Birds of Oklahoma

The natural features of Oklahoma that range from arid plains to mountains make it a great place for birders to observe a variety of birds of Oklahoma. Located in the south central region of the US, it has warmer climate which attracts array of bird species to winter throughout the state.

Abundant waterfowls can be found in wetlands during fall through spring, while shorebirds are common in mudflats. There are some popular spots to witness these birds such as Tishomingo National Wildlife Refuge, Mohawk Park, and Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge.

Birds of Oklahoma: Blue-Winged Teal

Birds of Oklahoma

Local birders of Oklahoma can see the blue-winged teal (Spatula discors) in spring and fall. The water bird is native to North America with the breeding range starts from southern Alaska to Nova Scotia. During winter, it migrates to warmer regions.

The blue-winged teal has white facial crescent and greyish blue head. It also features light brown body with white patch. The female has mottled brown plumage with slight white bill base. Birdwatchers can recognize their presence through distinctive callings, which is a soft quack for female and short whistle for male.

These water birds prefer open water and calm water with sluggish currents. Their main habitats include ponds, marshes, pools, and lakes which provide abundant food source. During winter, these birds prefer freshwater and saltwater marshes.


Birds of Oklahoma

Male mallard has intriguing plumage that helps distinguish from the females. The mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), especially the drake, is easily recognizable as it has white collar and glossy green head. Meanwhile, the female is entirely light brown.

Despite their different plumage coloration, both male and female have iridescent blue feathers known as speculum. Compared to other dabbling ducks, mallards are slightly heavier. They feed on aquatic plants and small animals which can be found in wetlands.

During breeding season, these birds of Oklahoma eat more plant matter than animal matter. But laying females feed on animal matter more than plant matter. Outside the breeding season, mallards often form flocks and forage in wetlands.

Birds of Oklahoma: Mottled Duck

Birds of Oklahoma

Another dabbling duck to enjoy in Oklahoma is the mottled duck (Anas fulgivula). Birdwatchers are often confused when identifying this bird as it has the appearance between the American black duck and female mallard. It has distinctive dark plumage with lighter neck and head.

The mottled duck is also characterized by dark eyes and orange legs. Both males and females have green-blue speculum though it does not have white border as of the mallard.

Plant matter is the main diet of the mottled duck. But they occasionally feed on aquatic insects and mollusks. The water birds prefer coastal marshes as their breeding habitat and they nest on the ground among marsh grass and bull-rush.

Greater Prairie Chicken

Birds of Oklahoma

Being considered as vulnerable species, the greater prairie chicken (Tympanuchus cupido) is a large bird to make a day for every birdwatcher. These birds of Oklahoma is often hunted, causing population loss. Additionally, habitat loss is another reason why this chicken is vulnerable.

The stocky bird is easily recognizable as it has round, short tails. The male chicken has orange-brown feathers over their eyes and elongated plumage on the head. The crest can be raised and lain, especially during courtship season. The vibrant orange sacs are another distinctive feature of this chicken.

The greater prairie chicken inhabits isolated prairie, especially one with tallgrass. Despite they can inhabit agricultural land with prairie, open agricultural fields tend to be avoided. They feed mainly on fruits and seeds though insects are also taken.

Birds of Oklahoma: Black-Necked Grebe

Birds of Oklahoma

The eared grebe is formally known as the black-necked grebe (Podiceps nigricollis). This water bird has unique breeding plumage that features ochre plumage that extends from the eyes over ear coverts. The male bird has dark crest on the head with rufous flanks and greyish-black upperpart.

The black-necked grebe is territorial and they will make a high-pitched call known as the territorial call. Meanwhile during courtship, the males make low and fast trill call to attract the females. Outside the breeding season, these birds are typically quiet.

This one of birds of Oklahoma inhabits freshwater lakes which is heavily vegetated. After breeding, these birds molt in saline lakes. They spend their winter in warmer regions.

Birds of Oklahoma: Band-Tailed Pigeon

Birds of Oklahoma

The medium-sized band-tailed pigeon (Patagioenas fasciata) is another bird species to find in Oklahoma. It has entirely dark grey plumage with white strips over the covert and darker napes. The bird also features yellow legs and bill with grey tip.

The pigeon feeds mainly on seeds, especially acorn, small fruits, and berries. They forage in shrubs and tree and can be found in pine-oak or coniferous forest. In autumn, these bird migrate to New Mexico and Northern California.

These birds form semi-large flocks up to 50 birds, especially outside the breeding season. Bird feeders can also find the band-tailed pigeon in their backyards.

Birds of Oklahoma: Lesser Nighthawk

Birds of Oklahoma

As one of nightjars, the lesser nighthawk can be found throughout the United States. This bird has excellent ability to camouflage, thanks to dark plumage with grey and brown patterning which keeps them away of predator. It also has dark tail with white barring.

These birds of Oklahoma prefer open areas as their breeding habitat. They nest on the ground, or sometimes are found in house roofs. During winter, these birds migrate to warmer regions though some of them are found overwintering.

When breeding season comes, the females lay two eggs on bare ground. The incubation takes about 20 days, in which the female takes greater responsibility. When intruders show up, the bird will flush from the nest and perform aerial attack.

American Coot

Birds of Oklahoma

Also known as mud hen, the American coot (Fulica americana) is often mistaken for ducks. Birdwatchers can distinguish this coot from their entirely dark plumage, white frontal shield and short, white bill. It has reddish-brown spot between eyes on both sexes.

