My New Book


Best Bird Festival Idea Ever


I have to say, that I enjoy attending bird festivals and events in general (I must, I go to more in a year, than most birders will in a lifetime).  But, I was really struck by the Lesser Prairie Chicken Festival in Woodward, OK.  Because the festival wasn’t just about seeing the festival bird, but we actively helped the bird:


Oklahoma is a beautiful state with vast, sweeping landscapes, but it’s also divided by several cattle fences.  They are everywhere, dividing property lines.  The fences have become a part of the many problems facing the lesser prairie-chicken’s precarious future.  The bird’s natural defensive behavior when fleeing a predator, is to fly low, right above the grasses.  If they are fleeing a fast predator like a peregrine falcon, the prairie-chickens may not pay attention in their panic and cannot dart the fences that are taller than the grasses.  The chickens fly into the fences and die.  Look at the above photo, you can see how the fence blends in to the grassy landscape.

lesser-prairie-chicken-femaleResearch about lesser prairie-chicken mortality conducted by The Sutton Center has found that 40% of the mortality in Oklahoma is due to collisions with these fences! If you follow the link to the lesser-prairie chicken ecology, you can read more about the results.  It was interesting to note that female prairie-chickens are especially susceptible to fence collisions and that is a huge concern–they lay the eggs.  Sure, they need the males for fertilization of the eggs, but beyond that, the , build the nest and raise the young–you need all the females you can get out there to replenish the population.  The Sutton Center, however, has come up with a unique plan!


They have come up with a unique fence marking plan to save the lesser prairie-chicken.  By using “undersill” strips (trim strips) of vinyl siding available at many big box home stores, fences can be made more visible to the chickens.  Eric Beck, the Oklahoma Audubon Council’s Important Bird Area Coordinator was a field trip leader for the festival. However, when not leading trips, he was cutting up strips of trim to be placed on fences.


After we watched the lesser prairie-chickens on the lek, we were given a filling ranch breakfast at Selman Ranch, shown how do the fence marking, and set loose with bags of tag to mark fences at a WMA that has prairie-chickens.   This was the most proactive bird field trip I have ever been on at a bird festival.  What a GREAT idea–show us this cool bird and let’s not just lament that it’s fate in the wild is uncertain, let’s actually have festival participants do something that could actually help the birds.  Best idea I’ve seen at a bird festival in years.  I love this as much as I love the Delaware Bird-a-thon that raises money to buy up migratory habitat for the red knot.  We need more of this kind of active conservation and birding.


And that’s not to say that fences are the only challenge facing the lesser prairie-chicken.  Wind farms are popping up all over Oklahoma.  Lesser prairie-chickens nest out in the open on the ground, they don’t nest next to all trees–red-tailed hawks and Swainson’s hawks perch there, watching for some fat tasty prey.  Tall windmills look a little too much like tall trees and lesser prairie-chickens will not nest next to the farms, so that fragments their nesting habitat even more.

Still challenges ahead, but still hope too.

8 comments to Best Bird Festival Idea Ever

  • Jodyth

    This is a wonderful use of resources. You’re very right — it should happen more often! Beautiful pictures, by the way.

  • As a birding neophyte, I had no idea the fence marking was unusual. I’m so glad to have been a part of it! And I LOVED being out on the prairie. I could have done that all afternoon.

  • I truly think you do a job that counts among other blessings. It is very similar to birds flying into plate glass windows or house windows when fleeing hawks. There is a solution that is similar to your’s on the fences. And that is to leave the venetian blinds down or, hang threads or cords from the eves over the window with small weights so that they blow in the wind; or use some thin bamboo poles of different lengths to hang in front of the window. I have used all of these but have since put new windows up with smaller panes and they seem to have stopped the collisions.

  • That’s a fabulous idea. I hope that it works.

  • Tisha_

    I’m so glad you enjoyed our great state! And, I’d never thought about all the fencing causing issues for birds. Interesting.

  • Hey Sharon,
    Sounds like a great festival and a wonderful way to involve birders in hands-on bird conservation!! A proactive way to transform birders from being an observer of nature to being a participant WITH nature! Thanks for your kind compliments towards our Delaware Bird-A-Thon, we hope to surpass the $100,000 mark this year, less than 24 hours to kickoff! Put it on your calendar next year, we’d love to have you immersed in our rich birdlife!

    Good birding

  • Cool. It’s great to see festivals that find creative ways to give back to the main attraction!

  • Sharon thanks for all the great compliments and encouragement for and about our festival. You were an asset during the field tour! Till next time…