Top Five Must-See Migrations in Kansas

Must-See Migrations

Sanjayan's Top 10 U.S. Natural Migrations

America's Top Ten Must-See Migrations

Nature is on the move, from gray whales to hummingbirds — and now you can see!


It's spring, and that means the animals of the world are in motion again — flying, swimming, running and crawling to their summer homes and breeding grounds. The Nature Conservancy is celebrating this annual pageant of nature with a listing of the “Top Five Must-See Migrations” in Kansas.

Kansas is home to some of the best birding opportunities in the Midwest. From the Flint Hills to the Central Flyway to western Kansas, visitors can experience any number of bird species ranging from shorebirds to prairie chickens. Even whooping cranes have been known to stop in Kansas on their yearly migration.

The Top Five Must-See Migrations for Kansas

1. Shorebirds
Kansas is known as one of the Great Plains states, but within its borders are some of the most productive wetlands in North America. Thirty-nine species of shorebirds have been documented at Cheyenne Bottoms in some years the numbers can be quite impressive. Some of the most abundant species include American Avocet, Lesser Yellowlegs, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Baird’s Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher and Wilson’s Phalarope. Spring migration for shorebirds in Kansas is heaviest from mid-April into mid-May. Top birding locations include the Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve, Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area, and the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.

The Nature Conservancy owns and manages nearly 8,000 acres of one of the top shorebird location in Kansas. The management goal of the Cheyenne Bottom Preserve is to protect habitat for shorebirds, waterfowl and grassland birds through reclamation of natural marshes, ephemeral wetlands, mudflats and grasslands. By creating opportunities for varies flooding regimes, as well as managing the growth of diverse plant communities to produce a mosaic of vegetation heights and densities, a wide variety of birds and animals can find suitable habitat somewhere on the preserve. The Nature Conservancy uses such methods as prescribed burning, selective mowing and disking and haying to create desired habitat conditions. Another method used is rotational grazing; this is a fairly effective and inexpensive way to alter the plant and soil conditions of wetlands and grasslands. Visit the Kansas Wetlands Education Center to learn more about this central plains wetland region.

How is the Conservancy protecting wetland habitat at Cheyenne Bottoms?

2. Waterfowl
Over forty species of ducks have been recorded in Kansas. Extremely large numbers can be found during spring and fall migration at the various wetlands and reservoirs throughout the state. Ducks and geese can number in the hundreds of thousands during spring migration, which normally runs from late-February into May. The more abundant species include Ruddy Duck, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Blue-winged Teal to name a few. Every once in awhile a rare species my even show up like Harlequin Duck, Common Eider or Tufted Duck.

The Conservancy has been actively involved in the protection of a number of key wetlands in the state. In addition to owning and managing the Cheyenne Bottom Preserve, the Conservancy has helped in the purchase of the McPherson wetlands and Jamestown wetlands. Other top waterfowl areas may include Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area, and Slate Creek wetlands, Wilson Reservoir, Cheney Reservoir and Marais des Cygnes National Wildlife Refuge.

Travel one of Kansas' Scenic Byways to experience waterfowl and other wetland species.

3. Sparrows
Less than 4 percent of the once expansive tallgrass prairie remains, with a majority found in the Flint Hills of Kansas. This region is home to a variety of birds that use the area as stop-over habitat during their northward migration. Unique summer residents that may be seen in the prairie grass include Henslow’s Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, Lark Sparrow, Field Sparrow and Eastern Towhee. Spring migration sparrows found during the April through May migration period may include Chipping Sparrow, Clay-colored Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Le Conte’s Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow and Fox Sparrow just to name a few.

The Conservancy is very active in protecting the Flint Hills region; it owns the Flint Hills Preserve and the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve which it manages in cooperation with the National Park Service. The Conservancy also owns a large part of the Konza Prairie which is managed by Kansas State University. As part of the Conservancy's ongoing efforts to preserve the Flint Hills landscape, the Kansas Chapter initiated a community-based conservation program — the Flint Hills Initiative — which involves multiple strategies to abate critical threats in the greater Flint Hills of Kansas and Oklahoma.

Learn about the Conservancy's work at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve and Konza Prairie.

4. Warblers
Kansas lies in the middle of the Central Flyway, a migration corridor used by thousand of northward migrating warblers. These flying jewels can be found migrating throughout the state from mid-April into late-May, with a fair number of species spending the summer to nest. However, the greatest concentration during both migration and summer is along the eastern border of Kansas, which contains the woodland habitat most species desire. Over forty species of warblers have been recorded in Kansas. A few of the nesting species include the Northern Parula, Yellow-throated Warbler, Black-and white Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, American Redstart, Prothonotary Warbler and Yellow-breasted Chat. A list of the more interesting spring migrants may include Golden-winged Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Bay-breasted Warble, Worm-eating Warbler and Canada Warbler.

The Nature Conservancy has assisted in the protection of the woodlands of Kansas by purchasing and turning over the management of numerous tracts of land. Such areas include the Marais des Cygnes National Wildlife Area and Dingus Woods. Other areas with visiting are Schermerhorn Park, Neosho Wildlife Area and John Redmond Reservoir. Visit Travel Kansas to find the best birding areas.

5. Owls
One of the most unique species found in the grassland of Kansas may be the Burrowing Owl. This little owl is closely tied the habitat created by the Black-tailed Prairie Dog. Unfortunately the prairie dog is a species that has almost been completely wiped out. However, there still remains some strong holds for the prairie dog and the Burrowing Owl. One such place is the Smoky Valley Ranch owned by the Conservancy. Located in western Kansas, this 16,800-acre ranch is predominately a shortgrass prairie characterized by large grassland areas, dramatic chalk bluffs and rocky ravines overlooking the Smoky Hill River. One of the key species the ranch is working to protect is the prairie dog; along with the prairie dog there is now a small breeding population of Black-footed Ferrets. The Burrowing Owl coexists with these species and uses the burrows of the prairie dog to raise their young. This owl can be seen from May into October and, unlike other owls, it is active during the day, with morning and evening being the most active times. Another place where the Conservancy works and this species may also be present is the Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve. Visit Travel Kansas to find the best birding areas.

See how the Conservancy is preserving the Smoky Valley Ranch for many western Kansas species.


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