Two New Bird Species Spotted in Oklahoma

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A Cory’s Shearwater was recently spotted in OklahomaOn Wednesday, Sept. 3, seven species of birds that are rare in Oklahoma were spotted at Red Slough Wildlife Management Area in southeast Oklahoma. Two of these – Cory’s Shearwater and Sooty Tern – had never been seen in the state before. The Cory’s Shearwater and the Sooty Tern are both open-ocean species, meaning that they are usually found around islands in the ocean and not along coastlines, let alone inland as far as Oklahoma. 

David Arbour, the biologist aid for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation who documented these birds, said open-ocean birds sometimes get caught in the high winds of hurricanes that can carry them for hundreds of miles across the ocean and even inland. Since the eye of Hurricane Gustav passed directly over Red Slough WMA Sept. 3, these birds almost certainly must have been on a long ride.

The unusual birds documented on that day included a Cory’s Shearwater, a Magnificent Frigatebird, two Red-necked Phalaropes, three Sabine’s Gulls, a Royal Tern, ten Sooty Terns and a Parasitic Jaeger. All of these birds are rare in our area and are typically found along the Gulf Coast or in the open ocean. This was only the second time a Royal Tern had been spotted in Oklahoma and one of only a handful of Magnificent Frigatebird and Parasitic Jaeger observations in the state.

A Sooty Tern was also recently spotted in Oklahoma“In the case a hurricane comes inland, you will never know what you could spot.  Seeing these birds here in Oklahoma was the treat of a lifetime,” Arbour said.

But when an open-ocean bird is that far inland, how does it make its way back out to sea? Arbour says that is simple.

“Birds that travel across the open ocean have a well-developed sense of direction and can quickly re-orient themselves. Additionally, they tend to orient toward water and can easily follow the major river drainages like the Red and the Mississippi back to the gulf coast and further out to sea. Their sense of direction is genuinely impeccable,” Arbour said.

It is rare to see oceanic birds in Oklahoma, but coastal species occasionally stray inland. Because Red Slough is the closest location a person can get to the gulf coast while still being in Oklahoma, there is always a chance to view unusual visitors. Other rare coastal birds that have been observed at Red Slough this summer include several dozen Wood Storks, a few Roseate Spoonbills and at least three Tri-colored Herons and four Laughing Gulls. Covering 7,800 acres, Red Slough has always been a great spot for birding. With more than 260 species of birds confirmed, there are now seven more reasons to travel to the southeast part of the state. 

Besides bird watching, there are many other activities available, including hunting and fishing. Waterfowl are present in good numbers along with deer, rabbits, and furbearers. There are also plenty of opportunities for fishing for bass, sunfish and catfish.  For more information about the area, log on to wildlifedepartment.com.