Office of External Affairs
Mountain-Prairie Region


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Mountain-Prairie Region
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228

January 18, 2012

Dan Severson, Refuge Manager 620-486-2393         

Kansas Wildlife Refuge Reports Unprecedented Mid-Winter Presence of Endangered Whooping Crane

Whooping cranes
Caption: Adult whooping cranes feeding on a grain field
at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in Kansas.
Credit: D. Severson / USFWS
At least five whooping cranes are believed to be spending the winter in south-central Kansas. The endangered birds have been spotted on and around Quivira National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) and Cheyenne Bottoms State Wildlife Area. Reports suggest the birds are divided into three separate groups: a family group of three (two adults and one juvenile), a lone juvenile bird, and a single adult that has primarily been observed within a large flock of sandhill cranes.

The staff at Quivira NWR is asking for the public’s help in monitoring the continued presence of whooping cranes. The birds may roost in or near marshes and lakes and commonly feed in grain fields or pastures. Whooping cranes typically remain in an area for a just few days before moving to another area. 

Whooping cranes migrate southward through central Kansas annually each fall, primarily from late October through late November. Most birds winter on the central Texas coast. Although rare, December sightings of whooping cranes in the Quivira and Cheyenne Bottoms area have been reported. Local records indicate, however, that the presence of the birds in January is unprecedented.

Sandhill cranes, which also move through the area during October and November, are typically difficult to find in the Quivira/Cheyenne Bottoms area by December. This season, however, thousands of sandhill cranes remain in south-central Kansas.

Although unconfirmed, some speculate that the unusual mid-winter occurrence of these two species is the result of ongoing drought in areas south of Kansas. These dry conditions, combined with this year’s mild winter seem to have motivated the birds to remain in Kansas where food is plentiful.

Whooping cranes are the tallest birds in North America, standing just under five feet in height. Standing adults are all white, with a dark cap and “moustache.”  In flight, the birds are white with black on the trailing edge of the wings. Juvenile birds are similar to adults, with rust color on the head and back. More information on whooping cranes can be found at

Anyone sighting whooping cranes in the south-central Kansas area is asked to call Quivira NWR staff as soon as possible at 620-486-2393. Callers should note the date, time, and specific location of the sighting, as well as the bird’s behavior and a description of the habitat where the birds were spotted.

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