Beaks and Binoculars: Birdwatching for Beginners

The Great Backyard Bird Count, a citizens-science project in its 24th year, is hosted annually in the month of February. This project calls on bird enthusiasts all over the world  to come together and assist with identifying, counting and learning about different bird species.

In past years, the Zoo has partnered with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife (ODWC) to host a Backyard Bird Count event on Zoo grounds, consisting of guided tours from local, bird experts. However,  because of extreme, winter weather conditions, this year’s in-person event has been cancelled.

Oklahoma has 355 regularly occurring species of birds. During last year’s Backyard Bird Count event at the Zoo, participants were able to record 257 individual birds, representing 29 species. The most common species sighted was the mallard duck, with 37 individuals recorded, followed by the ruddy duck with 30 individuals observed and recorded.

Thankfully, bird lovers of all ages, near and far can still participate in the Backyard Bird Count! Participating is easy, fun to do alone, or with others, and can be done anywhere. You can be a citizen scientist by simply watching birds for 15 minutes or more, at least, between February 12 and 15, and record what you see at https://www.birdcount.org/.

Bird experts rely on the public’s participation because the data collected throughout the Backyard Bird Count provides critical information that helps scientists understand and identify the conservation status of global bird populations prior to their annual migrations. The Great Backyard Bird Count utilizes eBird, one of the world’s largest nature databases, with more than 100 million bird sightings recorded annually.

A few bird species to be on the lookout for this year include:

American Robin

Photo by Skyler Ewing from Pexels

Range: The American robin can be found across all of Oklahoma and prefers a habitat of shrubs and wooded areas.

Description: When identifying this species look for a gray, brown body, orange or red chest, and a white ring around the eye. American robins are approximately 8 to 11 inches long with a wingspan of 12 to 15 inches. 

Fun fact: The American robin produces blue eggs that are incubated for roughly 2 weeks.

Carolina Chickadee

Photo by Laura Ganz from Pexels

Range: This bird species can be found throughout Oklahoma, excluding the panhandle, and prefers forest and woodland habitats.

Description: Carolina chickadees can be distinguished by their black head and throat,  white cheeks, and their gray, back wings. The Carolina chickadee is approximately four to five inches in length and has a six to eight-inch wingspan.

Fun Fact: Chickadees can crack open seeds by holding it steady with their feet and  utilizing their strong beak to pry them open.

Cedar Waxwing

Photo by Skyler Ewing from Pexels

Range: The Cedar waxwing can be found in Eastern Oklahoma. It prefers a habitat of thickets and shrubs.

Description: When identifying a Cedar waxwing, look for a brown head crest, neck, back and chest, and a yellow body. Another identifying feature includes a black coloration around the bird’s eyes, resembling a mask. Cedar waxwings are approximately 5 to 6 inches long with a wingspan of 8 to 11 inches.

Fun fact: They are most commonly found as part of a flock.

 

 

 

Dark-Eyed Junco

Photo by Oksanna Briere from Pexels

Range: The dark-eyed junco is found throughout Oklahoma from October to April.

Description: When identifying a dark-eyed junco, look for a dark gray body, white belly and white, outer tail feathers. The bird’s plumage can vary, depending on its sex and the season. The dark-eyed junco is approximately five to six inches in length and has a wingspan of seven to nine inches.

Fun fact: Their diet consists primarily of seeds

 

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

Photo by Flickr from Pexels

Range: The yellow-rumped warbler can be found in Oklahoma during the winter and prefers a wooded or shrub habitat.

Description: When identifying a yellow-rumped warbler, look for a gray body with white on the wings. Other characteristics include a yellow face, throat and sides. These birds are approximately four to five inches long with a wingspan of seven to nine inches.

Participating in the Backyard Bird Count event annually is just one way that the Zoo contributes to bird conservation efforts. The Zoo is also a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction program for North American Songbirds. Recently, the Zoo partnered with the George Miksch Sutton Avian Research Center to help produce Volume II of the Oklahoma Breeding Bird Atlas with funds provided by the Zoo’s Round Up for Conservation program. The Oklahoma Breeding Bird Atlas allows for evaluations of change in bird populations and distributions over time and helps identify conservation needs.

The Zoo also joins forces with the (ODWC) annually for winter bird surveys in Oklahoma. The Zoo’s Director of Information Technology, Matthew Word, and Director of Animal Collections, Kevin Drees, recently participated in a survey and ventured to Robbers Cave State Park and San Boise Wildlife Management Area, where they spotted a plethora of bird species – including the pileated woodpecker, downy woodpecker, ruby-crowned kinglet, pine warbler and song sparrow, as well as the bird species listed above. The ODWC will use the data collected this year and prior years to determine if species in the area are declining, increasing, or even moving their home ranges.

The Great Backyard Bird Count event is great for all ages. Not only is bird watching a fun and safe outdoor activity, it also helps make an impact on global bird conservation efforts. Don’t forget to grab your binoculars and observe for at least 15 minutes. Be on the lookout for some of our highlighted species and make sure to document them using eBird. For more information about participating visit https://www.birdcount.org/participate/

Cover photo taken at the Zoo's 2020 Backyard Bird Count event by Andrea Johnson 

- Eddie Witte, curator of birds 

 

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