ByRandy C. Anderson
To a bird aficionado, it is “Birding,” not “Bird watching.” Whatever you choose to call it, just know that millions of people across the world love studying our feathered friends. Multi-millions of dollars are spent every year by all of these birders in pursuit of their favored pastime. They purchase everything from various birdseeds and feeders to high quality optics like binoculars and spotting scopes. Many will drive for hours just for a chance to get a good look at a species that is “not on their list” (more on these lists later). They buy lots of gas since they drive for hours on a never-ending search for birds, and many stay at motels and hotels during these extended birding trips – having quite an impact on our economy.
I say all of that to make a point – birding is a serious pastime. Serious birders keep lists of every bird species they see. There are seasonal lists, yearly lists, area lists, and most importantly the “life list.” A life list is a listing of every species of bird a birder has seen in his or her lifetime. Every bird, regardless of where they saw it – in state, out-of-state, or somewhere else in the world – will be on this list. Lists are helpful in remembering when and where you saw what species of bird, as well as for conservation purposes. They are so important that the prestigious Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology sponsors “bird counts” every year. Christmas bird counts have been around for decades, while backyard bird counts are somewhat new. Backyard count information can be uploaded to Cornell via your computer, which has made the entire process of participating very simple and easy to do. The Oklahoma Wildlife Department also conducts online surveys and counts. You can find information on how to participate in these state programs on the website www.wildlifedepartment.com.
The National Audubon Society is the granddaddy of birding groups. There are smaller, local Audubon Groups based on the state and even city levels. Joining one of these groups will help connect you with birders from every level of experience. Most groups also hold formal and informal outings, as well as monthly meetings. It is a good place to learn and share information.
What do you need to become a birder? All you really need are a good pair of binoculars, a good bird book and patience. You will be surprised by what shows up in your own backyard. If you want to increase the number of species you will see in your backyard, add a feeder and a birdbath (water feature). Water is very important to birds, especially in the winter when ponds and lakes are frozen and rain puddles are nonexistent. Use quality foods such as black oil sunflower seeds. DO NOT throw out bread, popcorn, or any other “human foods.” While the birds will eat these items, they get no nutritional value from them, and fill up on foods from which they get no energy. Visit a store that specializes in feeding and attracting wild birds.
Once you have conquered your backyard, it is time to visit your local lakes, ponds and city parks. Birds are everywhere, and a specific type of area will attract specific types of birds. Oklahoma is blessed by being right in the middle of the Central Flyway. Over half the 800-plus North American bird species have been recorded in Oklahoma at one time or another. The potholes, rivers and lakes that dot the state are especially important to migratory waterfowl. Our central location also brings birds from both the east and west. While these birds are only occasionally seen here, they are becoming more common. I believe it is because more people are birding, and even more reporting their sightings.
People are surprised when I tell them that Bald Eagles, Ospreys, Pelicans, and the occasional Snowy Owl visit Oklahoma during spring and winter migrations. While we have nesting Bald Eagles in Oklahoma, the numbers go up in the winter when the northern lakes and rivers freeze over, making it impossible for the eagles to fish. Extremely cold temperatures in the north can cause an eruption of Snowy Owls to head south – even to Oklahoma. I have been lucky enough to see two Snowy Owls in Oklahoma in my lifetime.
If you are connected to a birding group such as the Oklahoma City Audubon Society, you can sign up to be on a birding list and be notified when rare birds are in your area. If you are new to birding, check out these birding clubs by doing a search online for birding clubs in your area. Bookstores have dozens of field guides, pick one that you like – there are even apps available for your phone or tablet.
Birding is the most popular sport in the country. The entire family can easily participate, and you can combine hiking, camping, biking and even fishing with birding. Once you get the hang of it, birding will become a life-long passion for you. If you are new to the sport, I highly recommend joining a local birding club in your area. They will teach you the do’s and don’ts of birding, andyou will learn the best places to go birding.
I am oftenasked where I go birding. My answer is: anywhere and everywhere! Here is a list of some of my favorite birding spots:
- My backyard, right in the middle of northwest Oklahoma City.
- Lake Hefner, southwest corner to canal.
- Lake Overholser, south side and east side below the dam.
- Stinchcomb Wildlife Preserve (north of Lake Overholser).
- Oxley Nature Center, Tulsa.
- Kaw Lake.
- Tall Grass Prairie Preserve.
- Pathfinder Parkway, Bartlesville.
- Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.
- Great Salt Plains.
- Lake Keystone.
- Western Hills State Park.