Rare cranes ready for annual Kansas visit

PRATT -- According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), whooping crane migration has started, and they could begin arriving in Kansas any day. The individuals that stop in Kansas are part of the only remaining wild population of whooping cranes, which numbers about 240. This population migrates between its Canadian nesting areas at Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta and the Northwest Territories and its wintering area at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Gulf Coast, a round trip of 5,000 miles.

Typically, whooping cranes leave Wood Buffalo National Park in mid-September. They may arrive in Kansas as early as Oct. 3 but usually don't make their way to the Sunflower State until mid-October. On average, 13 groups of whooping cranes, averaging three to four per group, have been reported each year during the past 10 years.

Information on migration timing is made possible through the courtesy of reports provided by hunters and birders throughout the whooping crane range. Although sightings have been collected since the early 1960s, whooping crane migration patterns continue to change in response to habitat availability and increases in whooping crane numbers. To monitor these changes, USFWS still needs whooping crane reports.

Anyone who sees a whooping crane should report it to the USFWS at 785-539-3474 or the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP) at 620-672-5911. Any local KDWP or USFWS office may be contacted, as well.