State of Kansas

Western Meadowlark Sturnella neglecta ©Rick Bohn - Wikimedia Commons
Birding Kansas

Kansas is located in the central part of the contiguous 48 states. There have been 475 species recorded in the state. Kansas slopes from an elevation of about 600 feet in the southeast to an altitude of 4000+ in the extreme northwestern part. Although the northwest is at a higher elevation, it is referred to as the high plains and can appear to be quite flat. Because of its central location, Kansas has western species, northern species in winter, eastern species breeding and in migration, and birds that stray northward from the Gulf coast in the spring and fall such as Roseate Spoonbill, Wood Stork, and Magnificent Frigatebird.

Kansas has the largest extant prairie in the United States. The Flint Hills are about 200 miles north and south and up to 50 miles wide. Much of the Flint Hills are still in native grasses. The Konza Prairie Preserve near Manhattan is a prime example. Certain areas of the Konza provide excellent habitat for Henslow’s Sparrow. You should contact the proper authorities before birding this area. The Upland Sandpiper is a common breeding bird, as is the Greater Prairie Chicken.

The eastern one third of the state is made up of rolling hills with patches of forest dotted around the area. The extreme Southeastern part is Ozarkian with the associated birds such as Yellow-throated Warbler, Cerulean Warbler and other eastern forest birds. The Northeastern portion is also forested along the Missouri River and many of the eastern warblers are found in migration and breeding. There have been 37 species of warblers recorded.

Many large reservoirs are found in the eastern and central part of Kansas and are a major attraction for waterfowl and gulls. With the building of the reservoirs, many species have become regular migrants to the state such as Bonaparte’s Gull, Thayer’s Gull, and the occasional Sabine’s Gull. There have been 26 species of larids recorded and one alcid.

Two of the major birding areas in the central part of Kansas are Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge; both are designated Wetlands of International Importance by RAMSAR. These two major central Kansas wetlands attract Whooping Cranes making these two marshes major stopovers during the fall migration. In addition to the Whooping Cranes, up to 200,000 Sandhill Cranes have been recorded in the fall. Cheyenne Bottoms was designated a wetland of international importance because of the numbers of shorebirds that utilize the area in migration. It is estimated that some shorebirds such as the White-rumped Sandpiper may have 90% of the world’s population migrating through the area. Because of the vast salt beds that underlie central Kansas, many of the marshes are brackish. Coastal species that nest here in small numbers are Tricolored Heron and Mottled Duck. Neotropical Cormorants are nesting at Quivira and have bred at Cheyenne Bottom. Western Grebes have recently started nesting at Cheyenne Bottoms. At any one time in May, there can be thousands of shorebird present at either of these two marshes. Black-necked Stilts and American Avocets nest in the marshes along with White-faced Ibis. There have been 43 species of shorebirds recorded.

Most of the short grass prairie in the west has been ploughed and birding can be quite dismal in the western half. However, there are oases of lakes and grasslands that can be excellent for birds. Scott County State Lake is one of those areas. Also cities in the area act as attractants to species because of the trees and available water. Several species of hummingbirds have been recorded in Garden City. Kansas has had 11 species of hummingbirds recorded.

The Cimarron National Grasslands in extreme Southwestern Kansas is a Mecca for birdwatchers. Many of the western species have been found only in this area. It is approximately 60 airline miles from the Black Mesa of Colorado and Oklahoma and many of the birds from that area periodically invade this corner of the state such as Bushtit, Steller’s Jay, Scrub Jay, Canyon Towhee, Sage Sparrow, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Curve-billed Thrasher, Sage Thrasher, Ash-throated Flycatcher, and many of the western flycatchers. Mountain Plovers nest here along with Long-billed Curlew. Lesser Prairie-Chickens also nest in the Cimarron National Grasslands and blinds have been set up for photography and observation of these increasingly uncommon species. McCown Longspur, Lapland Longspur, and Chestnut-collared Longspur can be found in winter and in migration.

