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Whooping crane fall migration
COURTESY PHOTOS Whooping cranes in flight
COURTESY PHOTOS One juvenile and three adult whooping cranes

QUIVIRA NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE – Whooping cranes have begun leaving their Canadian breeding grounds and heading south in the Central Flyway, meaning that Kansans will soon have opportunities to see these rare birds during their migration stopovers, said Barry Jones, visitor services specialist at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. 

“Annually each fall, central Kansas is one of the few places where it is possible to see whooping cranes,” Jones said. They occur in and around Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in small groups over a period of several weeks, most often in late October and early November. The earliest-recorded first arrival, Oct. 5, occurred in 2018, but the average first arrival date is Oct. 21.  

Whooping cranes use Quivira’s open salt flats, shorelines, 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 two to five birds, but it has not been uncommon for Quivira to host flocks of 12-15. 

Visitors may be able to view them at or near Quivira, but occurrences are not daily, and are scattered over several weeks. One’s best chance to find them at Quivira is near either dusk or dawn, and most often either Big Salt Marsh, at Quivira’s north end, or on the open flats along NE 170th Street. Occasional sightings occur in Little Salt Marsh, at the south end of the Refuge. The middle of the day is typically the least likely time to view them.

The whooping crane is the tallest bird species in North America, standing nearly five feet. 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. The Central Flyway population is estimated to be over 500 birds.

“If you see what you believe to be whooping cranes, report any sighting as soon as possible to Quivira National Wildlife Refuge,” Jones said. Be sure to note the 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 approach them on foot. If they can be observed from a vehicle, remain in the vehicle, he said.

To report a whooping crane sighting, or to find out more information about the birds, check the “Whooping Crane Page” on Quivira’s website,, or call the Refuge, 620-486-2393. A table of the latest whooping crane sightings can be viewed on the website.