Feathered Friends

Oklahoma birders flock together.

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For many, autumn means vibrant foliage and bonfires. For bird watchers, it brings opportunities to see avifauna not around in the warmer months. It’s clear that “birding” thrives in Oklahoma.

Terri Underhill, longtime volunteer liaison for the Oklahoma City Audubon Society, says the state is a hotbed for avian enthusiasts.

“We get birds and birders from just everywhere,” she says. “For example, we had a very rare first in the state, a type of gull that people came from all over to see at Lake Overholser. And about every five years, Oklahoma will get an eruption of snowy owls.”

To keep bird populations thriving, Underhill advises taking injured birds to drop-offs found statewide through wildcareoklahoma.com, rather than attempting to treat them yourself.  Also, she says, “if you see a baby bird out of the nest, it’s rare for both its parents to abandon [it], so to save it from a dog or cat, you can put it in a basket up in a tree to be found by its parents.”

Underhill has hard-won and fervent advice when it comes to her personal favorite winged creatures – hummingbirds.

“If you feed them, please don’t use the food with red dye and please do keep the feeders clean. Many people just don’t, and it gets rancid and they’ll still drink it, even if it has fungus in it that can hurt them. And avoid feeders with the color yellow, as it attracts wasps.  If you have a feeder with yellow, just paint over those parts with nail polish.”

Tulsa Audubon Society president John Kennington says Tulsa area birdwatchers gather for monthly Saturday field trips; to present the yearly Backyard Wildlife Habitat Garden Tour (planned for Sept. 12-13 this year); and to sometimes hang out together … at the town dump.

“Going out birding can be solo or social, but either way, it can take you to places you might not normally go,” he says. “Sewage ponds and garbage dumps can be great places to see birds. Since [Sept. 11, 2001], you can’t just walk into a sewage area without making arrangements in advance.”

If you’re curating a haven in your own backyard, pick native landscape planting to help out feathered friends.

“What we really emphasize is for people to plant native and wildlife-friendly plants in their yards and gardens,” says Kennington. “You can have a beautiful yard that is also friendly to wildlife. A manicured green lawn is a desert to wildlife. Plant choices make a huge difference for bird species, especially our songbirds who are in serious trouble. 

Native plants are part of the eco-system and they support the birds’ food – seeds and beneficial insects. A Bradford pear tree, as an example, supports only five insect species compared to native oak with thousands of bug types.  If everyone would plant native, it would help overall, everywhere. So, when you’re deciding a new tree – go with the oak or native tree and you’ll still have a beautiful yard that’s also a habitat for birds.”