My 10 Best Bird Watching Spots in Oklahoma You Should Try

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Oklahoma is on the Central flyway of bird migration, with 350 species regularly recorded. The state covers 69,899 square miles and has a range of habitats and topographies, such as wetlands, plains of tallgrass prairie, woodlands, and mountains. It is not always easy to know which are the best bird watching spots in Oklahoma, so I have compiled this list as a guide for bird watchers.

The best bird watching spots in Oklahoma include those places on the east and western sides that attract different species. You should also check areas like Tishomingo refuge and Lake Hefner to see waterfowl, and Salt Plains is a must to see Whooping Cranes.

A table giving the most exciting birds you can see at each of my top 10 birding spots in Oklahoma:

Tishomingo National Wildlife RefugeScissor-tailed Flycatcher and Bald Eagle
Red Slough Wildlife Management AreaMississippi Kite and Greater Roadrunner
Salt Plains National Wildlife RefugeSandhill Crane and Whooping Crane
Black Mesa State ParkGolden Eagle and Rufous-crowned Sparrow
Mohawk ParkBroad-tailed Hawk and Common Loon
Tallgrass Prairie PreserveGreater Prairie-Chicken and Upland Sandpiper
Hackberry Flat Wildlife Management AreaAmerican Avocet and Common Goldeneye
Sequoyah National Wildlife RefugeSnow Goose and Least Tern
Lake HefnerSurf Scoter and Red-throated Loon
Wichita Mountains Wildlife RefugeBlack-capped Vireo and Rock Wren
Best Places to Bird Watch in Oklahoma

Read on to learn more information regarding the best bird watching places in the state of Oklahoma and the species of birds you can commonly encounter at each spot.

Best Bird Watching Spots in Oklahoma
Best Bird Watching Spots in Oklahoma

TIP: If you want to check out the best pair of binoculars for bird watching, we recommend a pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars (Amazon link).

Best Places to Bird Watch in Oklahoma

Oklahoma offers excellent birding opportunities due to its various habitats, including the wetlands, mountainous areas, tallgrass prairie, and woodlands.

1. Tishomingo National Wildlife Refuge

This refuge is located in south-central Oklahoma. Tishomingo Refuge was established as a site to help the migrating waterfowl. The refuge includes Cumberland Pool, which is a section of Lake Texoma. 

The types of birds you can find in Tishomingo National Wildlife Refuge in the water include Gadwalls, Mallards, and Northern Shovelers. Snow Geese and Canada Geese also stop over on the lake and surrounding areas during migration and winter.

It is helpful to keep scanning trees surrounding the water. This is because Bald Eagles are often seen in winter perched in trees around Cumberland Pool on the water’s edge. 

You can likely see birds like the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and Painted Bunting on the land. It is essential to know that these two particular species are only present in summer, as they are both summer migrants. 

Prothonotary Warblers and Western Kingbirds are usually present in the refuge. The Prothonotary Warbler is always found in bushes and trees close to water, so it is wise to search for these birds in those areas.

Western Kingbirds perch out in the open often and are usually relatively easy to spot if they are present in an area.

2. Red Slough Wildlife Management Area

Red Slough Wildlife Management Area is 5,814 acres in size. This preserve has a record number of birds, with at least 300 species recorded here.

There are many shorebirds and waterfowl present. The shorebirds are seen in spring, while waterfowl are more abundant in winter. The presence of shorebirds also varies depending on the water level of the wetlands. 

Vegetation on the edges of the water, such as in the reeds, is where you can find Least Bitterns, Common Gallinules, and King Rails. Yellow-crowned Night-Herons are also often found near the water, and Black-necked Stilts are seen wading in the shallow areas. 

The bitterns and rails are secretive birds, which can be tricky to spot, but early morning and late afternoon, you may see an individual or two in the wetland vegetation.

Many bird species are resident and nest in the preserve. Birds nest here include Mississippi Kites, Greater Roadrunners, Hooded Warblers, Prothonotary Warblers, Lark Sparrows, Painted Buntings, Prairie Warblers, and Dickcissels.

TIP: Knowing how to spot the birds in your yard is key to enjoying visits from your winged friends as much as possible! The best sources are trusted books, I recommend using the following (Amazon links):
National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America
National Audubon Society Birds of North America

3. Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge

This refuge is 32,197 acres in size and has a large lake. Salt Plains is situated in north-central Oklahoma. Besides the salt lake, Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge also has prairie, riparian areas, and a variety of other wetlands present, which attract several different types of bird species.

