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Birding Escapes: Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, Oklahoma

Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, Pawhuska, Oklahoma

Stretching across the rolling plains, the Nature Conservancy’s Tallgrass Prairie Preserve near Pawhuska, Oklahoma, is a 38,000-acre living remnant of the vast native grasslands that once stretched from Texas to Minnesota. The tall grasses, such as big bluestem, Indiangrass, and switchgrass, grow up to eight feet high and and are home to more than 256 species of birds as well as white-tailed deer, bobcats, armadillos, badgers, and other small mammals. The preserve also hosts more than 2,500 free-ranging bison, which can be seen from a 10-mile auto loop that takes visitors through the best prairie habitat. Birds and other wildlife can also be seen along the loop.

The best time to visit is spring through autumn. During April and May, Greater Prairie-Chickens gather on their booming grounds to court, as migrant songbirds fly north to establish nest sites. By June, wildflowers cover the prairie as Dickcissels, Blue Grosbeaks, and Scissor-tailed Flycatchers seek the highest perches from which to sing and defend their breeding territories. In the evening hours, Upland Sandpipers (above), Common Nighthawks, and American Woodcocks perform their aerial displays, flying high into the air.

More than 35 miles of county roads cross the preserve, but for the more adventurous, 3 1/2 miles of walking trails meander through the prairie to ponds, oak groves, and streams, each with its own unique birdlife. Located an hour from Tulsa and less than 2 1/2 hours from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and Wichita, Kansas, the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve makes a great weekend birding escape.


Enter Pawhuska, Oklahoma, on US 60 (Main Street). At the corner of Main Street and Kihekah Avenue, turn north on Kihekah Avenue then continue north 0.33 miles to Grandview Avenue. Veer left (north) on Grandview Avenue (Grandview also becomes road D3740 and CR4201) and drive 6.25 miles to the entrance of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve.

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American Kestrel by Blair Dudeck / Macaulay Library

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