Whooping cranes have begun leaving their breeding grounds to migrate south from Canada, and will soon be passing through Kansas on their way to Texas. One of the best places to look for them will be Quivira National Wildlife Refuge and Cheyenne Bottoms in central Kansas.
Annually each fall, a few dozen of these rare birds are sighted in or near Quivira and CB. It is possible for visitors to view them in or near Quivira from late October through November, but occurrences are not daily, and are scattered over several weeks. Whooping cranes use Quivira’s open salt flats and wetlands to roost during their visits, but each group typically doesn’t stay more than a day or two, with many just stopping overnight. Group size averages 2-5 birds. Your best chance to find them at Quivira is at either dusk or dawn.
The whooping crane is the tallest bird species in North America, standing nearly 5 feet tall. Adults are pure white, with dark legs and bill, and a dark red cap and “moustache”. In flight, the trailing edges of the outer half of the wings are black. They do not swim nor perch in trees. Young birds, hatched the previous summer in Canada, are similar in size to the adults, but very rusty-brown in color.
If you see what you believe to be Whooping Cranes, take careful note of the specific location, date, and time, as well as a physical description of the birds and their behavior. Keep a minimum of one half mile distance from them, and do not try to approach them on foot. If you observe them from a vehicle, please remain in your vehicle. Report any sighting as soon as possible to Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.
To report a whooping crane sighting, or to find out more information about the birds, check the “Whooping Crane Page” on Quivira’s website (www.fws.gov/refuge/quivira), or call the Refuge at 620-486-2393.