Photos and article by Charly Mann
The Purple Martin is totally dependent on humans for their housing and survival. Over the last 150 years two non-native birds, the European Starling and the House Sparrow began taking over their natural nesting sites, which are decaying tree cavities and abandoned woodpecker holes. Today almost all Purple Martins live in large apartment-like birdhouses that are specifically designed for them.
Male Purple Martin near Claremore, Oklahoma
Purple Martins are not purple. Males are dark blue-black all over with an iridescent sheen. Even their bill is this color. They have a large head, their wings are pointed, and they have a short tail with a small notch at the bottom. Females have a dark gray head and back with a white belly. They have a dark tail and wings. Young Purple Martins look similar to the female.
Purple Martin showing his magnificent wings
Purple Martins are about 7 inches long and have a 15 inch wingspan. They can weigh up to 2 ounces.
Purple Martins are social birds that live in colonies.
Purple Martins live on insects they catch while flying at between 160 and 500 feet above the ground.
Female Purple Martin
Newborn Purple Martins are fed insects as many as 60 times a day by their parents.
Entire colonies of Purple Martins can be wiped out when it is too rainy for insects to fly in the air for more than two or three days.
Purple Martins have lived as long as 13 years.
Purple Martins can fly up to 40 miles per hour.
Male and Female Purple Martin enjoying an Oklahoma summer day
Purple Martins migrate to South America in mid to late summer. Their migration often takes up to three months.
The Purple Martin is a swallow... the largest one that lives in North America.
by Charly Mann
Raccoons are incredibly smart animals that have amazing problem-solving abilities. Extensive testing has shown them to be the second most intelligent mammal in North America – right behind humans. They are also close relatives to the Chinese Red Panda, which looks very much like a red raccoon.
Charly Mann with two of his raccoon friends
I have been closely observing a group of ten raccoons for two years. They have personalities as different from each other as humans. Some are very friendly and some are difficult, but you will not know until you spend enough time with them that they trust you. The majority of the ones I have known are quite mild-mannered and sociable.
In 1978 I took in an orphaned baby raccoon for a year who loved riding in cars and going on walks on a trail near where I lived. During those hikes I kept her on a dog leash for her own protection from dogs we would encounter. I also had an indoor pool which she loved to swim in. She also quickly learned to use a litter box and usually slept next to me on my bed at night. Baby raccoons are called kits because they purr like a kitten, which this one did whenever she would sit on my shoulder or lay next to me. She was always quite affectionate though she could be mischievous, and often opened the refrigerator to help herself to some food.
Raccoons have a vocabulary of up to twenty sounds and each of those is varied into different pitches that make their conversations seem almost like songs. Two of “my” current raccoons seem to understand almost everything I say. They have exceptional hearing and can hear sounds too faint or high-pitched for humans to hear. They love music and their tastes seem to be more sophisticated than most people I know. They prefer listening to classical music over rock or country, and especially like the music of Bach and Beethoven. A particular favorite piece is reported to be Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. Raccoons also have a keen sense of smell and will not eat old or decayed food.
Raccoons are very smart. In one study a number of adult raccoons were put into a room in which complex locks were put on the doors of cages that contained dishes of food. In the majority of cases they were able to open 11 of the 13 locks in less than ten attempts, and had no trouble repeating the action even when the locks were turned upside down. The scientists concluded from the study that raccoons through abstract thinking had figured out the locking mechanisms. Four other studies spanning a period of 40 years demonstrated raccoons could remember solutions to problems they had not solved for more than three years.
Psychologists also say that, unlike most intelligent animals who use trial and error to solve problems, raccoons have the ability to use reason and observation to solve problems. An amusing example of this is of a pet raccoon who when he disliked certain TV shows would turn the channel knob to a program he liked. He had learned this simply by watching how the humans he lived with did it.
Mother raccoon with her 4 kits out of their den
Raccoons are great escape artists and can get out of about anywhere (this is well demonstrated in the great Disney film Rascal about a pet raccoon). They have the dexterity to remove nuts and bolts, as well as open latches and turn on water faucets when they want water.
