The Sutton Avian Research Center, affiliated with the University of Oklahoma and located near Bartlesville, has been recognized for its “exemplary contributions to prairie grouse conservation.”
The Prairie Grouse Technical Council awarded its 2013 Hamerstrom Award to the George Miksch Sutton Avian Research Center, a public-private, nonprofit organization founded in 1984. The primary mission of the center, which has been affiliated with the Oklahoma Biological Survey at OU since 1997, is “finding cooperative conservation solutions for birds and the natural world through science and education.”
The Prairie Grouse Technical Council, composed of grouse biologists across the United States and Canada, presents the award only once every two years, when its members meet to present papers and exchange scholarly information about prairie grouse biology and conservation.
Under the leadership of Steve Sherrod, executive director, the Sutton Center has been involved in researching the greater and lesser prairie-chicken in Oklahoma and New Mexico for more than 15 years. Involved in this research since the center’s inception has been senior biologist Don Wolfe, and more recently Michael Patten, director of research, and Lena Larsson, assistant director. Their combined research has resulted in more than 25 publications on these two species alone.
Additionally, Wolfe and other Sutton Center staff developed a method of marking fences to minimize flight collision hazards to grouse, demonstrated through their research to contribute significantly to reducing lesser prairie-chicken and sage grouse mortality.
The Sutton Center staff also has been involved with prairie-chicken recovery through Sherrod’s involvement as a federally appointed member of the Attwater’s Prairie-chicken Recovery Team. The team works with the Attwater Prairie-Chicken National Wildlife Refuge, located in Texas City, Texas, and administered through the U.S. Department of the Interior. The Attwater’s Prairie-chicken is one of the most endangered birds in North America. Through the efforts of the Sutton Center and working in cooperation with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, funding has been secured to construct a state-of-the-art captive rearing facility for Attwater’s Prairie-chickens. The facility – to be managed and operated by the Sutton Center – will be constructed on grasslands near the center.
In addition to prairie-chicken work, the Sutton Center has been involved in research and conservation activities for a myriad of other species and ecosystems in the United States and other countries, including the ecology of shortgrass and tallgrass prairie birds; raptor research, restoration and monitoring; white-tailed ptarmigan research; dickcissel conservation in Venezuela; and parrot monitoring in Nicaragua. This work has resulted in more than 125 publications.
Sutton Center staff have conducted pioneering bald eagle restoration activities that led to the removal of bald eagles from the threatened and endangered species list in 2007, and resulted in the Sutton Center’s recognition by President Clinton at a White House ceremony. Dan Reinking, a senior biologist at the Sutton Center, not only writes a weekly bird column for The Tulsa World, but also edited the authoritative Oklahoma Breeding Bird Atlas published in 2004 by the OU Press, and is currently editing a companion volume, the Oklahoma Winter Bird Atlas, soon to be published.
The Sutton Center is committed to conservation education. Under the direction of Ryan Van Zant, the center’s free-flying, live bird program “It’s All About Birds!” travels to schools throughout Oklahoma (with no charge to the schools) to illustrate environmental conservation principles in a way that is entertaining as well as educational. Other educational activities in which Sutton Center staff are involved include maintaining live bald eagle nest cameras and eagle satellite tracking that have been viewed by millions in more than 170 countries via the Internet. Sutton’s trained eagles appeared recently in BBC’s internationally televised “Earthflight” when flying along the rim of the Grand Canyon carrying backpack-mounted cameras. In collaboration with NatureWorks, the center also proves approximately $15,000 to $20,000 in annual scholarships to Oklahoma’s high school students for communicating current conservation efforts.
To learn more about the Sutton Center, visit www.suttoncenter.org.