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North Tulsa Prairies
Tulsa County

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From the 1986 edition of A Guide to Birding in Oklahoma published by the Tulsa Audubon Society. This account has not been reviewed or updated to ensure accuracy.

The high prairies of northern Tulsa County offer some of the best prairie birding in northeastern Oklahoma. The adjacent bottomlands to the east and the west create a wide diversity of habitat and related bird species. Cattle raising, dairy farming, and horse breeding, as well as the management of rodeo stock, are primary uses for the land, with some quarter sections given to general farming. The cultivation of pecans is important in most bottomland districts. Two US highways and two state highways serve the northern areas. US 75 is a modern four-lane road with ample shoulders for stopping well off the road. US 169 at present is 4-lane to Owasso only, with no shoulders farther north. State highways 20 and 11 carry heavy traffic and have no shoulders. Use caution. Traffic on most county roads is light, many roads having insufficient shoulders for stopping in dry weather.

To begin the trip, travel north on US 75 from I 244 to exit right on 96 St. N at mile 10.5. Continue east 1.0 mile to Sheridan and turn left. Section-line roads with scattered farm homes permit easy access to areas from 96 St. to 126 St. N. From there to the Washington County line at 186 St. ranches are large with few houses and fewer roads to drive. Native short grass gives way to tall bluestem, the golden grass one sees across the rolling hills in winter. This is prime habitat for Greater Prairie-Chicken and Short-eared Owl, the latter in winter only. Early morning and dusk are the best times to find both species, but either may be flushed by a Rough-legged Hawk on a cold winter day.

Park along the first half-mile north of 96 St. near a culvert. Prairie Chickens will fly across to tall grass west of Sheridan. At dusk the owls fly over the fields. Other winter species are Northern Harrier, which also hunts at dusk, and Savannah Sparrow. Horned Lark, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, and Loggerhead Shrike are permanent residents. Le Conte's Sparrow is rare along low fence wires near drainage ditches in winter and early spring, to be followed by Grasshopper Sparrow in summer. In October, 1981, a Burrowing Owl remained near the culvert for several days. Longspurs will glean burned fields in January.

One or two Sprague's Pipits winter in the pasture northeast of Yale Ave. at 96 St. N. Ask for permission to enter from 96 St. and walk along the fence line to a slight rise on the west. The dark beady eye on a pale, unmarked face can be seen at a good distance, a quick means of separating Sprague's from other winter species having white outer tail feathers; adults are pale below and show almost no streaking on the underparts; fall immatures are very buffy below with faint streaking on the breast.

Stop at Sheridan and 116 St. N for spring migrants and summer residents. Trees and shrubby growth around a creek are nesting places for Bell's Vireo, Northern and Orchard orioles, and Great-tailed Grackle. Cattle around the farm north of the intersection bring Yellow-headed Blackbirds in spring. Dickcissels, common grassland nesters, gather in great numbers in fall to roost in tall weeds while changing into winter plumage.

Prairie Falcons are frequently seen in the square mile from 126 St. N to 136 St. between Sheridan and Yale, November through January. During large migrations of longspurs a Peregrine Falcon has stooped into a feeding flock. White-fronted Geese have congregated around a long stock pond 0.5 mile north on Sheridan; Marbled Godwits have fed there in April. Nesting throughout this section in summer are Upland Sandpipers. Cultivated fields at 136 St. N have held 300 White-rumped Sandpipers after a spring rain, hundreds of Water Pipits in stubble, Lesser Golden-Plovers on plowed fields; Smith's Longspurs nearing breeding plumage on winter wheat, and Vesper Sparrows on dry fence rows in March or on plowed land in October. At daybreak in December, 66 Prairie-Chickens walked down a fence line.

Large numbers of Grasshopper Sparrows nest on 136 St. west of Sheridan, the birds singing from low weeds and fence wires or bathing at the roadside. Shrubby trees in fence rows may contain nests of Scissortailed Flycatchers and both Eastern and Western kingbirds. In winter Rough-legged Hawks perch on power-line towers; Savannah Sparrows are common. Stop below the westernmost hill, facing east at dusk, to look for Short-eared Owls; or park at the draw 0.5 mile ahead, open the windows, and squeak to bring them near the car. Although uncommon in Tulsa County, the Le Conte's Sparrow is often seen along the fence wires in late March and early April.

From 136 St. go north on Yale to cross 146 St. N and continue north one mile on US 75 to 156 St. Fields to the east have held Golden-Plovers in spring, Upland Sandpipers in summer, Smith's Longspurs in winter, and Sprague's Pipit in spring and fall. The route east and north is fine for birds of prey; Ferruginous Hawks wintered in 1981-82; Swainson's Hawks are here in summer. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks have been seen many springs near a wooded creek east of Sheridan (0.2); Rusty Blackbirds in the overflow north of the road; Blue Grosbeaks, Indigo Buntings, and Yellow-billed Cuckoos in summer; Harris's and Tree sparrows in winter. The creek winds through another field north of Sheridan where Kentucky Warblers have nested. Northern Flicker, Red-headed, Red-bellied, Downy and possibly the Hairy woodpecker have nested here.

The prairie broadens as Sheridan continues north. Casual water along the road and at the intersection with 166 St. holds Common Snipe, Baird's Sandpiper, and rarely Sora and Virginia Rail in spring. Thousands of Cliff Swallows have lined the wires in August.

Three-awn grass (Aristida), a food of Smith's Longspurs, is found in many short-grass prairies. The fine three-strand grass has a tiny seed at the juncture, a barb that penetrates most fabric. The grass is common west of the intersection where Smith's Longspurs are often seen on the fences. Walk along the prairie roads listening for the ticking call described by many as "like winding a cheap watch". A flock of 20 or so may circle aimlessly overhead, their underparts more apricot than buffy. On the ground they remain hidden and are seldom seen with Laplands or Horned Larks. Reported in this area from November into March, numbers increase in February when migrants from the south join local flocks before continuing to northern breeding grounds.

An over-grazed field ahead (0.5) frequently has great flocks of Lapland Longspurs with an occasional Chestnut-collared. Burned prairies are especially attractive to these species. Snow cover sends them to the roads, snow melt to ridges and furrows of plowed fields. Although recorded from December through March, Laplands are most numerous in February. In May Bobolinks are often found in alfalfa along this road.




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