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.
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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.