Spring migration began earlier than usual in 2013, with a probable sighting of six birds on February 8, and six confirmed birds at Quivira on March 6. Migration continued through March and most of April, with the last confirmed sighting of 3 (2A, 1 banded/radioed J) on the later-than-average date of April 22. Most significantly, 2013 spring produced the second highest all-time number of confirmed sightings, with 75.
Fall migration ended through the Great Plains by the end of November, with some birds having reached Texas by the last week of October. The first whooping crane sighting at Quivira was a family group (2 adults, 1 juvenile) north of Big Salt Marsh on November 1. One sighting of 3 birds was reported from Cheyenne Bottoms on or near October 23. A fairly significant movement of Whooping Cranes occurred in the Quivira area during the period November 4-10, with several dozen being observed during the period. As of November 28, a total of 73 Whooping Cranes had been reported in the Quivira area this fall: 63 adults and 10 juveniles. This is one of the highest quantities ever recorded at Quivira during a season. None were seen in the area after late November.
The first spring sightings of migrating whoopers occurred on Friday, 16 March, with 3 adults observed on the west side of the Wildlife Drive at 9:15 am. The date is right at the average first arrival date for spring whoopers. One highlight of the spring was the occurrence of a total of 19 whoopers on the morning of 29 March. The last sighting was a pair of adults north of Big Salt Marsh on Sunday, April 8, but then a single adult was observed leaving Big Salt Marsh on the very late date of May 9! A total of 47 whoopers were observed during the spring at Quivira. Migrating whooping cranes are not expected back at Quivira until mid-October, at the earliest.
There were unprecedented late December and January occurrences of Whooping Cranes in Kansas and Nebraska during the 2011-2012 winter season. As many as 11 birds were seen in south-central Kansas, including a family of 2 adults and 1 juvenile. All sightings were sporadic of somewhat "nomadic" birds, occurring on both public and private land. The same family group (or another - it is difficult to determine which) was observed in southern Nebraska in late January (also unprecedented). Reasons for these occurrences are difficult to prove, but are possibly due to a combination of the ongoing drought in the southern Great Plains (making food more scarce) and the relatively mild winter. The table below reflects only Quivira or near-Quivira observations.
Whooping Cranes occur regularly each fall at Quivira, from late October through the month of November. Each fall season varies in terms of the total number of cranes reported, but the average through the season is 30-40 birds. Although sightings of 10-12 birds in one flock occur occasionally each year, most group sizes average 2-5 birds. Most occur overnight and are gone from the area by mid-morning. A few groups, or individuals, may stay a week or more before moving on. Also, during some years a Whooping Crane may linger into December or into the new year.
Spring migration is typically not as dynamic, with the birds passing through the Quivira area quickly. Sightings in spring are fewer, and of much shorter duration, than in the fall. Nevertheless, the season is not without its history of surprises: in spring 2010 a total of 76 Whooping Cranes were reported on the Refuge - on April 1 (no fooling)!
The following table summarizes the most recent sightings. These sightings are also reported on Kansas Listserv and on our Facebook site.
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The tallest North American bird, and one of the rarest: now numbering about 600 in the world, there were once as few as 16.