One other area that has recently caught the attention of birdwatchers is the Red Hills of south-central Kansas in Barber and Comanche Counties. There are large areas of short-grass prairie that have mesas and lot of valleys with red cedar. Most winters you can find Mountain Bluebirds wintering. In the summer you might find nesting Rufous-crowned Sparrows if you find the right canyon. Lesser Prarie-Chickens are found in this area. This was the last strong hold of the Black-capped Vireo in Kansas and it is possible they may show up here again.

One word of caution when birding in Kansas. This state has the least amount of public land of any state in the United States. Most of the places you will bird away from refuges and reservoirs are private property. Most farmers and ranchers welcome birders on their land if you ask for permission first. If you don’t ask, you will be asked to leave. Fortunately, Kansas has more roads than most states and birding from the roads isn’t bad. However, even birding along remote roads may bring an inquiry as to what you are doing. If you are polite and explain what you are doing, most landowners will become friendly and might even show you some areas on their property that provides excellent birding.

  • Max C. Thompson

    Dept. of Biology, Southwestern College, Winfield, KS |

Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 478

    (As at December 2018 - Of which 72 are classed as accidental, 12 are classed as hypothetical, and five have been introduced to North America. In addition to the 475, two species are extinct and one has been extirpated.

    State Bird - Western Meadowlark Sturnella neglecta

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Useful Reading

  • A Guide to Bird Finding in Kansas and Western Missouri

    | By John L Zimmerman & Sebastian T Patti | University Press of Kansas | 1988 | Paperback | 230 pages, 17 illustrations, 26 maps | ISBN: 9780700603664 Buy this book from
  • Birds in Kansas, Volume 1

    | By M Thompson & C Ely | University Press of Kansas | 2006 | Paperback | ISBN: 9780893380274 Buy this book from
  • Birds in Kansas, Volume 2

    | By M Thompson & C Ely | University Press of Kansas | 1992 | Paperback | ISBN: 9780893380403 Buy this book from
  • Birds of Kansas

    | By Max C Thompson, Charles A Ely, Bob Gress, Chuck Otte, Sebastian T Patti, David Seibel & Eugene A Young | University Press of Kansas | 2011 | Hardback | 528 pages, colour photos, colour distribution maps | ISBN: 9780700617821 Buy this book from
  • Compact Guide to Kansas Birds

    | By Ted Cable & Gregory Kennedy | Lone Pine Publishing | 2007 | Paperback | ISBN: 9789768200259 Buy this book from
  • Compact Guide to Kansas Birds

    | By Ted Cable & Gregory Kennedy | Lone Pine Publishing | 2007 | Paperback | ISBN: 9789768200259 Buy this book from
  • Kansas Birds: A Folding Pocket Guide to Familiar Species

    | By James R Kavanagh & Raymond Leung | Waterford Press | 2000 | Unbound | 12 pages, colour illustrations | ISBN: 9781583550472 Buy this book from
  • Kansas Breeding Bird Atlas

    | By William H Busby | University Press of Kansas | 2001 | Hardback | 488 pages, 202 line drawings, 399 tables, 341 maps | ISBN: 9780700610556 Buy this book from
  • The Guide to Kansas Birds and Birding Hot Spots

    | By Bob Gress & Pete Janzen | University Press of Kansas | 2008 | Paperback | 354 pages, 351 colour photographs, 1 colour map | ISBN: 9780700615650 Buy this book from
Festivals & Bird Fairs
  • Wings & Wetlands Festival

    The Wings & Wetlands Festival is going virtual for the 2021 conference! We will bring you industry-leading experts on birds, wetlands, and conservation messages and resources to enhance your next wetland visit. The Wings & Wetland Festival will take place on March 24 - 26, 2021. There will be a series of zoom classes and resources that will be yours to keep. Proceeds from the Wings & Wetlands Festival will benefit conservation efforts at Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.
Museums & Universities
  • Kansas University Biodiversity Institute & Natural History Museum

