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Bird migration shifts follow climate trend in Oklahoma

By SUSAN HYLTON Modified: February 16, 2009 at 4:17 am •  Published: February 16, 2009
The American robin once spent its winters along the Oklahoma-Texas state line. It now spends the winter months along the Oklahoma-Kansas state line.

It would be sharing habitat with the fox sparrow, but that species has left the Oklahoma-Kansas area and now spends the winter in Wyoming.

And the snow goose, once calling central Texas its winter home, now enjoys southeastern Oklahoma’s climate.

Those are some of the findings released last week by the National Audubon Society, gathered during the annual bird counts in December and January over the past four decades. Birds are migrating farther north for winter.

"What this indicates is proof that the climate has changed,” Tulsa Audubon Society President John Kennington says, even though this study has not had a published scientific review. "Oklahoma now is as good as the Gulf Coast was 40 years ago.”

Kennington adds that habitat changes caused by urban sprawl, food supply and disease have an impact on wintering habits also.

The National Audubon Society said that of 305 significant species, 177 species have had significant northern movement and 60 species are wintering more than 100 miles north of their wintering areas of 1966.

Group tracks patterns
Dan Reinking, senior biologist at Sutton Avian Research in Bartlesville, said the Inca dove and the white-winged dove historically nested in Texas, not Oklahoma.

"But in the last decade it is pretty established in the southern half of the state and expanding its range northward pretty rapidly,” Reinking said.

Reinking said biologists are seeing in southeast Oklahoma the neotropic cormorant, yellow rail and the Henslow’s sparrow that were typically found south of the border.

"In the last two or three years they’ve started finding them there in the winter, which is quite unusual,” Reinking said.

In contrast, sightings of the purple finch have gone down 94 percent in Oklahoma, because the birds’ range has moved north by 433 miles.

The golden eagle’s range moved 50 miles north.

"It’s now 83 percent less common than it was 40 years ago,” Kennington said.

Kennington said he thinks the bird count data is pretty consistent because the same people tend to do it each year at the same locations.

Jo Loyd of Tulsa has taken part in the Christmas Count for more than 20 years.

"If you go north, there used to be miles of prairie out there.


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