More than 35 years ago, a small group of committed ornithologists, birders and conservation-minded businessmen in the heart of Oklahoma took a bold risk to protect the heritage of our natural world in response to the decline of the Bald Eagle. Named in honor of the renowned Oklahoma ornithologist, artist and professor, George “Doc” Sutton, our organization was established in 1983 on 40 acres near Bartlesville, Oklahoma.
Continuing George Sutton’s study of and passion for birds, the Sutton Center has become a leader in avian research and conservation. The Center has conducted intensive, conservation-oriented, ecological field research on declining grassland birds, developed and applied techniques for the reintroduction and monitoring of Southern Bald Eagles, managed the successful captive breeding of endangered species and performed bird surveys across the world. Our work to preserve the diversity of our planet is centered around science, education and conservation while cooperating with government agencies, biologists, landowners and other interested parties.
Our team of scientists is highly regarded in their fields of study and enjoy both national and international acclaim. Collectively, more than 150 scientific papers and reports as well as several books have been published by the Sutton staff. Sutton projects have received national publicity by being featured in National Geographic, The New York Times, American Scientist and in coverage by NBC The Today Show, CBS This Morning, CNN, PBS and OETA.
The Bald Eagle, our national symbol, became endangered chiefly because of the use of the pesticide DDT, which caused eagles to lay thin-shelled eggs that broke during incubation. Following the ban on DDT in 1972, in the early 1980s when the Sutton Center was just getting started, the eagle population numbered 0 breeding pairs in Oklahoma. The Sutton Center, along with their loyal supporters, felt they could help jump start the recovery with a daring new program. This included artificial incubation of eggs and feeding captive-reared eaglets with puppets from behind one-way glass so they would remain wild. These innovative techniques were so successful that they contributed to the Bald Eagle’s official removal from the Endangered Species List in 2007. Thanks to the work of the Sutton Center program, eagles are thriving in Oklahoma!
The Sutton Center’s volunteer group of citizen scientists known as the Bald Eagle Survey Team (BEST) continuously keeps watch over Oklahoma eagles and monitors their nesting sites. This contributes to our knowledge of Bald Eagles in the state and also helps ensure the conservation of eagles and their nests, which are still protected by law.
Bald Eagles nesting in the Sooner State today likely all trace their ancestry back to the eagles that the Sutton Center hatched and raised on our Bartlesville campus!
Following our success with Bald Eagles, we turned our focus toward the recovery of other imperiled birds such as the Attwater’s Prairie-Chicken and the Masked Bobwhite, both of which were formerly common but have largely disappeared from the North American landscape and are now teetering on the edge of extinction. Lessons learned through the successful rearing and reintroduction of the bald eagle, along with pioneering new techniques still under development by our staff and partners, will give these birds a fighting chance for survival.
The Sutton Center spearheaded Oklahoma’s first ever Breeding Bird Atlas Project, a five-year, statewide survey of Oklahoma’s nesting birds. The resulting 532-page book published by the University of Oklahoma Press summarizes the results of these surveys and provides easy to understand information about the distributions of the more than 200 species of birds which nest in Oklahoma, along with information about their nests and eggs.
Oklahoma Winter Bird Atlas, the first of its kind in the US, was recently completed by the Sutton Center and the resulting 538-page book was also published by the University of Oklahoma Press. Far fewer bird studies take place during the winter months, and this pioneering project provides valuable information about birds during this important season.
One long-term benefit of an atlas project is that it can be repeated, and changes in the distributions of breeding birds may provide insight into the well-being of those species in the state.