Rare birds migrating through Kansas are making pit-stops in Stafford County for the next two weeks.
Several groups of rare whooping cranes were sighted earlier this week at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in Stafford County, a signal that spring migration has begun and a sign of hope that the rare birds continue to rebound from a species-low count of only 16 in the world at one time.
Barry Jones, visitor services specialist said that from March 23-27 more than 29 of the birds, part of the Aransas-Wood Buffalo flock, believed to be only about 505 birds strong, were documented at the refuge.
“They don’t stay long,” he said. “They come in late afternoon and evening to rest, and then they are usually gone about two hours after sunrise.”
Jones said the best time to see the rare birds was at first light.
“They are just stopping in to rest a bit,” he said. “Their main goal is to get to their breeding grounds in Canada.”
Jones said the unique whopping calls of the birds could be heard over the marshes.
as some of the birds were already doing their mating dances.
The spring migration lasts only into the first two weeks of April, so those who get to see them are considered lucky.
Jones said the whooping cranes seem to spend a little more time in Kansas during fall migrations and, last fall, a much larger than usual early movement of the birds through Quivira was noted, with 47 recorded during October. By November 9, 104 were recorded and their activity is noted on the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge website.
The birds don't eat much while migrating, but their normal diet included grain, crustaceans, fruit, frogs, insects, crabs, clams and acorns.
"They spent their time on the Texas coast really bulking up for this trip north," Jones said. "While they are here, they mostly just rest, stretch their legs and mosey around."
Whooping cranes are five-feet tall and have a seven-foot wing span. Adult birds are mostly white, with black extending the length of the outer wing feathers below. The crown is dark red, and a black "mustache" extends from the bill to the lower face. The overall shape of the bird reminds one of a heron or egret, but more robust. The whooping crane is one of the rarest North American birds and Jones said it was especially thrilling to see them land in Kansas because this group is one of the only naturally recurring population of whooping cranes.
"It's the highlight of my year if I get to see them," said Jones. "They are just remarkable."
The best place on the refuge to see them for the next two weeks is on Wildlife Drive and on the five-mile loop of NE 30th Street on the northern side of Quivira.