To many people raccoons are a nuisance and a pest, but they do not understand why they are sharing our neighborhoods and foraging through our trash and gardens. The reason they live in our midst is that most of their natural habitat which is wilderness has been destroyed or polluted. They no longer have the large forests they once lived in because we humans have taken it away and they are now forced to share our surroundings.
Raccoon’s intelligence may equal humans within 10,000 years. Their mental ability is rising faster than any other creature on the planet, and as they rapidly adapt to living in urban landscapes they are passing along new skills to successive generations. Our modern cities and towns are full of food rewards and rife with challenges of finding shelter and staying alive. These are the types of puzzles raccoons excel at solving and in turn raise their brainpower. They are also becoming more adept at watching humans from a distance to see how they do things and adapting some of the techniques they observe. In just a hundred years they have gone from a forest animal that primarily lived by lakes and rivers to one than can live almost anywhere, eat almost anything, and open any lock or zipper. I think if they had opposable thumbs like us, they might have accomplished even more in this time.
Kathryn Mann with fearless 10-week old raccoon
By the time Henry David Thoreau moved to the woods around Walden Pond on July 5, 1845 the wilderness was almost gone, and deer, moose, cougar, and bear had long since been exterminated in the region. Like Thoreau, I believe all creatures are better off alive, and I hope this article will encourage more people to respect and protect raccoons.
Raccoon Dangers: Raccoon attacks on people and family pets are very rare but they do happen and one should think of raccoons as wild animals. These attacks are so rare that we have never found any official statistics on how often they occur, although it does get a lot of press attention when it happens. On the other hand, 4.7 million Americans (2 in every 100 people) are bitten by dogs every year and 15 are killed. 8,000 people in the United States are bitten by poisonous snakes each year and about 5 people die from snakebites. Finally, 40 Americans die each year from bee stings.
Article, story, and photos by Charly Mann
The Ruby-crowned Kinglet is second only to the hummingbird as the smallest bird in North America. They are about 3.75 inches long and weigh about 1/5 of an ounce.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet in Bartlesville, Oklahoma
The only time you will usually see the Ruby-crowned Kinglet in Oklahoma is during the winter. I have been fortunate to have one visit my backyard during January and February for the past three years.
The Ruby-crowned Kinglet is primarily yellow-gray in color and has a white wing bar on the top of their wing and black wing bars below those. Males have a red crown patch that is usually only visible when they are excited. They have a ring of white around their eyes.
Male Ruby-crowned Kinglet showing his red crowned patch
Ruby-crowned Kinglets, despite their size, are very hardy birds that can survive in climates where the temperatures get as low as 30 below zero fahrenheit.
These birds eat flies, beetles, wasps, and insect eggs, and will eat berries and seeds in the winter.
Ruby-crowned Kinglets are among the most hyper birds I have ever seen. They are very active and rarely stay in one spot for more than a few seconds.
Ruby-crowned Kinglets can live as long as six years.
The Legend of the Ruby-crownded Kinglet
My backyard very smart and wise Ruby-crowned Kinglet
There is a Ruby-crowned Kinglet that lives in my backyard in the winter. Recently a large orange tabby cat caught this bird as he was eating seeds off the ground. The Kinglet begged the cat to release him, and promised to tell the cat three great secrets if he would let him go. The cat immediately released the bird. The bird flew up to a branch, a safe distance from the cat, and said, "Thank you for letting me live. The three great secrets are: never believe all that you hear, never regret what you have lost, and never throw away anything that is worth keeping." The cat said that he already knew these secrets, and that he should not have let him go. My Ruby-cowned kinglet replied that if the cat had really known these secrets he never would have let him go.
Article and Photos by Charly Mann
Female Painted Bunting
I love small towns and traveling on back roads. For me the greatest adventure is seeing the amazing diversity of terrain and wildlife in America's heartland – especially in Oklahoma. My most treasured keepsakes are the photographs I take of birds, landscapes, and old buildings along my routes. I crisscross Oklahoma from east to west and top to bottom several times a year looking for images that resonate with my soul.
