Volume 4 • Issue 1 • January 2010

"Bio" of the Month

Dewayne Elmore- Oklahoma State University Extension Wildlife Specialist

I grew up in the outdoors of middle Tennessee, hunting and fishing every opportunity that I could, in a part of the world that had lots of natural resources to enjoy. My first inclination to turn my interests into a profession came from interaction with our local conservation officer. He was not what I thought of a typical "game warden." Beyond the traditional duties of enforcement, he was very interested in plants, most of which I knew absolutely nothing about. And it was this awareness to new species that really sent me toward a career in wildlife. So, I started college as a wildlife biology major.

One of the first wildlife classes I attended was another epiphany for me. The first day of class the professor said that "I am not here to teach you how to manage wildlife, but rather how to manage people." It would take me 7 years to understand this, but he was absolutely correct.
Dewayne Elmore and his "mean dogs." Photo provided by Dewayne Elmore.

I went on to complete an M.S. at Mississippi State University working on mourning doves. This is also where I met my wife Leslie, who was also completing her thesis. We then went to Utah State University so that I could complete a PhD project involving the Utah prairie dog. While I had little interest in prairie dogs, or small mammals in general, I wanted to understand range management and be involved with a controversial wildlife issue with social implications. This project provided both in ample amounts. I was thrown into a volatile area where government was mistrusted, policy had failed, a species was on the brink of extinction and everyone had differing opinions. It was good training. My major professor was an extension wildlife specialist (the position I know hold) and I quickly saw that this job offered a lot of flexibility and the opportunity to set your own course. I particularly was interested in the chance to determine what relevant issues were and have the freedom to work on them. So, when the job at Oklahoma State University was advertised, I immediately applied.

I have been at OSU for a 3 ½ years now. My appointment is 75 percent extension and 25 percent research, which is a good mix. I am often asked what extension is. I think that depends on who you ask, but the simplest definition is any education outside of the traditional classroom setting. Thus, it could be targeted to professionals, youth, landowners, policy makers or the general public using any format and including any relevant aspect of wildlife management.

I am fortunate to be surrounded by very motivated and talented natural resource professionals that make my job enjoyable and rewarding. We try to focus on broad scale issues, such as fire and cedar encroachment, where we feel we can make the most difference. Much of our outreach and research is focused on these related issues as we feel they are the most urgent resource needs that impact wildlife and range resources. Another issue that I spend a good amount of time on is prairie chickens. These iconic species are both in danger of disappearing from Oklahoma and current efforts are not sufficient to reverse this. Recovering prairie chickens and the associated rangelands they depend on will require a strong social science infusion. This is an area that few wildlife professionals are equipped to handle and I believe this is a major shortcoming of most wildlife programs. This needs to be addressed if we are to articulate the relevancy of natural resources to an increasingly disconnected public.

In the future, I plan on continuing to work on prairie chicken issues as well as human dimensions and the role of disturbance to biodiversity. While issues such as management of game species, wildlife damage and urban wildlife will always be important to people, I believe that wildlife biologists must continue to shift priorities somewhat to address resource concerns such as loss of biodiversity, over utilization of resources and impacts of public attitudes on policy. While these complex topics are difficult to address, they offer the greatest potential to maintain ecosystem function.

I have been extremely blessed to have been surrounded by dedicated and caring mentors at every stage of my young career. Their time and example has really made a difference to me, and I am very grateful for their influence.

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

Lesley would like to thank Dewayne for all of his work with the Oklahoma section of the Society for Range Management.

Watchable Wildlife Species

The Trumpeter Swan

Trumpeter swans historically nested on freshwater lakes and marshes in a wide band across the northern United States, Canada and Alaska, and may have occurred in numbers as high as 100,000 birds. However, nearly all of the population east of the Rocky Mountains was extirpated in the late 1800s as a result of unregulated market hunting and habitat loss. Beginning in the early 1960s, state wildlife agencies and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service mounted a series of restoration efforts to return the trumpeter swan to the Midwest through the release of birds into Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan and Ohio. During the past 40 years, this Midwestern population has grown from a few hundred released birds to a thriving and reproducing population of over 4,500 birds in six states and the province of Ontario.

