Volume 4 • Issue 7 • July 2010

Did You Know?

All About the Eagle Breeding Programs

Sia, the Comanche Ethno-Ornithological Initiative is a unique program dedicated to the conservation of eagles and their connection to native people throughout the world.

Headquarted in Cyril, OK, Sia is a cutting edge research facility, information center and home for nearly 50 eagles and other birds of prey. The word Sia is Comanche for feather, and the group’s work is focusing in part on bridging the disciplines of ethnology (the study of culture) and ornithology (the study of birds.)

As a member of the Comanche Nation, Sia’s director and founder, Bill Voelker, brings a unique perspective to the importance of eagles in Native American cultures. With more than 40 years of eagle and raptor research, Bill is one of nation’s most knowledgeable experts on raptor behavior and breeding.

Sia is home to almost 50 eagles. Photo by Jena Donnell.
The group has pioneered eagle breeding programs and was home to the first artificially inseminated eagles in 1982. One of the eagles at the facility is an offspring of a bird originally housed at the Wildlife Department’s Game Farm and is one of 48 eagles produced from that lineage.

In addition to the eagle breeding program the group is a leader in providing ways for Native Americans to connect with their heritage by using eagle feathers in their ceremonies. Sia uses DNA and microchips to track the feathers and has created a database of feathers used by Native Americans.

The facility is open to the public during limited hours of operation.  For more information log on to http://comancheeagle.org.

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

Out In the Panhandle?

Look for the Pinyon Jay!

A hoarder of pine seeds, the pinyon jay (Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus) has one of the most specialized diets of its family, can remember the exact location of the cache site months later, and can travel in an extremely large flock—sometimes as large as 500 birds!

Dull blue overall, this member of the crow family (Corvidae) has a relatively short tail and a long pointed beak that is used to extract seeds from pine cones. Large for a songbird, the pinyon jay is 11 inches in length and has an 18 inch wingspan. Like other jays, the pinyon jay has a strong, rapid flight pattern, with rowing wingbeats. One distinguishing feature of the pinyon jay is the lack of hairs around the nostril — all other corvids have covered nostrils.
The Pinyon Jay is easily recognizable by the color of the feathers along with the straight bill. wildlifedepartment.com.

Although these birds are considered omnivorous — feeding on both plant and animal matter — they have one of the most specialized diets of the crow family. Pinyon jays have been described as being “committed” to anything related to Pinyon pine seeds. Their straight bill is used to not only extract seeds from the sticky cone, but also transport the seed to another area and then cache it for later use. Like other crows, pinyon jays have an exceptionally developed spatial memory. Thousands of seeds are stored in the fall to be used during the meager winter season. Months after storing the seeds, these remarkable birds are able to recall the exact cache location — even when the landscape is snow covered.

Because of this highly specialized diet, the pinyon jay is directly tied to the Pinyon pine/juniper woodland of Oklahoma’s shortgrass prairie region located in the Panhandle, on Black Mesa where the rocky soils and low precipitation are favorable for this tree’s growth.

Nests of pinyon jays are generally found three to six feet from the ground in pine, oak, and juniper trees. The open cup nest is built layer by layer. The outside layer is constructed with sticks; the middle layer with plant material — mostly grasses; and the inside with fine materials including plant down, feathers, and hair. Eggs are pale blue with dark spotting on the larger end. Nestlings hatch 16 days after being laid and chicks are able to fly three weeks later. Both the male and female care for the young.

The pinyon jay is an extremely social bird, sometimes living in colonies of 500 or more birds. Flock members are usually related, and an individual bird tends to remain in the flock into which it was born into. Pinyon jays are often seen flying in tight flocks and will drift far from their traditional range when the pine crop fails.

The pinyon jay is just one of the many species of wildlife that can be seen on your next trip to Oklahoma’s Panhandle.

Written by Jena Donnell. Jena is an information technician with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

It's Getting Hot in Here!

So Keep Those Feeders Clean!

One of our most endearing and sought-after summer birds is the hummingbird.  Fortunately, many of us are able to attract hummingbirds – at least during the late summer – using hummingbird feeders.  Hummingbird feeders are available in a wide variety of styles but all of them include a glass or plastic reservoir that can be filled with a sugar and water mixture, and most have some amount of red color on them to attract the birds.  Hummingbirds, like most birds, use their keen eyesight to locate food and are attracted by bright colors such as red and orange that are similar to the flowers from which they take nectar. 

Although sugar water is not an exact match for plant nectar (which typically contains some protein and a greater diversity of sugars), it is a close approximation and is both easy and relatively inexpensive to make.  The ratio of sugar to water to place in your hummingbird feeders should be approximately one part sugar to four parts water (a quarter cup of sugar dissolved in one cup of water).  This mixture can be made stronger (1:3) in the spring and fall when hummingbirds are migrating and need an additional energy boost. Because hummingbirds are attracted to the color red, nearly all of the feeders that are sold in stores have some red plastic or glass on them.  As a result of this, it is not necessary to add red food coloring to your sugar water mix.  Hummingbirds are extremely active and energetic birds, and an individual bird may consume as much as two fluid ounces of sugar water each day.  This may not sound like much, but it’s nearly their body weight!

It’s important to realize, that while hummingbirds seem to camp out at your hummingbird feeders, they do not live on sugar water alone; they also catch and eat insects and visit the flowers in your landscape.  Therefore, a diverse planting of flowering plants in your yard will enhance your ability to attract hummingbirds.  Hummingbirds defend small territories around flowering plants – especially ones that have tube-shaped flowers that fit the hummingbirds’ bills.  They also are drawn to flowers that are bright red, orange, pink, purple or dark blue.  During the spring, hummingbirds are attracted to the native coral honeysuckle; and at this time of year the big orange-red flowers of the trumpet creeper vine are a real hummer magnet!  Other “hummingbird flowers” include salvias, petunias, bee balms, lobelia, phlox, four-o-clocks, pentas and penstemons.

The most important tip to remember when feeding hummingbirds is to keep the feeders clean!  Sugar water is an excellent medium for growing yeast and bacteria and these organisms can establish themselves in your feeders and sour your sugar water in a matter of days.  During the heat of the summer, we recommend changing the sugar water in your feeders every two or three days; during the cooler spring and fall, this can be reduced to every five to seven days.  Each time you clean the feeder, it’s a good idea to use soapy water and a bottlebrush to remove yeast growing on the inside of the glass or plastic reservoir.  Also, consider swishing a little white vinegar around in the feeder for a minute or two to kill yeast, and then rinse it thoroughly with water before refilling it and placing it back outside.

Hummingbirds can be found in Oklahoma from early April through the end of September.  A few late migrants continue to pass through in October and very early November.

We recommend placing out your hummingbird feeders during the second week of April (a little earlier if you see hummingbirds) and keeping them up through the end of October.  If you live in an urban area and don’t see any hummingbirds in May or June, don’t be discouraged – hummingbirds don’t often nest in urban areas, but rest assure that they will be back in July toward the end of the nesting season.  The hummingbird’s fall migration is triggered by the shortening day length and most migrate south during the last three weeks of September.  However, keeping one feeder up through October will help the late migrants.

I hope that these tips help you in your quest for hummingbirds.  For more information about hummingbirds, please visit our website at www.wildlifedepartment.com.

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

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