Volume 2 • Issue 10 • October 2008

Swainson's Warblers

Status Assessment for Oklahoma

The Swainson’s warbler is one of many Neotropical bird species whose numbers have declined in North America.  These birds live in bottomland forests and prefer to nest in damp areas with mature hardwood trees and a dense understory of shrubs or cane. 

The Swainson’s warbler is a plain olive-brown colored bird with a pale yellow-white belly. They have a whitish eyebrow stripe that runs above their eye, and the top of their head is a rusty brown.  Unlike many species of warblers, there is no difference in appearance between a male and female Swainson’s warbler.  While they may not be particularly interesting in appearance, their secretive nature makes them a mysterious subject to study.
The Swainson's warbler blends extremely well into its environment and can easily be missed.

Dr. Mia Revels, an associate professor of biology at Northeastern State University, has risen to the challenge of assessing the status of this species in Oklahoma.  She had this to say about her efforts, “Swainson's Warblers are incredibly challenging to study, which is one of the attractions to me. They frequent thick, dark vine tangles and dense thickets. I rarely see them unless I find a nest or net one to band. You are much more likely to hear their loud, ringing, beautiful song than to actually see the bird itself. But, if you work hard, you can capture a glimpse of a Swainson's Warbler perched in a tree singing away, or half-buried under the leaf litter, small body vibrating as they search for invertebrate prey.”

Dr. Revels focused her efforts around the Little River watershed and other areas in eastern Oklahoma with appropriate habitat.  She located new populations within five of her study sites, including Wister, Hugo, and Cherokee Wildlife Management Areas.  This new information on the distribution and abundance of the species will help natural resource agencies to better manage the habitats and populations of this bird.

Written by Ashley Foster. Ashley is the northeast region fisheries biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

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.

Wister Wildlife Management Area

Eastern Oklahoma's Gateway to the Past

Wister Wildlife Management Area covers 35,500 acres and surrounds the 7,000 acre Wister Lake south of Wister and Heavener in southeast Oklahoma. This WMA is a gem because of the diversity of plants and animals that reside around the junction of the San Bois Mountains, the Ouachita Mountains and the Poteau River valley.

A favorite of many, the bald eagle can often be found along the shores of Wister Lake in southeast Oklahoma.

Bald eagles can be found in the winter along with waterfowl, black bear, river otter, wild turkey and white-tailed deer. Songbirds include such rare species as the Swainson's warbler, prothonotary warbler and the hooded warbler as well as more common species such as the white-eyed vireo and indigo bunting. Upland sites have fields of native grasses, foothills contain oak and pine, and the river bottom areas have oak hardwoods. The Poteau River, which is the only north flowing river in the state, flows through the Area.

Management for waterfowl and shorebirds is conducted in two Wetland Development Units (WDU). One is managed as a greentree reservoir which is a seasonally flooded wetland used to enhance the forested hardwoods for acorn, other mast and aquatic invertebrate production for migrating birds.  The other is managed using moist soil management that allows for the adjustment of water levels to promote or remove certain vegetation species.

Wister WMA has many activities available for your enjoyment and has primitive camping to cabins and rooms at the state park. Please visit the website for more information.

Written by Brett Cooper. Brett is a graduate student studying zoology at Oklahoma State University.

Wintertime Bird Buffet

How to select bird feeders and food

Every winter many species of songbirds call Oklahoma home and many others use it as a stop-over point on their long migration routes.  One of the easiest ways to attract these visitors is with bird feeders.  During those winter months when food is hard to come by, a winter buffet can offer amazing bird watching experiences.

There are many types of feeders available such as table feeders, hoppers, tubes, and troughs.  The main idea for winter feeders is to keep the feed protected from the elements.  Hopper and tube feeders are the best choices for protection.  Feeders should be placed next to escape cover such as brush piles, shrubbery or trees.  This makes birds feel comfortable knowing that safety is only a short flight away. 

Some birds prefer to feed on or near the ground. These species include doves, juncos, native sparrows, thrashers and quail. To meet the needs of these species, a platform feeder can be placed a few inches to a foot above the ground, or small quantities of seeds can be spread out on the ground or on landscaping pavers. Other species of birds such as finches, chickadees and titmice prefer to feed above the ground and will readily visit hanging feeders or pole-mounted feeders.

Selecting the right feed is also important. Black oil sunflower seed is an excellent choice because its high oil and protein content attracts many songbirds. Millet is another good choice because of its high nutritional value and its small size makes it easy for smaller birds to crack and eat. Niger seed is another seed with a high oil and energy content that is a good choice for attracting goldfinches and pine siskins. Some seed mixes include sunflower and millet that are highly sought after by birds, but also contain seeds such as wheat, cracked corn, buckwheat and milo that are eaten by a relatively small number of birds such as doves and quail. These diverse seed mixes should be places on or near the ground where these birds can use them.

Keeping your feeder consistently stocked will improve your chances of seeing a steady stream of feathered visitors all winter long. Don't be discouraged if birds don't find your feeders right away. Often bird activity at bird feeders is low from September through November when wild seeds are at their greatest abundance, but by December birds will use your feeders more regularly and continue to visit them at least through April and often beyond.

For more information, please visit the Department's winter bird website.

Written by David Rempe. David is an information and education technician 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.