The endangered Whooping Crane can be found here, as can the Sandhill Crane. The Sandhill Cranes can occur in the thousands in this refuge. This is probably the best bird watching spot to see cranes in Oklahoma.

There are walking trails, driving routes, and an observation tower in the refuge, which you can use for bird watching. Ralstin Island, in the center of the lake, is where you can see nesting Snowy Egrets, White-faced Ibises, and Tricolored Herons. 

4. Black Mesa State Park

This preserve is in the western part of Oklahoma in the panhandle region. This is a high-altitude area at 4,973 feet.

You can hike to the top of the mesa, but it is quite a strenuous hike that you need to be prepared for. If you choose to complete this hike, take lots of water with you and wear sunscreen.

While driving towards Black Mesa, you should keep an eye on the surrounding arid scrub because you can see an assortment of bird species in the scrub and even on telephone poles and wires. 

In the scrub, you can find birds like Scaled Quail, Vermilion Flycatcher, Say’s Phoebe, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Chihuahuan Raven, Cassin’s Kingbird, and Western Kingbird.

At Black Mesa State Park, you can find the following birds: Black-billed Magpie, Rock Wren, Western Scrub-Jay, Golden Eagle, and Rufous-crowned Sparrow. A complete checklist of the birds is available to print and use.

5. Mohawk Park

This park has several trails and a boardwalk you can walk along while bird watching. The boardwalk leads to Lake Sherry, where there is also an observation tower you can use for spotting birds. 

The habitats represented in Mohawk Park include woodlands, wetlands, and grasslands. You can see several species of birds in this park, such as Common Loons and American White Pelicans. These two bird species will be found on the water.

Other birds you can find here in the park include Summer Tanager, Pileated Woodpecker, Yellow Warbler, and Black-crowned Night Heron. Raptors recorded in the park include Broad-tailed Hawks, Mississippi Kites, and Red-shouldered Hawks.

TIP: Check out my recommended products if you are looking for the best and trusted equipment for birdwatching in the wild or on your backyard (Amazon link):

6. Tallgrass Prairie Preserve

This is a 39,000-acre area that is situated north of the city of Pawhuska in northern Oklahoma. This preserve is excellent if you are looking for grassland birds since the predominant vegetation is the tallgrass prairie. 

This spot is worth a visit if you want to see the Greater Prairie Chicken. Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, Dickcissels, Wild Turkeys, Northern Bobwhites, and Upland Sandpipers are also in the preserve. 

Bobwhites may be more challenging to see as they are small compared with the Upland Sandpipers, and they walk around on the ground rather than fly because they are a type of quail.

7. Hackberry Flat Wildlife Management Area

Hackberry Flat Wildlife Management is in the southwestern part of Oklahoma. The area was established in the 1990s to provide a habitat for migrating waterfowl.

Greater than 225 bird species have been recorded in this area. Besides waterfowl like ducks, grebes, and loons, you can also see shorebirds. The shorebirds forage on the edges of the wetlands in the muddy margins and shallow water areas.

Shorebirds you can see here include the Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, and Wilson’s Phalarope. Waterfowl species recorded here include Fulvous Whistling Duck, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Common Goldeneye, and Hooded Merganser.

Land birds you can find in the area include Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, Horned Larks, Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Cassin’s Sparrows, and Dickcissels. A checklist of the bird species found here is available.

TOP TIP: If you think bird watchers are weird, read this article to discover the health benefits of bird watching. Are you a Bird watcher or a Twitcher? Find out here!

8. Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge

This 20,800-acre refuge is situated in eastern Oklahoma and is a fantastic place to see Snow Geese. You can see thousands of these birds during winter as they feed and rest in the refuge.

You can find Least Terns on the sand bars that occur in the river. These sandy areas provide good nesting spots for these birds.

Bald Eagles nest in Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge, and other raptors, such as Broad-winged and Red-shouldered Hawks, are also found in the area. Check grassy areas of the reserve for Dickcissels, which often sing from an exposed perch.

You should keep an eye out for these birds, which also reside in the refuge: Pileated and Red-headed Woodpeckers, Blue Grosbeak, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Prothonotary Warbler,  Painted Bunting, Summer Tanager, and Baltimore Oriole.

