Gathering Place is home to diverse wildlife from the different ecosystems within Oklahoma. Look below at our wildlife guide to learn more about the animals at the Park so you can spot these living creatures during your next visit!
Found in wetland habitats across North America, great blue herons appear slow and calm. When hunting, however, they make sudden dives with their long beaks. Here at Gathering Place, they can be seen out on the banks of Peggy’s Pond or looking for fish in the Arkansas River. With impressive night vision, they can even hunt in the dark!
Turn your attention to the trees to spot the squirrels. They might be busy collecting acorns to store underground for the winter. Because squirrels bury acorns, they play a large role in the growth of new trees, as these small acorns can turn into the tall trees you see around you. Squirrels will get into anything you leave behind, so please make sure to pick up your food and trash!
Look closely around Peggy’s Pond for turtles. These reptiles have a bony shell that protects their organs from predators. Turtles spend their whole lives in the same shell, as it grows with them. In fact, the shell is part of a turtle’s body! Check out the colors and patterns on the shell to understand how turtles can camouflage themselves from predators.
Dragonflies are flighty insects with two sets of wings held horizontally. Their diet includes mosquitoes and moths. They are incredible hunters, catching up to 95% of the prey they pursue. This makes them great for natural pest control. Three hundred and twenty-five million years ago, Meganisoptera, the ancestor of today’s dragonfly, had a 30-inch wingspan! Dragonflies are threatened by a loss of wetland habitat.
You might know that most bats are nocturnal (meaning they only come out at night), but did you know they have many benefits to humans? Many bats are insectivores, or animals that eat insects, and they help reduce the number of pesky bugs flying around. Bats can also pollinate flowers and spread the seeds of different plants, allowing for new plants to grow.
Back in the tall grasses you might spy a snake or two. Don’t worry because the snakes at Gathering Place are non-venomous and will respect your space if you respect theirs! Like any animal, snakes play a vital role in their ecosystems by regulating the populations of their prey. Snakes in the prairie habitat keep the number of rodents in line and are essential to the stability of our ecosystems. If you see a snake, remain calm and keep your distance.
Who’s that looking at you? It’s an owl! While most birds have eyes on the sides of their heads, owls have forward-facing eyes, which give them the depth perception they need to hunt at night. Owls can rotate their heads and necks by up to 270 °, which is necessary since their eyes are fixed in their sockets. Insects, mice, rats, and sometimes even fish make up an owl’s diet.
Keep your eyes peeled for any frogs that might be darting around! These quick amphibians tend to stay near water, as they can become easily dehydrated due to their semi-permeable (meaning water and other molecules can pass through) skin. Frogs have long tongues that they use to catch insects and other small creatures. Their permeable skin and intermediate position within food chains make frogs strong biological indicators of broader ecosystem health. Unfortunately, frog populations have been declining since the 1950s.
While you and I breathe oxygen from the air, fish get their oxygen from water! They’re able to do this because of their gills. Fish are the main source of protein for around three billion people worldwide, so they are vital to the food chain. Fish can eat plants, insects, and other fish, depending on whether the species is herbivorous (plant-eaters), carnivorous (meat-eaters), or omnivorous (both).
Notice the ducks out on Peggy’s Pond. You might see them dabbling at the water with their beaks or even diving below the surface—this is how they catch their food! Ducks can eat insects, plants, and fish. Though people sometimes feed ducks bread, we ask that you please do not feed them. Bread is bad for ducks’ health and contaminates waterways.
Oklahoma is home to some beautiful butterflies, including the beloved monarch butterfly. Butterflies are pollinators, meaning they help flowers spread their pollen to generate new ones. Big, pretty flowers attract butterflies and give them a place to rest and eat. The nectar in flowers is a butterfly’s favorite food! Monarch butterflies lay their eggs exclusively on milkweed, so we plant some in the Park to help this migratory species.
Don’t miss the state bird of Oklahoma! Notice how they open and close their tails to make sharp turns. As territorial beings, they like to sit atop fences, power lines, and tree branches to guard their territory and scope out insects for their next meal. You can identify these birds by the long, skinny tails for which they’re named.
View our Wildlife Scavenger Hunt here!