by Charly Mann
The average red-tailed hawk lives twenty years in the wild. Its eyesight is eight times more powerful than a human’s. Like the song Oklahoma says these birds do "make lazy circles in the sky." They soar very high, and use their great vision to spot rodents, rabbits and snakes below.
They usually weigh between 3 and 5 pounds. Females are nearly 1/3 larger than males. Their wingspan is 56 inches. They can carry almost half their body weight in flight. It is not unusual, for example, for one to lift a duck out of a pond.
Red-tailed hawks are great at reducing rat populations. Almost 90% of their diet is small rodents.
These birds are classified as raptors. This means they are part of the family of birds that eat meat, and use their feet, instead of their beak, to capture prey. Red-tailed hawks, like all raptors, have a sharp, hooked beak, and powerful feet with curved, sharp talons. Their talons are their main weapon for capturing and killing animals.
The Red-tailed hawk is very intelligent and is one of the easier raptors to tame. Throughout the United States and much of the world hawking or falconry is a popular sport in which trained hawks capture game. Red-tailed hawks actually train their falconers as much as their falconers train them.
The female (hen) Red-tailed Hawk is the most desirable in falconry because of its larger size, which allows it to take medium sized animals including ducks and pheasant. They are a very relaxed and friendly bird in captivity, and love to go hunting. They need to be played with (trained) or taken hunting every couple of weeks or they will revert to their wild state. They can fairly effortlessly be returned to the wild before breeding season.
photos by Kathryn Mann
Article and photos by Kathryn Mann
Shakespeare's Hamlet says the question is, "to be or not to be", but the answer for most of us about the European Starling is "not to be." This is a bird that we can actually blame Shakespeare for. It was American Shakespeare fanatic Eugene Scheiffelin, who had the terrible idea of introducing the European Starling to the United States because it was mentioned in Shakespeare's play Henry IV. Scheiffliein had 16 pairs of European Starlings released in New York City's Central Park in 1890, and their offspring have now increased to over 160 million and spread to every state except for Hawaii.
The European Starling - a beautiful bird that we wish would go back to where it came from
European Starlings are about 9 1/2 inches in length. They are a short-tailed black bird with greenish and purple iridescence. They have a long pointed bill and cream-tipped feathers that look like they were painted by Gustav Klimt.
European Starling enjoying an Oklahoma afternoon
European Starlings are disliked for many reasons. They often take over the nesting area of many native birds including Eastern Bluebirds, woodpeckers, and Purple Martins. Fruit growers hate them because they consume large amounts of grapes, peaches, blueberries, strawberries, figs, apples, and cherries. Corn farmers want to get rid of them because they eat ripening corn on the stalk. They also destroy large amounts of wheat.
The elegantly attired European Starling
Some European Starlings have lived as long as 20 years.
European Starlings often mimic the songs of other Oklahoma birds including the Killdeer and the Eastern Meadowlark.
Article and photos by Charly Mann
Blue Grosbeaks usually live in thickets near fenced-in pasture land. Unless you are very close they can easily be mistaken for the more common Indigo Bunting. However the Grosbeak is at least 20% larger and has brown wing bars.
Blue Grosbeak in northeast Oklahoma five miles south of Kansas
There is something especially wonderful about seeing a bird that is blue. There are many songs, stories, and poems that feature a blue bird, and it is usually the Eastern Bluebird that we think is being mentioned, yet that bird is less than 40% blue. To me the real blue birds are the male Indigo Bunting and the male Blue Grosbeak.
Blue Grosbeak enjoying a beautiful Oklahoma morning
It takes three years for male Blue Grosbeaks to become essentially blue all over. At maturity most of the body of these birds is a rich blue color. Their tail and wings are black as well as a small mask around their eyes. They have two brown wing bars and a silver bill. Female Blue Grosbeaks are primarily brown with some blue coloring in the rear.
Blue Grosbeak view of black tail and wings
Blue Grosbeaks usually place their nest on the ground concealed by surrounding grass.
Like Indigo and Painting Buntings, the Blue Grosbeak is a member of the finch family.
Blue Grosbeak's diet consists of grasshoppers, beetles, cicadas and seeds of wild grasses. I often see them foraging for food in fields in northeast Oklahoma.
Male Blue Grosbeak showing his brown wing bars
Young Blue Grosbeaks of both sexes are primarily brown. As the male ages it develops blue areas on its body.
