Don’t miss the sandhill crane migration at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge

Sunset at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Mark Conard

Sunset at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Mark Conard

From around Valentine’s Day to April Fool’s Day – the cranes come through Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.

Recent sightings at the refuge have included sandhill cranes in the thousands on the west side of Big Salt Marsh.

Kansas is a part of the “central flyway” – a migratory route for a variety of birds between Canada and Central America and the marshes and wetlands of Quivira National Wildlife Refuge provide an ideal resting and refueling spot.

Sandhill cranes in flight

Some crane facts

Sandhill cranes are passing through Kansas on their way north to breed from their southern wintering locales.  The birds, which can be 3-4 feet tall, gather in large groups during migration — strength in numbers.

At night, the waters and marshes are an ideal resting spot as any predator coming upon them will disturb the water, notifying the cranes that danger is near.

If you see two flying together, it’s likely a mated pair. If it’s three together, it’s likely to be a family group — juvenile cranes will stick with Mom and Dad for the first 10 months or so.

They can be noisy birds with distinct calls — rattling bugling type sounds that can be heard up to a mile away. Click to listen to them here.

They mate for life, which can be 20 years. Mate selection happens after courtship in the form of dancing — leaping, bobbing their heads, displaying their wings. One example is a male will fling a piece of grass or vegetation into the air as if to say “Look at me, choose me, I can build a good nest.”

They also have distinct “displays” and you can tell from their body language what they’re trying to say. Bowing, stretching their necks, jumping – each display communicates something unique.

Stop by Quivira National Wildlife Refuge — the Big Salt Marsh is one of the best places to see the cranes. It’s open daily from 1.5 hours before sunrise to 1.5 hours after sunset.

Great Migration Rally this Sunday at Cheyenne Bottoms

As the weather warms up, migratory birds begin making their way back to and through Kansas. The state is on the Central Flyway, a migratory route between the Gulf of Mexico and central Canada. Some great spots to check out the birds are wetland and marsh areas, like Baker Wetlands near Lawrence, Quivira National Wildlife Refuge near Sterling, and Cheyenne Bottoms near Great Bend. Year round, you can check out Baker Wetlands and QNWR on foot with trails featured in the upcoming Kansas trails guidebook, and to explore Cheyenne Bottoms, you can go on a driving tour.

And in celebration of the spring migration, on Sunday, April 13, 2014 from 2pm to 7pm, Fort Hays State University’s Kansas Wetlands Education Center is hosting the Great Migration Rally.

You can see Kansas’ one and only falconer and his rescued Golden Eagle and you can take part in what’s essentially a scavenger hunt. From their website:

Participants start off by drawing a “bird” card, worth so many points. The rarer the species, the more points it is worth.

“Each bird is a species that migrates through Cheyenne Bottoms,” Curtis Wolf, KWEC manager, said.

After beginning their “migration”, driving through Cheyenne Bottoms, participants stop at three different points, picking up situational cards that describe a positive or negative circumstance. The positive cards, such as finding a good food source, add points. The negative cards, such as losing a wetland to development, subtract points. At the migration destination, Barton Community College’s Camp Aldrich, the migrants choose one last card, points are tabulated and those with the highest points win prizes…

…There are also crafts for kids and adults, with kids making a bird feeder to take home. In addition, Bird Bingo, bird tattoos and other activities will be available.

A comfort meal of ham, macaroni and cheese, green beans and biscuits will be served, with Tumnus, a trio from Wichita, providing Celtic and folk tunes.

If you go:

Cost for the event is $5 for adults, $2.50 for children ages 5-12 and free for children under age 5. Proceeds from the event to restoring monarch butterfly habitat, another species that wings its way through Kansas.

Participants are asked to pre-register by calling the KWEC, 1-877-243-9268, or emailing, by April 6. More information is available at

Great Migration Rally