Oklahoma lies substantially south of the trumpeter swan’s historic nesting range, but at one time our state was the wintering home for many hundreds, if not thousands of trumpeter swans. History is now repeating itself with growing numbers of trumpeter swans once again wintering in Oklahoma as the Midwestern population recovers. Many of the trumpeter swans that visit Oklahoma originate from the re-established nesting populations in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. In Oklahoma, these birds occupy large ponds and wetlands and are found primarily in the northeastern and northcentral portions of the state. A few additional wintering swans migrate down from a High Plains population that was recently established in South Dakota, Nebraska and Wyoming

These swans winter primarily on ponds and flood control lakes in western Oklahoma. Trumpeter swans typically occur in Oklahoma during the mid-winter – roughly between late November and late February.

Adult breeding pairs of trumpeter swans will generally remain together for ten or more nesting seasons. Photo provided by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The trumpeter swan is the largest species of waterfowl in North American and the larger of the two native swan species.  These birds often live 20 to 25 years and pairs may remain together for ten or more nesting seasons. Each summer, the pair jointly raises a brood of one to six young known as cygnets. The young swans typically remain with their parent during their first summer and winter in order to learn how to find food and avoid predators and other hazards. Because of their strong family bonds, most trumpeter swan sightings in Oklahoma are of family groups. These groups are commonly comprised of one or two adult pairs and two to eight juvenile birds. Adult trumpeter swans have completely white plumage, and a relatively long, sloping bill that is solid black and somewhat wedge-shaped. Young trumpeter swans have plumage that is sooty gray in color, and have a patch of pinkish-orange color on their predominantly black bills.

Many of the nesting swans in Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota are marked with colored neck bands - long collars that are placed around the lower portion of the swan’s neck. These bands or collars are red or green in color and are printed with a unique combination of letters and numbers. Using the collars, biologists can track specific birds and identify their traditional nesting and wintering areas. In recent years, many of the trumpeter swans sighted in Oklahoma have originated from birds released onto wetlands in central Iowa. The Oklahoma Wildlife Diversity Program assists the Trumpeter Swan Society which is a non-profit organization based in Minnesota that helps to track and monitor the Midwestern swan population. All winter-time swan sightings are noteworthy, but we are especially interested in any observations of collared swans. Recording the locations of collared swans can help us document migration routes between their northern nesting areas and the suitable wintering areas that occur in Oklahoma. If you observe a swan with a neck collar, please contact the Wildlife Diversity Program or the Trumpeter Swan Society through their Trumpeter Watch program.

Written by Mark Howery. Mark is a wildlife diversity biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Winter Bird Feeder Survey

Watch Your Feeders This January

Spring brings showers, summer brings heat, fall brings bare trees, and winter brings…well, what does winter bring? Winter brings the Winter Bird Feeder Survey, that’s what.

Although many people think of spring as the best time to view and observe birds, winter watching also can provide many good opportunities for watching these beautiful creatures.

This year’s bird feeder survey will be from Jan. 7 to 10, and you only need a few things to participate in it. You need the willingness to provide a bird feeder, the patience to spend a couple of hours for two days observing and identifying the birds using the feeder and the diligence to record the information and send it to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. It’s as simple as that.

Melynda Hickman is a wildlife diversity biologist who works with the Wildlife Department, and she helps with the Winter Bird Feeder Survey. “This is a great opportunity for homeowners to view a variety of birds in their own backyards.”

Around 52 common bird species can be found in Oklahoma during the winter, and when trying to attract a variety of birds the type of feeders you have and how they are set up is very important, according to Hickman.

Feeders at different levels help to mimic nature because birds can feel uneasy if they only have one location for feeding. The type of food in the feeders also is important. Black sunflower seeds are considered to be the number one food choice for wild birds and they are good for hopper type feeders, tube feeders, platform feeders and for just spreading on the ground. It’s also good to provide some kind of high protein miracle meal suet (see okwinterbirds.com for instructions on how to make one), Hickman said. And of course, providing a source of clean water is a necessity when trying to attract birds.

Attracting a diversity of birds also brings responsibility for the birdwatcher. According to Hickman, by having bird feeders you are bringing in close contact groups of birds that don’t normally congregate with one another. By doing this, “it increases contact and chances of spreading disease.” That’s why it is quite important to keep feeders clean. Keeping the water source and the surrounding ground clean also is very important in helping to prevent the spread of diseases.

For more information on attracting birds and identifying them, click here.

Written by Ryan Carini. Ryan interned 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.