By Roseanne McKee
Republished with permission of the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise
Lena C. Larsson, the executive director of the George Miksch Sutton Avian Center, spoke about the Center’s research and conservation projects at Arvest Bank’s Friday Forum in Bartlesville.
The nonprofit was established in Bartlesville 35 years ago. The main facility is on Circle Mountain in Bartlesville on Gap Road on 40 acres.
“Our mission is to use science and education to make conservation happen. …,” she said.
It has set a goal of breeding Attwater chickens, an endangered species.
However, the Center doesn’t have Attwater chickens presently. Instead, it is practicing in-captivity breeding techniques on Greater Prairie Chickens using eggs from Nebraska.
Greater Prairie Chicken breeding
“These past two years we’ve been returning prairie chickens to the area so right now we have a surrogate. We collected eggs in Nebraska and that’s our surrogate breeder stock that we’ve been testing with. We’ve now returned them up to Nebraska these past couple of years,” Larsson said.
Before the prairie chickens are released into the wild, they are placed in acclimation pens for a couple of weeks. The staff camps out in tents near the pens to protect the chickens from predators.
The birds have leg-band transmitters when they are released to track them, she said. The females move outside the area when they breed to prevent inbreeding.
“We had one female that moved 20 miles,” Larsson said.
Masked Bobwhite Quail breeding
Quail are another endangered species breed at the center.
“It’s a cousin of the quail that we have here in Oklahoma. … the males have this rusty red plumage, and they have this dark face,” Larsson said.
The population of the masked bobwhite quail, indigenous to the Sonora Desert in Arizona and Mexico, dwindled beginning with the cattle runs in the late 1800s.
At the Buenos Aires Wildlife Refuge “they’ve restored the habitat, and we’re releasing birds there again. We have about a quarter of the known population here in Bartlesville,” she said.
After a building renovation in 2016, the Center received breeder stock in 2017 and in 2018 started getting eggs. The eggs are marked to track parentage, placed in an incubator and in 22 days they hatch.
“In quail the males take care of the chicks, and they will adopt baby chicks,” she explained.
After the chicks hatch, they are introduced to adult males and families are formed.
The family groups with 10-18 chicks and an adult are transported to Arizona, and released into the wild when the chicks are three weeks old.
Other projects at the Sutton Avian Center are bald eagle projects, lead education, white-tailed ptarmigan research, bird surveys/atlases and outreach/education.
One such outreach/education effort, which Audra Fogle, Sutton Avian Center director of development, is most proud, is the Sutton Art Award.
The competition, currently underway, is open to 10th- through 12th-graders. Up to $20,000 is given in cash prizes to students, and their teachers, for telling the conservation story through art and essays.
The work of the top 20 honorees is displayed at NatureWorks Wildlife Art Show in Tulsa, where the art of professionals is also displayed. The Wildlife Art Show reception, which is open to the public, is from 1-3 p.m. Feb. 2 at The Hive Gallery in Jenks.
“If we don’t teach kids to care about our environment and the natural world, it won’t matter what we do because there won’t be any one out there who cares about it enough to save it,” said Fogle.
To learn more about the Sutton Avian Center, visit their website at https://www.suttoncenter.org/.