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Cold weather provides bird watching opportunities

Monday, February 10, 2014

Birds of a feather flock together. And, when it is cold out, some species in Oklahoma will bunch together, providing some unique bird watching opportunities.

“The recent cold snaps much of the state has endured this winter have given bird enthusiasts a good reason to brave the conditions and get outside,” said Scott Loss, assistant professor in Oklahoma State University’s Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management. “Cold weather causes waterfowl, like geese, ducks, swans and Bald Eagles, to be bunched together in the few remaining open-water areas, so it’s relatively easy to see high numbers and many species in small areas.”

To catch a glimpse of some birds that would not normally be in your area, look around for areas with open water. Some examples of exceptionally rare wanderers seen in Oklahoma this winter include the Little Gull, Pacific Loon and Red-throated Loon.

“Reliable places include bodies of water with power plants that have warm water effluent, or the biggest and deepest bodies of water that freeze last,” Loss said. “Also, watch backyard bird feeders during inclement weather because snow and cold brings birds in to reliable food sources.”

Certain species to look for at feeders include Red-breasted Nuthatches, several kinds of wintering sparrows, finches and blackbirds, including Rusty Blackbirds, a species whose population has declined greatly.

Bad weather north of the state, coupled with short food supplies, also drives raptors farther south than normal, resulting in an irruption of historic proportions of Snowy owls showing themselves in more southern states this winter.

“A Snowy Owl could show up in Oklahoma any day,” said Loss. “They may be found anywhere, but best spots are wide expanses of open ground, like airports, prairie or even row-cropland.”

Birdwatchers still have some time to get out to see what they can find.

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