lots of grasshoppers as they go!

Written by Melynda Hickman. Melynda is a wildlife diversity biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Our Mission:

The WILDLIFE DIVERSITY PROGRAM monitors and manages the state's wildlife and fish species that are not hunted or fished.