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Wetland Explorer: Birds of Spring
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Spring is an exciting time here at Cheyenne Bottoms. Not only do we have the thrill of seeing the marsh turn green as plants wake up after their long winter’s nap, but we get to celebrate the return of some special feathered visitors! Migration season is one of the most fun times for wildlife watching, there is just so much going on. Some of the most interesting birds spend their winters in the warm South, but they return here to the Bottoms to take advantage of the marsh’s nesting habitat. Shorebirds especially are a delightful group of birds to look for, here are a few favorite species.
The Kansas Wetlands Education Center’s logo features one of our favorite migratory birds – the American Avocet. This tall, leggy shorebird is easy to identify – its white body and dark wings contrast with a beautiful rusty red neck. The red color is part of the breeding plumage for males and females, Avocets lose it in the winter to become a monotone grey, white, and black. The most obvious identifying feature though, is the Avocet’s beak! It curves upward, allowing the Avocet to sweep their beak across the water, picking up yummy bugs.
Black-necked Stilts stand out in any group of shorebirds. They’re the only ones that look like they’re dressed up for a formal occasion! Not only do they have a handsome black coat covering their head, neck, and back, they also have a crisp white front. They make sure to put on their best pants and shoes for breeding season in the form of bright pink legs! Between their “tuxedo” appearance and the pink legs, Black-necked Stilts are almost impossible to mistake for any other bird. You can spot them wading around in shallow water, dipping their long beak into the water looking for some of those delicious bugs the Avocets may have missed.
One of the most entertaining birds to watch hunting for food is a nondescript little bird called the Wilson’s Phalarope. A mostly brownish grey bird, Phalaropes are unique in that the females are the ones with brighter breeding plumage – a reddish brown neck. What really makes them stand out though, is the way the Phalarope hunts. Imagine you’re watching a group of a dozen small birds, floating out in the marsh water. Every one of them is spinning in a tiny circle, dipping its beak into the center of the circle. The Phalarope’s spinning creates a tiny whirlpool in the water, sucking up tiny midge larva and other bugs to the surface of the water, where the Phalarope can pick them up with its thin beak.
You can spot all three of these fun birds, plus dozens more migratory species every spring here at Cheyenne Bottoms. Visitors are always welcome to drive the main roads of Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area. If you’ve got questions about a bird you’ve seen, or want to know more about birdwatching on the Bottoms, the Kansas Wetlands Education Center is open seven days a week! Monday through Saturday, we’re open 9-5, and Sunday we’re open 1-5. The KWEC is located on NE K-156 Highway between Great Bend and Claflin, stop by for a visit! Staff can help identify birds, point you to the most active areas each day, and supply you with maps and identification guides. You can also give us a call at 1-877-243-9268 with any questions!