At least five whooping cranes are believed to be spending the winter in south-central Kansas, according to sightings being monitored by staff from both Quivira National Wildlife Refuge and Cheyenne Bottoms State Wildlife Area. Although some sightings have been on either Cheyenne Bottoms or Quivira, most have been on private lands in the surrounding region. The endangered whooping cranes, in three separate groups, include a family group of three (2 adults and one juvenile), a lone juvenile bird, and a single adult that has primarily been observed within a large flock of Sandhill Cranes.
Whooping cranes migrate southward through central Kansas annually each fall, primarily from late October through late November. Most birds winter on the central Texas coast. Although rare, there are a few December sightings of lingering whooping cranes in the Quivira and Cheyenne Bottoms area. However, local records indicate that the occurrence of the birds into January is unprecedented. Although it is unproven, some speculate that this unusual occurrence is the result of the ongoing drought in areas to the south of Kansas. That, combined with the relatively mild winter so far this season, has motivated the birds to remain where food is more plentiful.
Sandhill Cranes, which also move through the area during October and November, are typically difficult to find in the Quivira/Cheyenne Bottoms area by December. This season, however, there are still thousands of Sandhill Cranes in south-central Kansas.
The staff at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge is asking for your help in monitoring the continued presence of Whooping Cranes. The birds may roost in or near marshes or lakes, but feed in grain fields or pastures. Typically, the birds may stay in an area for a few days, then move to another area. Whooping Cranes are the tallest birds in North America, standing just under 5 feet in height. Standing adults are all white, with a dark cap and "moustache". In flight, the birds are white with black on the trailing edge of the wings. Juvenile birds are similar to adults, with rust color on the head and back.
Anyone seeing whooping cranes is asked to call Quivira as soon as possible at 620-486-2393. Please note the date, time, and specific location of the sighting, as well as the bird’s behavior and a description of the habitat.