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Wildlife worker cautions Kansans: Give whooping cranes space

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013, at 5:22 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013, at 11:31 p.m.

Don’t go near the whoopers.

Barry Jones, visitor services specialist at the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in Stafford County, issued a caution to Kansas birders Wednesday to keep their distance — at least a half-mile between humans and whooping cranes, an endangered shorebird.

“Remain on public roads or at or near your vehicle,” Jones wrote in an email addressed to the Kansas birding serve list.

“Under no circumstances should you approach the birds on foot.”

In recent weeks, the birds have been spotted at the refuge. On Wednesday morning, three whooping cranes – two adults and a juvenile – were present on the east side of the refuge’s Wildlife Drive. And, on Sunday, as many as 16 were reported at the wetlands.

As long as the rare birds remain on the refuge, all hunting will be suspended.

“The protection and safety of these birds are paramount,” Jones wrote. “Often Whooping Cranes arrive at Quivira weary and hungry from travel, so allowing them an undisturbed period on the ground is very important. Persons on foot, excessive noise and movement can have the potential to disturb the cranes.”

Each year, the endangered birds can be spotted during late October and early November at both Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. They can also been seen in the marshes and fields around the region.

The birds – the tallest species of North American birds at 5 feet – are white with a dark red cap, dark gray bill, and black legs and wing tips. In flight, they hold their necks straight out and their legs extend beyond their tails.

In 1942, only about 20 whooping cranes remained. Now, the population is at least 500.

The birds come through Kansas as they migrate from their nesting grounds in northern Canada to their wintering spot at Texas’ Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Gulf of Mexico, a distance of about 2,500 miles. It typically takes the birds about three weeks to make the journey, according to Whooping Crane Journey North website.

At Quivira, the best areas to look for them are at the south end of the Little Salt Marsh, which offers an observation tower and telescope to scan the marsh, and at the west side of the refuge’s Big Salt Marsh, where another telescope is located.

For the most current updates on the birds and refuge hunting, check www.fws.gov/quivira or call 620-486-2393.

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @beccytanner.

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