The American coots mainly inhabit ponds, lakes, sluggish rivers, and marshes. Despite they prefer freshwater, they may live in saltwater environment especially during winter. The breeding habitat ranges from southern Quebec to northern South America.

This dark water bird is a gregarious species as it forms large flocks, even up to thousands of coots. They also perform outstanding formations while swimming on the water. The American coot can dive for aquatic vegetation and animals or forage for scavenging. Their diets include:

  • Algae
  • Fish
  • Arthropods
  • Insects
  • Mollusks

Whooping Crane

Birds of Oklahoma

The local bird committee has recorded the whopping crane as one of birds of Oklahoma with endangered status. The tallest bird has distinctive whooping sound that gives a name to this species. It has entirely white body with dark wing tips so birders can see their black wings during flight.

The bird also features a long, pointed dark bill and a red crown. Their long necks are extended during flight while the legs trail behind. In flight, these cranes often make loud calls to warn their partner about danger ahead.

Habitat loss causes population decline to the whopping crane. Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge is the right place to observe the whooping crane which stops during migration. Annually, around 75 percent of the species visit this refuge.

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Piping Plover

Birds of Oklahoma

If you are more into shorebird, the piping plover (Charadrius melodus) is an attractive, sand-colored bird to watch. They spread widely along coastal sand and beaches in North America but Oklahoma birdwatchers can also enjoy this species.

The bird has distinctive black band across forehead as well as black collar that contrasts the white underpart. It features light brown upperpart with yellow-orange bill and legs. It is pretty difficult to distinguish both sexes as they look similar.

The piping plover lives along rocky shores or sandy beaches. Oftentimes, they also choose dry sections which is away from water. Their nests are built from beach grass and local objects. In winter months, these birds migrate to the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean.

Mountain Plover

Birds of Oklahoma

Another plover species known as the mountain plover (Charadrius montanus) is also included into the list of birds of Oklahoma. Despite its name, this plover inhabits level land and it prefers dry habitat than near wet soil. They also choose bare ground with short grass to live.

This mountain plover breeds in North America, especially the high plains. In winter months, the species migrates to San Joaquin, California as well as Mexican border along the United States.

Insects and small arthropods are its main diet. The plovers forage in the field between short grass as it helps them find food. In late July, these birds migrate and leave their breeding range for southern Great Plains.

Red-Necked Phalarope

Birds of Oklahoma

The red-necked phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus) is a migratory bird that winters at sea. This small wader has different breeding and winter plumage. During breeding season, this bird has dark brown upperpart with grayish white underpart. In winter, white plumage dominates its body with black patch on the head.

This bird has a unique feeding behavior that they will swim in a small circle to form a whirlpool. It helps raise the food from the bottom, allowing them to obtain the food without diving. Their main diets include crustaceans and insects.

During migration, the bird take advantage of tidal action to stir up their preys and bring them to the surface. When breeding season comes, they build nest at the top of mound. The female lays about 4 eggs or fewer. The young can feed themselves and their flight ability is obtained 20 days after hatching.

Pacific Loon

Birds of Oklahoma

As one of the excellent divers from loon family, the Pacific loon (Gavia pacifica) intrigues local birdwatchers. Among birds of Oklahoma, this Pacific diver has stunning plumage with checkered mantel, black throat, and grey head. It also features dagger-shaped, grey bill.

These birds prefer tundra lakes to breed and they winter in large bodies of water, including open ocean. Their nest is constructed from piled-up vegetation and is placed on the ground. During migration, the Pacific loon form flocks which makes them different from other loons.

The water bird mainly feeds on fish, which is obtained by swimming under school of fish. The loon forces them upward and snap their preys.

Birds of Oklahoma: Magnificent Frigatebird

Birds of Oklahoma

The distinctive magnificent frigatebird (Fregata magnificens) is the largest species among its family. The seabird is native to tropical on Pacific coast and along the Atlantic coast. The frigatebird is magnificent as the males have entirely black plumage with inflatable scarlet throat pouch.

The females have different plumage with white breast and lower neck sides. Blue eye-ring on females is another feature to distinguish both sexes. During the breeding season, this bird nests on the top of the trees or bushes. The female lays one egg with large size.

The magnificent frigatebird feeds mainly on jellyfish, squid, crustaceans, and fish. The diet varies depending on the food source, hunting technique and food availability. The frigatebird is a kleptoparasite, which means it forces other seabirds to disgorge their meal and catch the meal.

Double-Crested Cormorant

Birds of Oklahoma

The list of birds of Oklahoma includes the double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus). The seabird lives near rivers or lakes and coastal areas. It has entirely dark plumage with yellow gular skin. Nuptial crest is the most attractive feature to identify this bird.

The cormorant winters along coasts in southern New England as well as southern Alaska. The bird can swim low in the water so birders can only see their neck and head. After swimming, the bird often spends a long time for standing to dry their not fully waterproof wings.

Sea, rivers, and freshwater lakes are the best food source for the cormorant. The birds dive for their preys which are mainly crustaceans, amphibians, and fish. They dive under water to catch small fish which will be eaten beneath the surface. If they catch the large one, they will bring it to the surface before eating.

The natural features of Oklahoma makes a variety of bird species visit or permanently stay in the state. With more than 400 species have been recorded, birds of Oklahoma intrigue birdwatchers to observe and dig deeper information and behavior of the birds especially ones with threatened status.

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