Volume 2 • Issue 7 • July 2008

Land Cover Change in Western Oklahoma

What Happened to the Birds of Greatest Conservation Need?

“Where have all the birds gone?”  The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation hears this question quite often.  Biologists and information specialists try to explain the relationship between habitat and abundance of wildlife, but is always a complicated relationship.  Put simply, if the habitat is not sufficient, there will not be any birds.

The grasslands and shrublands of western Oklahoma are among the most threatened vegetation types in North America.  Over the last century these habitat types have declined in Oklahoma due to the spread of Eastern red cedar, urbanization and conversion to agriculture.  The University of Oklahoma, in cooperation with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, is researching the effects of the changing landscape in western Oklahoma on state birds of greatest conservation need.

Dr. Bruce Hoagland, a professor of Geography at OU, and Shannon Hall, a Ph.D. student in Geography, have been examining the extent of vegetation change on Sandy Sanders, Cooper and Packsaddle Wildlife Management Areas.  By comparing aerial photographs from 1942 to present-day aerial photography and vegetation surveys, they can measure how much these open grasslands and shrublands have been invaded by larger woody species of plants.  The encroachment of woody plants, especially Eastern red cedar, is thought to result from livestock grazing patterns and fire suppression.

An example of grassland bird habitat in western Oklahoma.
Breeding bird surveys have shown a decrease in obligate grassland species since 1966.  Dr. Jeff Kelly, a professor of Zoology at OU, and Lauren Niemann, an OU graduate student have been conducting surveys on the three WMAs to document the current distribution and abundance of birds of greatest conservation need.  These species include loggerhead shrikes and bobwhite quail which are year round residents, burrowing owls, Cassin’s sparrows and Bell’s vireos as well as short-eared owls, Harris’s sparrows and McCown’s and chestnut-collared longspurs which winter on the plains of western Oklahoma.

Being able to predict the effect of shrub encroachment or removal on key bird species will assist in habitat conservation efforts.  By documenting the distribution and abundance of birds on the three WMAs and relating that information to current and historic distributions of open grasslands and shrublands, these valuable habitats will be managed more effectively.

This project is funded by the State Wildlife Grants Program.  The State Wildlife Grants Program provides federal money to every state and territory for cost-effective conservation aimed at preventing wildlife from becoming endangered. This program is administered by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and continues the long history of cooperation between the federal government and the states for managing and conserving wildlife species.  For more information, visit www.teaming.com.

Written by Ashley Foster. Ashley is the Aquatic Nuisance Species Biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Central Oklahoma's Birding Hotspot

Lexington Wildlife Management Area

The Lexington Wildlife Management Area is a wonderfully diverse 9,512 acres of post oak-blackjack forest with native grasses mixed in. This WMA is located off State Highway 77 near the town of Noble in Cleveland County.

The habitat is managed with prescribed fires in three-year intervals to create areas that many different species can use. Strip disking and food plots are also used to enhance the wildlife food availability.

Because of the location and diverse habitat, many different bird, amphibian and reptile species can be observed on the WMA. During the summer months, many species of neo-tropical birds can be observed. These include painted buntings, white-eyed vireos, Bell's vireo, blue-fray gnatcatchers and indigo buntings. The WMA is listed as an Oklahoma Birding Hotspot because of its diversity and accessibility.

The colorful indigo bunting can be seen at Lexington WMA just southeast of Oklahoma City.


Many game species are present on the WMA, including northern bobwhite, white-tailed deer and wild turkey. Waterfowl are also prevalent and use the 30 ponds and Lake Dahlgren. Largemouth bass, crappie and channel catfish can be found in the lake and also in several of the ponds.

There are numerous accessible trails located throughout the WMA’s rolling hills. Check state regulations for availability as the WMA is closed to horses and non-hunting activities during various hunting seasons. Primitive camping is available.

For more information, please contact senior wildlife biologist Rex Umber at (405) 527-6476 or visit wildlifedepartment.com if you have any questions.

Written by Brett Cooper. Brett is a zoology graduate student at Oklahoma State University. He is a frequent contributor to The Wild Side.

A new poster has been produced by the Oklahoma Biological Survey. The new poster features 29 of the 31 species of crayfish that call Oklahoma home. Third in a series of posters produced by the Oklahoma Biological Survey, it is available free of charge by stopping by the Survey office (111 E. Chesapeake St., Norman) or by visiting the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation at 1801 N. Lincoln Blvd. in Oklahoma City.


The Hot Summer Months

Keeping Water Fresh

As the hot, dry days of summer approach, water becomes more important for birds and other wildlife. When searching for water, birds seek water sources that are both clean and shallow.  While many of the birds and mammals that live around us obtain much of the water that they need from the foods that they eat, extra water sources are always welcomed during the summer. 

Birds use water for several purposes including drinking, bathing (to keep their feathers clean and in good condition) and cooling (birds pant to cool their bodies and drink water to replace the water vapor that is lost while panting).

A shallow water source is a key to success in meeting the needs of birds.  Most songbirds seem to prefer water that is half an inch to two inches in depth so that they can step into the water to both drink and bathe.  Water depths greater than four inches are too deep for most birds and will be avoided as bathing sites, though birds may drink from them.  A birdbath is an ideal source of water.  This can be elevated a few feet above the ground or placed on the ground where other animals besides birds can have access to it.  Many materials can be used to make successful birdbaths including saucers made of cement, ceramic or plastic.  Cement birdbaths are popular with both people and birds because they are sturdy, long-lasting, and relatively inexpensive and they have a rough surface that helps to provide traction that the birds need to maintain their footing while using the bath.  Metal saucers also can be used, however smooth or slick metal surfaces don’t provide much traction and some birds are less inclined to use these.

The other important aspect to providing water for birds is to keep it clean.  We recommend that people empty, clean and refill their birdbaths three to five times per week depending upon the level of use that the bath receives.  A scrubbing brush is a good investment to make along with your birdbath.  Scrubbing the bath each time that the water is emptied and refilled will help to control algae; there are no safe chemicals that can be added to the water in a birdbath to control algae.  In addition to controlling algae, regular scrubbing and cleaning of the birdbath will remove bird droppings and reduce the potential for diseases to spread.  Frequent water changes also eliminate the potential for mosquitoes to reproduce in the birdbath.  In addition to frequent cleaning, another technique to limit algae growth is to place the birdbath under the shade of a tree or large shrub.  This has the added benefit of providing a close retreat for your birds in the event that a predator ventures near the bath.

Birds locate most birdbaths visually, but they also can be attracted to the sound of running or dripping water.  To enhance the “visibility” of your birdbath, you can add a dripper or a mister to the edge of the bath.  Drippers and misters are available from many bird stores and garden centers and are relatively inexpensive and easy to use.  As its name implies, a dripper creates a steady stream of water drops that attracts birds by its noise.  A mister is quiet, but birds are drawn to the mist it produces as an easy place to bathe.

Written by Mark Howery. Mark is a Wildlife Diversity Biologist for 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.