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A Guide to Birding in Oklahoma

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Birding in Oklahoma

From the 1986 edition of A Guide to Birding in Oklahoma published by the Tulsa Audubon Society.

Geography and the Birds

From the wooded uplands of the Oklahoma Ozarks in the northeast to the mesquite flats in the southwest; from the Coastal plain with miles of loblolly pines in the extreme southeast (elevation 324 feet) to the Mesa Country in the northwest, Oklahoma's birdlife is as varied as its climate.

A preponderance of material is presented from the eastern sections of the state where spring-fed streams and sweet-water lakes support numerous state parks. Hardwood-pine forests and fern-lined canyons attract most of the eastern warblers in spring migration. Near the western edge of the northeastern region, Greater Prairie-Chickens breed in the tall grass prairies which emerge between riparian woodlands and sandstone hills of scrub-oak. Seldom does a fall pass without Western Grebes appearing on a prairie lake in Tulsa County. What is a CBC without Smith's Longspurs?

As landlocked as Oklahoma may appear, it is drained from the west and north by three major rivers, The Canadian, Cimarron, and Arkansas rivers converge in the east with the Arkansas Navigation System to join the Mississippi, The Red River, forming the southern boundary of Oklahoma, drains the North Fork, the Washita, and the Kiamichi. Some 200 impoundments across the state attract an abundance of waterfowl, gulls, and terns. With large concentrations of gulls come the unexpected species. A lesser Black-backed Gull returned for the third winter in Oklahoma City. And the city is known as one of the best spots in the state to observe migrating shorebirds which congregate around the sandy shores of prairie lakes.

Each of four low mountain ranges in the state differs in form and climate. The hills of the Ozarks in the northeast and the higher, rock-strewn Ouachita Mountains in the southeast are heavily forested with pine and hardwoods. The Red-cockaded Woodpecker is encountered rarely in the Ouachitas in diseased shortleaf pines, the nest-hole oozing sap down the trunk of the tree. The Arbuckles, with dry, rocky soil, are best known for plunging waterfalls along I 35 in the south. The beautiful Wichita Mountains in southwestern Oklahoma, which include the National Wildlife Refuge, dot the short-grass plains with granite outcroppings for miles. The valleys and wooded streams attract an unusual mix of both eastern and western species. Here nest four species of wrens, and the Rufous-crowned Sparrow is a resident.

The Golden-fronted and Ladder-backed woodpeckers are near their eastern limits in the southwest. Of interest to many birders, the two species are found in the mesquite plains and in stunted trees along the streambeds of this semi-arid country.

In the Black Mesa region, where the upward tilt of Oklahoma reaches its highest point, the elevation increases from 4,165 feet at Boise City to 4,972 feet on top of the mesa, The area is noted for extreme temperatures, a generous amount of snow in winter, and little rainfall in summer. The Cimarron River, at times lost under layers of sand, enters the state the first time west of Kenton and is an important part of the habitat of Black-billed Magpies, Brown Towhees, and Scrub and Pinyon jays. Winter months bring many montane species.

Devil's Den State Park in west-Central Arkansas is an outstanding spot to find many spring migrants as well as nesters. Both Turkey and Black vultures, Broad-winged Hawk, Chuck-will's-widow and Whip-poor-will nest in the area. Among the 14 nesting warblers is the Yellow-throated which nests in the sycamores. In the more rugged portion of the Boston Mountains of the Ozarks, the park is deeply incised by the clear flowing Lee's Creek. The slopes are densely forested by second growth hardwoods.

The Climate

The climate in Oklahoma is subject to sudden temperature changes and occasionally severe storms. Temperatures of over 100° F. are not uncommon in August. Winters are considered mild with few days of temperatures below 0° F. The temperature decreases as elevation increases across the state, resulting in colder winters in the northwest and milder winters in the southeast. The eastern sections have more precipitation, and the northeast is often subjected to ice storms while the northwest has moderate snows.

Pests in Oklahoma

After heavy spring rains, ticks are often a problem in some parts of Oklahoma; count on them after the first day of April. They will drop off trees after they have been around a while, probably the second or third generations, so a head cover is advisable. Take along your favorite repellent and should you get a bite, have someone twist the tick out counterclockwise with tweezers. Be sure to clean the spot with alcohol.

Mosquitoes come with warm weather and can be a bother unless you have found Avon's original formulas of Skin So Soft. Mix a small amount with water and rue over exposed skin, even dabbing a little on your hair and especially behind your cars. It smells better than the usual repellents.

Chiggers are the big problem, once warm weather has arrived. The Girl Scouts tie a tablespoon or two of sulphur powder in a small kerchief and use it like a powderpuff over ankles, bare legs, and arms. The bugs won't bite but your clothes will smell like sulphur. Some people say to take vitamin B; others eat garlic. Either way it is hard to say who is re¬pelled the most, the bugs or the birders.

The best solution is to bathe with warm water and soap, lots of suds, and be sure not to wear the same "grodies" again before laundering. That usually takes care of Avon, mosquitoes, ticks, and chiggers. These precautions are not often necessary in the cities because of the constant spraying. Even the fireflies are no longer here.

Don't worry about snakes, unless you go into a very rocky area that is not often traveled, or walk through high weeds after heavy rains. They are more afraid of you than you are of them (someone said). Limestone areas with moist ground and shrubby growth seem to attract Copperheads. I have never seen a live poisonous snake in Oklahoma, not even a rattler. Just be cautious in rocky areas with weedy growth.

Oklahoma Checklists

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has published with funds from Oklahoma's Nongame Wildlife tax check-off program, ten area checklists covering most of the state. For information concerning what lists are currently available and how they may be obtained write: Department of Wildlife Conservation, 1801 N. Lincoln Blvd., Oklahoma City, OK, 73105.

Oklahoma Tourism Information

Many of Oklahoma's good birding spots listed in this book are in or near state parks where camping and lodging facilities are available. If you are planning a visit to the state this information may be obtained by writing: PARKS, 500 Will Rogers Blvd., Oklahoma City, OK, 73105. Information or reservations at any of nine state parks may be had by calling (405)521-2454. For toll-free calls in Oklahoma call: (800)522-8565.






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Last modified: September 21, 2009




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