The Uniqueness of Quivira
Located in south central Kansas, Quivira NWR lies in the transition zone of eastern and western prairies. In 1955, the Migratory Bird Commission approved the purchase of land to create the Refuge, and by 1998 the last of the Refuge's 22,135 acres had been purchased. The name "Quivira" is of Spanish origin, given to the region by the Spanish explorer, Coronado, who visited the area in 1541. Instead of gold, treasures and the fabled "Seven Cities of Cibola," Coronado instead found fertile grasslands, abundant wildlife, and small agricultural villages.
For untold years, the Big and Little Salt Marshes have attracted thousands of migratory waterfowl, providing them with food, cover and a place to rest. Indians and early settlers hunted the waterfowl in these marshes and shortly after the turn of the century, commercial hunting provided wagonloads of waterfowl to Kansas City restaurants and other eastern points.
Quivira's wetlands are unique due to the high concentration of salt in many areas. Subterranean salt deposits are near enough to the surface in the Quivira area to affect the groundwater that percolates to the surface. Salinity (or salt) levels in the water varies depending on rainfall, runoff from rainfall, and the depth of the water.
Many areas have a high enough salinity to support salt-tolerant plant species such as inland salt grass (Distichlis spicata), alkali sacaton (Sporobolus airoides), and seepweed (Suaeda caceoliformis).
Salt Grass in Salt Marsh
In the pre-settlement era of Kansas, prairie covered most of the state. During this time, much of the area south of the "great bend" of the Arkansas River consisted of plains with scattered active sand dunes. Once inactive, these dunes were covered with prairie grasses and forbs. This Sand Prairie is a unique and uncommon ecosystem in North America.
A visit to Quivira today will reveal many areas where these once-active, prairie-covered dunes are clearly visible. Often thought of as simply "grassland", prairie is actually a diverse community of hundreds of species of plants, with many species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and other organisms that are prairie-dependent.
Sand Prairie at Quivira contains elements of the more eastern tallgrass prairie and the western short-grass prairie. Tall grass species such as big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) and switchgrass (Panicum scoparium) can be found in association with short grass species such as blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis) and buffalograss (Buchloe dactyloides).
East and west elements combine here in other ways. Both eastern and western meadowlarks nest at Quivira, and mammal species include both white-tailed and mule deer, along with black-tailed prairie dog and eastern cottontail.
Quivira is located in the center of the Great Plains, in the center of the continental United States. This setting places the Refuge
at an ecological "crossroads". It is in this region where the eastern tallgrass prairies begin to acquire elements of the shortgrass prairies to the west. Prairie plant species from both prairie types occur here: Big Bluestem and Indiangrass of the east occur with Buffalograss and Blue Grama. Eastern bird species such as Northern Cardinal and Eastern Meadowlark, and western visitors such as Prairie Falcon and Mountain Bluebird, mix with Great Plains grassland species such as Dickcissel, Grasshopper Sparrow, and Upland Sandpiper. Over 340 species of birds have been observed at Quivira, due to its location and richness of habitats.
Water in the "Great American Desert"
Early settlers and explorers termed the Great Plains the "Great American Desert", due to its vast area of unending prairie. Overall, water was and is scarce. Thus, Quivira is a veritable oasis within this region, offering feeding, resting, and nesting areas for a wide variety of waterfowl, shorebirds, and other wetland bird species. This diversity is typically otherwise found only in coastal areas or along large river systems.
Great and Snowy Egrets