Volume 1 • Issue 6 • November 2007

Where the Birds Are

Oklahoma's Winter Bird Atlas

Birds in Oklahoma have been studied over the years by a variety of professional and amateur ornithologists. Recently, volunteers have conducted comprehensive breeding season surveys that culminated in the publication of the Oklahoma Breeding Bird Atlas, published in 2004 by the University of Oklahoma Press and available online or through your favorite bookstore. Hundreds of people participate in the roughly 20 Christmas Bird Counts conducted each year in Oklahoma. What has never happened, however, is a comprehensive, statewide study of winter bird distributions in our state.  Thanks in part to funding from the State Wildlife Grants program, such a survey is nearing completion.

A map of the blocks of land that people will observe bird species and record numbers seen.
Building on the techniques and volunteer base developed for Oklahoma’s Breeding Bird Atlas Project, a similar survey was initiated in December of 2003 and scheduled for completion in early 2008. During the five winters in that time frame, skilled birders have been surveying 583 randomly selected blocks of land throughout Oklahoma (see map).  For the purposes of this project, winter is defined as the period from December 1st through February 14th, and each winter is divided evenly into early and late winter periods.  Volunteers must visit each of their blocks at least once for a minimum of four hours in both the early and the late winter periods. They record all of the species they can locate within the block, as well as the numbers of each species seen.

Once all of the surveys are completed early next year, the information will be compiled, mapped, and analyzed to produce the Oklahoma Winter Bird Atlas, a book summarizing current winter bird distributions in the state.  Project such as the breeding and winter bird atlases provide a current and comprehensive summary of bird distributions, but are also meant to be repeated at 15 or 20 year intervals, and thus serve as a valuable benchmark to monitor range and population changes over time.

For more information, please visit the Oklahoma Winter Bird Atlas webpage through the Sutton Avian Research Center.

The State Wildlife Grants Program provides federal cost-share 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 Dan Reinking. Dan is a Senior Biologist at the Bartlesville-based George M. Sutton Avian Research Center of the Oklahoma Biological Survey at the University of Oklahoma. In addition to bird distribution projects, he has conducted ecological studies of grassland birds.

Great Plains Trail of Oklahoma

Loop #2: Playa Lakes

Playa lakes are round shallow basins that only hold water after rainfall or runoff from the surrounding prairie. Having such a vital function, playa lakes are one of the most important and unique wetlands around. They have a natural wet-dry cycle that supports a diverse plant community as well as specialized plankton and aquatic insects.

The beautiful playa lakes region is home to many species found no where else.

Because of the high productivity of playa lakes, they are an essential wintering and stop over place for migrating waterfowl and shorebirds. Some of the shorebirds that can be found around playa lakes are long-billed curlews, greater yellowlegs, black-necked stilts and American avocets.

When you travel along the Playa Lake Loop you will be experiencing a type of wetland that is very unique; approximately 95% of the world’s playa lakes are found in the western Great Plains.

There is much more to see on the Playa Lakes Loop than just the playa lakes themselves.  This area is home to a great variety of plant and animal life. As you travel you will want to keep your eyes open for a chance to spot prairie dog towns, burrowing owls, badgers, swift foxes, ferruginous hawks, orioles, woodpeckers, red-tailed hawks, horned lizards, white-tailed deer, coyotes, Rio Grande turkeys, peregrine falcons, black-tailed jackrabbits and porcupines to name a few.

Whether you’re interested in just taking a daytime drive, going on a birding expedition or an extended trip, it is sure to be an experience you won’t soon forget.
Written by Jennifer Benge. Jennifer is an education technician with the Wildlife Department and enjoys nature photography in her spare time.

Help the Wildlife Diversity Program

Take Part in the Hummingbird Survey

On April 1st the hummingbird feeders were hung outside and the wonderful neotropical migrant started moving into Oklahoma from Central America and Mexico. Hopefully you have seen many Ruby-throated and Black-chinned as well as the rare Rufous and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds at your feeders! I personally had several at my feeders this season. After November 1st you can take the feeders down, clean them with warm soapy water, and put them away until next spring.   Remember that leaving the feeders up until November 1st will not slow the hummingbird’s migration.

By taking part in the annual Hummingbird Survey, you can help the Wildlife Department in assessing the actual population of hummingbirds that come through Oklahoma. The survey will help biologists learn more about our state’s hummingbird population and how long they reside in our state each year. Some of the questions you will be asked are when you put up and took down your feeder, how many and what species were observed, and the plants you may have that attract hummingbirds. The book, Landscaping for Wildlife: A Guide to the Southern Great Plains by Jeremy Garrett, is a great resource for plants that attract wildlife.

Please click here to submit your hummingbird survey observations.

Thank you for your help!

Written by Brett Cooper. Brett is a graduate student studying Wildlife Ecology at Oklahoma State University and is a frequent contributor to the Wild Side e-extra.

Our Mission:

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