Volume 2 • Issue 4 • April 2008

Birds of Prey In Northwest Oklahoma

Grassland Raptors of Special Concern

Migratory birds have been protected in the United States since 1918.  In 1972, most raptors were added in to the federal protection.  Even with laws established to protect certain species, their numbers still are dwindling down.  Some raptors (predatory birds) in the Oklahoma panhandle are experiencing such decline.  Work is being done to provide a current picture of the breeding status of several raptor species of greatest conservation need including monitoring reproductive success and correlating nesting success data with patterns of local land use.  This should help provide management recommendations for site-specific and regional actions that may improve the status of these species on the southern High Plains.

The Ferruginous hawk is just one grassland raptor that is listed as a species of special concern.
In 2006, the University of Oklahoma and the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History concentrated field work on areas in and around the Rita Blanca National Grassland in southern Cimarron County. Biologists focused on locating the nests of the ferruginous hawk, loggerhead shrike, Swainson’s hawk and Chihuahuan raven.

Initial field surveys were carried out in late April and early May, when most species were settling on nests or territories. Follow-up surveys were carried out in mid-May and early June, with a final check in late June and early July.

Results from the survey suggest an overall decrease in the abundance of ferruginous hawks, loggerhead shrikes and Swainson's hawks. Conversely, the number of Chihuahuan raven nests increased in 2007 relative to 2006. In addition, there are indications that the common raven has recently expanded its breeding range and is now nesting in small numbers within the shortgrass prairie and agricultural zones in central Cimarron County.

The data also suggest that reproductive success was about 50% for both ferruginous hawks and Chihuahuan ravens, with a much higher success rate for Swainson’s hawks. Reproductive success often was difficult to determine due to access to nests on private land and to nests being too high to monitor. The scarcity of loggerhead shrikes is of concern, since only a single breeding pair was found despite many days driving a good proportion of the roads in Cimarron County.

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 Dr. Gary D. Schnell. Dr. Schnell is a Professor of Zoology at the University of Oklahoma. He also is the Curator of Birds at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History in Norman.

Jewels of the Southeast

McCurtain County Wilderness Area and Ouachita Wildlife Management Area

Habitat that is typical of southeastern Oklahoma. Bottomland hardwoods mixed with swampy areas can produce an abundance of wildlife.
The 131,000 acre McCurtain Unit of the Ouachita Wildlife Management Area is owned by the U.S. Forest Service and managed in as a part of the Ouachita National Forest. Its wildlife resources are managed in cooperation with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. The McCurtain Unit is divided into two subunits - the Broken Bow Subunit around Broken Bow Reservoir and the Tiak Subunit located southeast of Idabel. This area is one of the most scenic landscapes in the state with management tailored for special emphasis on renewing the historic role of fire and increasing the abundance of older hardwood and pine stands thus creating a more open canopy that promotes growth of native grasses.

The Broken Bow Subunit has 50,000 acres that are dedicated to the restoration and recovery of the red-cockaded woodpecker. The McCurtain County Wilderness Area located in northern McCurtain County around Broken Bow Reservoir is the last known population of this woodpecker in Oklahoma. This habitat has also been shown to favor white-tailed deer, prairie warbler, northern bobwhite, wild turkey and Bachman’s sparrow.

Bachman’s sparrow inhabits open woods with a grass and shrub understory. Nationwide, their population has been declining about two percent annually since 1966 according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. A small population can be found in the Broken Bow Subunit.

Other bird species that can be observed on these areas include the colorful summer tanager, indigo bunting, great crested flycatcher and yellow-throated warbler during the summer months. Pine warblers, chipping sparrows, brown-headed nuthatches and pileated woodpeckers can be seen here year-round. The region also supports a diversity of amphibians, reptiles and mammals including green anole, five-lined skink, Ouachita map turtle, slimy salamander, gray treefrog and eastern chipmunk.

There are many more activities and sites that can be enjoyed at the Ouachita WMA and McCurtain WMA, so please visit the website for more information or contact Senior Biologist John Skeen at (580) 241-7875.

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

Get Ready for the Hummers!

Hummingbird Enthusiasts Needed for Survey

Hummingbirds are a backyard favorite for many Oklahomans. Feeders specifically designed for hummers can bring them close to your home to witness their iridescent beauty and amazing feeding antics. The hummingbirds’ familiarity with humans and their feeders provides the means by which the Oklahoma Wildlife Diversity Program can learn more about the hummingbird population and how long these migrants reside in Oklahoma each year. To participate in our survey, you must first hang up and maintain your feeders beginning April 1 through November 1.  Next, print off the survey form and record the first and last date hummingbirds were seen at the feeder and the species that used the feeder.  Return the survey form by December 15th.  The survey has helped biologists to determine that Black-chinned Hummingbirds are raising chicks in Oklahoma! Reports over the last several years have confirmed it’s nesting in western Oklahoma and possibly extending its range further eastward in Oklahoma.

To see Ruby-throated hummingbirds and up to 149 other bird species plan on attending the Birding and Heritage Festival at the Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge in northwest Oklahoma during the last weekend in April.  There are 2 days of birding and outdoor learning opportunities for the entire family. Whether you are a beginner or advanced birder, you will enjoy attending this free event.   For a schedule of events check out the US Fish and Wildlife Service website for this refuge.

Written by Melynda Hickman. Melynda is a Wildlife Diversity Biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and plays a large role in the Birding and Heritage Festival.

Our Mission:

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