9. Lake Hefner

Lake Hefner is an impoundment located in Oklahoma City. It is 2,500 acres in size and a popular spot for people to visit, picnic, fish, or go out on a boat. The lake is also perfect for birds, especially in particular seasons.

Fall to spring brings an abundance of waterfowl, with many species found on Lake Hefner during this time. You can see many waterfowl species at Lake Hefner, including Surf Scoter, Pacific Loon, Red-throated Loon, and Yellow-billed Loon. 

Franklin’s Gull is present over the lake and where there are mudflats; sometimes, the rare Iceland Gull is also found during winter.

You can find Pied-billed Grebes and Horned Grebes in winter, and you can similarly find Herring Gulls, Ring-billed Gulls, and Bonaparte’s Gulls. I recommend visiting this lake in winter to see the maximum number of waterfowl and gull species.

10. Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is 59,000 acres in size and is located in the southwestern part of the state. One of the reasons I like this refuge is that you can see the Black-capped Vireo.

This is an endangered species in the refuge from April to August each year. This would be the best time to visit to spot this little bird.

To find the Vireo, you should walk on the Elk Mountain Trail. There are also other trails traversing the refuge, where you can take a walk and see what you can find in the way of birds.

The refuge has grasslands, uplands, oak forests, and lakes. These habitats support a variety of bird species, including passerines, non-passerines, and raptors. 

The birds you can find here in the refuge are the southwestern species. Such species include Rock Wrens, Canyon Wrens, Bewick’s Wrens, Grasshopper Sparrows, and Greater Roadrunners. Keep an eye on the ground because this is where you most likely will spot a roadrunner.

Best Time to Bird Watch in Oklahoma

Oklahoma is an excellent year-round state for bird watchers, but some species are only found at certain times of the year or most numerous at those times. You should plan your trip to a particular site based on migration patterns.

Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and Painted BuntingsSummer
Bald Eagles and Snow GeeseWinter
Best Time to Bird Watch in Oklahoma

The Oklahoma State Bird

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - The State Bird of Oklahoma
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher – The State Bird of Oklahoma

The state bird of Oklahoma is the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Tyrannus forficatus. This bird is present in summer and is straightforward to identify and see. These flycatchers often perch on telephone lines and other conspicuous spots.

The bird can be recognized by its gray upper parts, lighter underparts, salmon-colored flanks, and long tail. The long tail is forked and black and white. This is a distinctive feature of this species. 

Bird Watching Laws in Oklahoma

Oklahoma state law states that all birds on migration are protected under the law. This protection extends to songbirds, owls, hawks, and eagles. Gamebirds, European Starlings, and Sparrows are not protected under this law.

My Favourite Equipment for Bird Watching

Bird watching is one of the least expensive hobbies out there, but you still need some equipment to get the most out of it. 

The essential equipment to start bird watching is a pair of binoculars. My preference is 8 X 42 binoculars. The number 8 is how much the magnification is, while 42 is the field of view in millimeters of the lenses.

A pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars on Amazon is an excellent choice for both beginners and experts. 

In time, you can choose more expensive models and also opt to buy a spotting scope like the Celestron Ultima 80 on Amazon.

These are a lot more expensive compared with binoculars though, so if you are only a beginner, start with binoculars first. A spotting scope is only helpful for birds far away, such as out on a pond or seashore.

There are a few rules or guidelines you should abide by as an ethical birder. These are listed below.

  • Do not enter private lands without prior permission from landowners.
  • Follow all the rules in refuges and reserves, including cleaning up any garbage from your campsite.
  • Do not disturb birds on nests.
  • Do not use apps and play songs to call up birds when they are hungry, tired, and breeding during spring and summer.


Oklahoma is perfect for bird watchers, partly because it is centrally located and extends far enough west and east to attract a range of species.

The various habitats, including wetlands, prairie, mountains, and forests, are all rich with birds. You should include a trip to Oklahoma on your birding life list.

TIP: If you want to check out the best pair of binoculars for bird watching, we recommend a pair of waterproof and fog-proof 8 x 42 binoculars like the Celestron – Outland X 8×42 Binoculars (Amazon link).

Rae Osborn

Rae Osborn is an avid bird watcher and holds a doctorate in Biology. Her interests in birds began as a child growing up in South Africa. She has continued to study birds and has bird watched in the United States and South Africa.

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