at Cheyenne Bottoms, near Great Bend, Kansas.
American avocets at Cheyenne Bottoms, near Great Bend, Kansas. © Tom Blandford

Stories in Kansas

Shorebird of the Month

Wetlands and grassland conservation in Kansas plays a critical role in protecting migrating shorebirds.

Robert Penner stands with crossed arms, looking to his left and laughing.

Rob has worked as The Nature Conservancy’s Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve Manager for 22 years, increasing habitat for migrating shorebirds and nesting grassland birds at the world-renowned wetland.

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So just what is a shorebird anyway?

Like the name implies, these birds are often found along the shores, from sandy or rocky ocean coasts to interior wetlands and mudflats. But many species also rely on prairie grasslands, like the Flint Hills, as stopover sites on their migrations. Many share distinctive features like long, pointy beaks for digging up worms and other invertebrates for food. But that only describes a portion of the 49 shorebird species that breed in North America.

But Kansas is landlocked - what does it have to do with shorebirds? 

Kansas is located in the heart of what's known as the Central Flyway, the bird migration route through the Great Plains from Canada to South America. There are three other flyways in North America, the Pacific, Atlantic and Mississippi, but the Central Flyway is the largest, covering more than 100 million square miles. Forty of the 49 shorebird species undertake long migrations to temperate and tropical regions of Central and South America. Some travel as much as 15,000 miles round-trip, year after year. It takes a lot of energy to make the long journey, so they stop at wetlands like Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in central Kansas to replenish their fat reserves along the way. Cheyenne Bottoms is the largest interior wetland in the United States and it provides a predictable resource for these birds. Without The Nature Conservancy's protection of Cheyenne Bottoms, along with our partner the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, some shorebird species could go extinct.

Is Cheyenne Bottoms all it takes?

Shorebird conservation is an international issue and our work in Kansas plays a major role. But without protection of arctic breeding grounds, wintering habitats in the south and more places in between, the Conservancy's work to maintain Cheyenne Bottoms as a prime stopover site for migratory birds wouldn't be meaningful for long. Fortunately, the Conservancy works throughout the Central Flyway to implement conservation on a regional, national and international scale.

Shorebirds of the Month

  • A banded snowy plover with her chicks seen on Sanibel Island, Florida.

    Snowy Plover

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  • Sanderling feeding in shallow water

    Sanderling

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  • The sustainable grazing technique used at Flat Ranch provides a safe haven for long-billed curlews to nest each summer.

    Long-billed Curlew

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  • at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge

    American Avocet

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  • More than 30% of the entire species population was documented in the Flint Hills of Kansas and Oklahoma during spring migration.

    Buff-breasted Sandpiper

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  • The many different sandpipers can be hard to identify, but the eponymous markings of the spotted sandpiper (Actitis macularius) make this one a bit easier to recognize.

    Spotted Sandpiper

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  • also called gray or grey plovers.

    Black-bellied Plover

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  • Such a large percentage of the entire population of this bird uses the Central Flyway that the loss of Cheyenne Bottoms would be catastrophic to their survival.

    Long-billed Dowitcher

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Robert Penner stands with crossed arms, looking to his left and laughing.

Rob has worked as The Nature Conservancy’s Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve Manager for 22 years, increasing habitat for migrating shorebirds and nesting grassland birds at the world-renowned wetland.

More About Robert Penner, PhD