Juvenile Painted Bunting
Recently I have been bold enough to focus on a particular bird as the purpose of each of my journeys. Last weekend, for example, it was the Painted Bunting, which has been on a significant decline in Oklahoma over the last five years. Amazingly, soon after starting my trip a brightly colored male painted bunting flew directly in front of the windshield of my car. Less than two hours after this I had the good fortune to find a remote dirt road in western Oklahoma that was not even shown on my GPS system that bisected rolling fields and forests and was filled with a fascinating array of wildlife including birds, coyotes, and rattlesnakes. At one particularly beautiful spot I pulled my car over to the side of the road to admire the landscape. Soon after I got out a female painted bunting flew down to perch on a short tree not five feet from where I stood.
Male Painted Bunting
On the next day I headed down another remote two lane road in north central Oklahoma to one of many "secret" spots I have discovered over the years that is home to an abundance of bird species. After parking my car I began to walk around an approximate two acre wooded area. I first saw Baltimore Orioles, then Yellow Warblers, then Swainson's Thrushes, followed by Indigo Buntings, Summer Tanagers, Eastern Bluebirds, Barn Swallows, Bewick Wrens, Tufted Titmice, Scissor-Tailed Flycatchers, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Eastern Meadowlarks, Dickcissels, a single Great Blue Heron, Eastern Kingbirds, Eastern Phoebes, Carolina Chickadees, two Red-Tailed Hawks, and finally a beautiful male Painted Bunting playing along a fence and in some trees.
A very friendly male painted bunting enjoying the afternoon sun in Oklahoma
I love finding roads where I can drive for up to an hour without seeing another person. Discovering places along these roads that are remote and beautiful, where I can get out of my car and see nature up close provides me with a sense of both romance and adventure.
Article and photos by Kathryn Mann
There are several colonies of Cliff Swallows that reside in Bartlesville from April through the end of August. The rest of the year these birds live in South America. They live in colonies and build magnificent nests from mud pellets that are usually located under bridges or the eaves of buildings. Local colonies can often contain more than 200 birds.
Cliff Swallow near the Pathfinder Pathway in Bartlesville, Oklahoma
Cliff Swallows are about 5 inches long and have a tiny bill. They have an iridescent blue black crown and their forehead is white or yellow brown. Their wings and tail are brown while their rump is yellow brown. They have a square-ended tail which makes them easier to distinguish from Barn Swallows and Purple Martins which otherwise look very similar. Their legs and feet are gray.
Cliff Swallow looking at me from its nest
Cliff Swallows feed off insects which they eat and capture in flight.
Cliff Swallows typically can live up to six years.
These are Cliff Swallow nests. They are gregarious birds and build their nests in colonies.
Cliff swallow nests are usually close to rivers or other bodies of water because the mud near the embankments are ideal for their nests. Their nests are lined with grass.
Cliff Swallows are the “miracle” swallows that return on March 19th each year to the Mission San Juan Capistrano in California.
Article and photos by Charly Mann
It is not unusual to encounter a Great Blue Heron at a pond or lake in Bartlesville. For several years one has made her nest in a tree along the Caney River across from the Pathfinder trail.
Great Blue Heron in Bartlesville Oklahoma getting set to go airborne
Great Blue Herons are almost four feet tall and have a wingspan of six feet. Most of their body is bluish-grey. They have a white face and crown and have a long black feather hanging from the top of their head.
Great Blue Heron flying above small pond hear my home
The Great Blue Heron is the largest heron in the United States and these magnificent creatures often live more than fifteen years.
Great Blue Heron looking for a meal
Great Blue Herons have long legs that they use to wade through the water where they catch fish and reptiles. They strike down into the water with amazing quickness when they spot their prey.
Great Blue Heron gliding through the air
The Great Blue Heron flies with its neck folded and gives a loud squawk when it is alarmed. They can fly up to thirty miles per hour.