Pratt -- In mid-October, some Kansans may witness a once-in-a-lifetime sight: the migration of rare and endangered whooping cranes.
Less than 300 of these magnificent birds remain on earth, about 199 of which will migrate through the Central Flyway this year. Migration records kept by Wildlife and Parks reveal that most whoopers migrate through Kansas between Oct. 5 and Nov. 12.
Whooping cranes are large white birds with long, thin black legs. Their wings are white with black tips, and they have a patch of red feathers on their foreheads.
Adult wingspans may reach more than 7 feet, and they may stand 5 feet tall. Juvenile whoopers have white and rusty brown body feathers and black wing tips.
Whoopers nest at Wood Buffalo Park in Canada and winter 2,500 miles to the south at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Gulf Coast of Texas. Good places to observe whoopers are Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area, northeast of Great Bend, and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, north of Stafford. Both areas usually host whoopers, sometimes several at one time.
In addition to the wild whoopers in the Central Flyway, a few birds remain with an experimental groups of sandhill cranes in the west. And a captive population of whoopers added to the number of wild birds brings the population to well over 200.
The whooping crane is fully protected under the Endangered Species Act.
People are cautioned not to unduly disturb these birds. A whooper could easily be frightened into wires and other obstacles, or be disturbed from an important food and roosting site especially critical during migration.
Anyone seeing a whooping crane this fall should report the time, place, and other details of the sighting to state or federal wildlife officials as soon as possible.