I took over two dozen pictures of this bird. Only its face was blue. I am fairly certain it is a juvenile male Blue Grosbeak or a UFO.
Blue Grosbeaks spend late Spring and most of the Summer in the lower half of the United States including Oklahoma, but spend the majority of the year in southern Mexico and Central America.
Blue Grosbeaks often live as long as six years.
Article and photos by Charly Mann
White-breasted Nuthatch in northeast Oklahoma
White-breasted Nuthatches are found in mature groves of deciduous trees such as oak, hickory, and maple in Oklahoma.
The most distinguishing feature of the White-breasted Nuthatch is its habit of creeping head first down trees as they search for food. They have extra long rear claws that provide the balance they need to do this.
White-breasted Nuthatches are usually seen like this, going head-first down a tree
White-breasted Nuthatches have a bluish gray back, and a snow white face, belly, and chest. They have a large head and virtually no neck. They have a long narrow bill and a very short tail. Males have a glossy black forehead and crown, while these features are gray on females. Nuthatches are a small bird, only 5 inches in length, but they have a loud nasal voice that will direct you to the tree they are doing their acrobatic foraging in.
White-breasted Nuthatch outside of Tulsa (this picture is actually upside-down)
The White-breasted nuthatch is a close relative of the Tufted Titmouse and the Carolina Chickadee, and they are all often seen together searching for food in the fall and winter.
White-breasted Nuthatch outside of the ranger's office in Osage State Park
They got the name nuthatch from the expression "nuthack" which describes the way they wedge seeds and nuts in the crevices of trees and then hack them open.
The lifespan of most of these birds is two years, though some have lived as long as ten.
This Nuthatch is storing food in the crevice of a tree
White-breasted Nuthatches usually nest in natural tree cavities or abandoned woodpecker holes.
Article and photos by Kathryn Mann
Several years ago, I was surprised to see a bird that looked like a sandpiper in a remote prairie in central Oklahoma that was more than one hundred miles from the nearest lakeshore or wetlands. I later identified that bird as the Upland Sandpiper, and learned that its home is truly on the range and other open grassy lands.
Upland Sandpiper sitting on a fence pole about 15 miles west of Webb City, Oklahoma
The Upland Sandpiper is a foot long. They have a small head, long neck and legs, and a sharp blacked-tipped yellow bill. It is primarily speckled brown on top and white with brown specks underneath.
Upland Sandpiper perching by a field near Oologah, Oklahoma
The Upland Sandpiper is also known as the Grass Plover and the Upland Plover.
Upland Sandpipers primarily eat insects and seeds.
Upland Sandpiper searching for insects in a field east of Bartlesville
The Upland Sandpiper was once an abundant bird, and became a popular game bird around 1900. Its population has declined significantly over the last one hundred years because of overhunting and loss of habitat
Upland Sandpiper in full regalia
The Upland Sandpiper does its breeding during the four months it visits North America. From mid-July to April Upland Sandpipers live east of the Andes in northeastern Argentina, Uruguay, southern Brazil, Paraguay and eastern Bolivia.
Upland Sandpipers live about five years in the wild.
Photos and article by Kathryn Mann
Western Kingbirds are a flycatcher usually found in Oklahoma during the summer months near farms that have grazing livestock. There is a pasture not far from me where I often see one sitting within 50 yards of a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, who they somewhat resemble less the long tail. Like the Scissor-tailed flycatcher they sit on tall weeds, bare branches, barbed wire, or fence posts as they scout out insects flying through the air. When they spot a victim they quickly swoop out to catch them in mid-air.
Western Kingbird next to a cow pasture in northeast Oklahoma
Western Kingbirds are about 8 inches long. They have a 15 inch wingspan and weigh just 1.4 ounces. The top of their breast and throat are white, while the rest of their belly and chest is yellow. They are light gray on top and have a black tail with white edges. Just like their cousin the Eastern Kingbird they have a touch of red on the back of their head that is usually difficult to see.
Western Kingbird near Shidler, Oklahoma
During courtship the male Western Kingbird soars up to 65 feet making numerous twists and turns before finally coming to a stall and then making a series of aerial somersaults as he comes down to earth.
This is a baby Western Kingbird that is two weeks old, and this is its first time out of the nest
They are aggressive defenders of their nests and young. I have twice seen them driving off hawks.
Unlike most flycatchers they are rather solitary and are usually seen alone or in a pair.
This is a juvenile Western Kingbird about 25 days old
The Western Kingbird was once known as the Arkansas Kingbird.