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Birds of summer

Figure out who’s flocking together with our handy guide to Oklahoma’s feathered friends.

Malena Lott May 18th, 2011

If you’re like me and you don’t know your warbler from your wren, it’s time to get schooled in ornithology, the study of birds.

Credits: Shannon Cornman

Having just moved to a tree-filled lot near a creek, I was curious what all the chatter was about. I began noticing the variety of birds, like the small, blue-gray speedster in the flower beds and the orange-mohawked punk rocker that gathered twigs outside my window. An entire Crayola box of birds flitted around my property, but I had no idea what they were.

According to Bill Diffin, president of the Oklahoma City Audubon Society, he developed his interest in bird-watching much the same way, only with ducks.

“I was walking around Lake Overholser and noticed some unusual ducks,” he said.

“I looked up what kind they were and found out they were ring-necked. I wondered how many I’d see. Over six weeks, I saw 17 kinds of birds.”

According to Diffin, Oklahoma has more than 250 species of birds in the metro and more than 450 statewide. Spring and summer are busy, what with all the mating and migrating going on, so it’s a good time to pause and stare up at the skies. Even better, it’s free!

Do you hear that? Birds have songs and calls. Diffin said calls are truly inherited, while many songs incorporate tweets of other birds they hear. But which sex are we hearing sing? Like most of the show-offs in the animal world, it’s mostly an all-male chorus.

Credits: Shannon Cornman

“A song has a precise definition in ornithology — true songs are learned by imitating the older male birds,” Diffin said. “For the vast majority of species, that’s correct. The female painted bunting is singing to attract males, but no one has studied that in great detail.”

The same way that people’s voices differ, so do birds. The mockingbird — true to its name — can mimic others’ calls and songs. Our state bird, the scissor-tailed flycatcher, which can be seen mostly in prairies and open spaces, doesn’t have a true song, just vocalizations that are inherited. Look along barbed-wire fences, the grassy side of Lake Hefner or the levy or berm at Lake Overholser if you’d like to spot one.

“Most birds that visit feeders are songbirds, except woodpeckers, but they do have chatter calls,” Diffin said.

Besides being a low-cost hobby, what are the benefits of being a birder?

Diffin said it’s a form of exercise by getting out and walking, and it also sharpens the mind. A birder has to know the appearance and songs and vocalizations of birds and apply it in the field, thinking quickly.

“You must observe and be alert,” he said. “It’s engaging, challenging and a bit competitive.”

Yes, competitive. Dedicated birders compare unusual birds and compile a life list — a list of all birds seen in your lifetime — as well as year lists and state lists.

If you’re thinking what I’m thinking, we have a summer project for the kids! See if your tykes can spot our list (see above) of Oklahoma birds of summer when you’re out and about this season.

Credits: Shannon Cornman

Feed the birds

Want to attract more birds? Set up some alfresco dining with feeds in your backyard. Our feathered friends love a free lunch.

According to, the website of Oklahoma birder Bill Horn, set out sunflower seeds, fresh fruit and peanuts. During the summer, birds have easy access to insects such as spiders, grasshoppers and gnats. In the morning, take a peek on your front lawn for the early birds literally catching their worms.

To bring in more variety, set up different kinds of feeders, including mesh, glass tube and open feeders. Feeders and seeds are available at local hardware stores and pet supply stores.

Birding hot spots

Lakes and parks are where you’ll have the easiest time spotting birds.

Head for lakes Overholser and Hefner in Oklahoma City, and Lake Thunderbird in Norman. The lake at the Oklahoma City Zoo is another good spot, along with the Stinchcomb Wildlife Refuge.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Credits: Shannon Cornman

For something a bit more green, try Mitch Park in Edmond or Martin Park Nature Center in OKC.

You’ve heard Oklahoma called “flyover” country, right? Not just for planes.

The Sooner State is a major central flyway for migratory birds, including shorebirds that are coming from South America and the Gulf of Mexico on their way to Canada for breeding. They typically stop at area lakes for rest and refueling.

Join a group

If you’re interested in bird-watching, consider joining a local group, such as the Oklahoma Audubon Council ( or the Oklahoma City Audubon Society (okc-audubon. org). With regular meetings, resources, conservation efforts, conferences and veteran birders, you’re sure to get a jump-start on that bird life list.

Not a joiner? Just grab a good guide to assist you, like “The Sibley Guide to Birds,” “Peterson Field Guides” and National Geographic’s “Field Guide to Birds of North America.”

Who’s who of Oklahoma birds

Backyard birdie northern cardinal

Seed lover gold finches

Lake lounger great blue heron

Woodsy white-eyed vireo, painted bunting

Open fields scissor-tailed flycatcher

Birder TLC eastern bluebird

Most popular purple martin, hummingbirds

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