Conservation Success Stories: OKC Zoo Contributes to Bird Conservation

Here at the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden, we believe in the importance of conserving the world’s wildlife and wild places. In 2020, the Zoo raised over $220,000 toward to benefit local and global conservation efforts as part of its Round Up for Conservation initiative. Through individual guest contributions, Round Up for Conservation funds helped cultivate 10 conservation success stories in 2020. Of those ten, the Zoo was able to contribute to North American bird research and conservation.

Birdwatching is considered as a relaxing hobby for many all over the globe. Bird lovers get a thrill out of sighting, identifying and listening to the chirps of migratory and native bird species. Over the last 50 years, however, birdwatching has become more of a challenge and the chirping of birds has quietened. Sadly, North American bird populations have plummeted by 29%, or three billion birds, since 1970. This decline has occurred nationwide. Oklahoma’s prairie birds, such as lesser prairie chickens and grasshopper sparrows, have been especially affected by this mass population decline. The main reasons for the population decline include habitat loss, building collisions and predation from domesticated cats.

Birds are essential to their individual ecosystems. As an indicator species, the presence of birds helps to signify the health of an ecosystem. Birds provide pest control, pollination and seed-dispersal in their habitats. This significant and widespread decline risks substantial environmental degradation, which threatens the livelihood of not only other animal species but also humans

Another global threat to birds is the exotic pet trade. Every year, millions of live birds are traded illegally and sold into the live pet trade. Many birds don’t survive the capture and transport process, resulting in even more deaths. Other birds are traded to harvest their body parts, such as feathers, as well as for falconry. Wildlife trafficking is one of the biggest threats to endangered birds throughout the world as demand to own exotic pets and use of their parts continues to increase. Songbirds, in particular, are heavily traded as pets.

Bird surveys provide vital information about bird population trends. The last Oklahoma Breeding Bird Atlas was published 20 years ago. New surveys need to be conducted to publish the second atlas to evaluate population and distribution changes, which are used to guide state and national conservation efforts. The Zoo is providing funding from the Round Up for Conservation Fund to the George Miksch Sutton Avian Research Center to support a five-year long bird survey project across Oklahoma to produce the Oklahoma Breeding Bird Atlas II. In total, 583 randomly selected blocks of land across the state will be surveyed during the bird breeding season. In 2020, surveys were completed in 50 survey blocks, and funding will be provided for the 2021 year.

The Zoo is a part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Saving Animals from Extinction (SAFE) North American Songbird (NAS) initiative. Zoo guests are able to observe an example of the Zoo’s commitment to the SAFE NAS initiative in-person at the Zoo’s Oklahoma Trails habitat, which features specially-designed glass to prevent bird strikes. Much more than an aesthetic choice, these designs provide a visual for birds to recognize animal habitat glass as a physical barrier.

Fans of feathered friends can help the North American bird population by keeping domesticated cats indoors to prevent predation of wild birds and by implementing bird-friendly window treatment options. On a larger scale, animal fans can advocate to end wildlife trafficking by contacting local legislators about the Preventing Future Pandemic legislation. Please join in supporting conservation efforts by signing the #ENDTHETRADE petition at or by participating in the Zoo’s Round Up for Conservation initiative. For more information about the Zoo’s conservation efforts and how to get involved, click here

- Dr. Rebecca Snyder, curator of conservation and science


Photo: USFWS Mountain-Prairie

Posted by Sabrina Heise at 13:33
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