A Guide to Birding in Oklahoma
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
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
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 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.
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.