    Ornithology conducts research and provides undergraduate and graduate education on the birds of the world. Research topics include the species limits and species diversity, evolution, geography, genetics and genomics, morphology, conservation, ecology, and behavior. This work is greatly enhanced by extensive research collections of world birds, many of which were recently collected as part of the group's global bird sampling program.
  • Audubon Society in Kansas

    Searchable database
  • Audubon of Kansas

    The mission of Audubon of Kansas includes promoting the enjoyment, understanding, protection, and restoration of natural ecosystems. We seek to establish a culture of conservation and an environmental ethic…
  • Burroughs Audubon Society

    Whether you're a member of Burroughs or just interested in birds and nature, feel free to browse our site and take advantage of it as a resource. You'll find information about birdwatching opportunities in the Kansas City area, including rare bird sightings, hotspots, field trips and bird walks
  • Jayhawk Audubon Society

    We hope you'll join us! You'll find a variety of resources and information here on the site which let's you know what we're up to and how you can get involved. Check out the quick links below or explore the drop-down menus above and see all we have to offer. Hope to see you soon!
  • Kansas Bird Records Committee

    The Kansas Bird Records Committee (KBRC) reviews records of rare bird sightings in the state. This committee of the KOS is composed of 7 members and 2 alternates, appointed for three year terms. A list of the current KBRC members can be found here; please feel free to contact any of the members if you have questions about the committee or its activities.
  • Kansas Ornithological Society

    We say this first because we know the word ornithological sounds pretty formidable, and we don't want it to scare anyone off before they see what a fun group we really are. True, the name does fit. Ornithology means the study of birds, and that's what we're all about. And we do count among our members some of the world's top professional ornithologists and finest birders - as well as rank beginners, school children, and everything in between. All the better, we believe, to allow the unique mix of knowledge and enthusiasm that makes our way of studying birds so rewarding
  • Kanza Audubon Society

    10178 W 293RD St 66868 Reading - KS - US
  • Leavenworth Audubon Society

    1007 North Second St 66043 Lansing - KS - US
  • Nature Conservancy in Kansas

    Another new and nicely presented NC website: Here you'll find information on the many ways we're working with communities, businesses and people like you to protect Kansas' amazing diversity of native plants, wildlife and natural landscapes…
  • Northern Flint Hills Audubon Society

    Publishing the prairie Falcon as its newsletter this very active site has lots of links, local information etc
  • Smoky Hills Audubon Society

    Smoky Hills Audubon Society was established in 1976. Programs are on the 3rd Thursday of each month and are generally held at Carver Center, 315 2nd Street, Salina KS at 7:00 pm. Board meetings are on the first Thursday of the month at 7 pm, at Lakewood Lodge, Salina KS More details: Contact SHAS, PO Box 2936, Salina, KS 67402-2936
  • Sperry-Galligar Audubon Society

    The mission of Sperry-Galligar Audubon Society is - to promote educational forums that emphasize ecological relationships in the natural world, with a primary interest in birds and their habitat; to be an advocate for initiatives that protect and enhance natural ecosystems; and, with knowledge, energy, and, cooperation - develop sanctuaries that restore natural habitats.
  • Sutton Avian Research Centre

    The George Miksch Sutton Avian Research Center (Sutton Center) was founded in 1983 with the mission of finding cooperative conservation solutions for birds and the natural world through science and education. The Sutton Center is a private, nonprofit organization located near Bartlesville, Oklahoma.
  • Topeka Audubon Society

    Since 1943 we have served the Topeka, Kansas community by providing nature education, outdoor recreation, and environmental advocacy. This year we will offer 7 informative programs, as well as 2 field trips per month to destinations near and far. We participate in the Christmas Bird Count in December, and the North American Migration Bird Count in May. Our newsletter is published 10 times a year. We hold bird seed sales in October and January to raise funds for our activities.
  • University of Kansas Field Station

    The University of Kansas Field Station has served a prominent role in environmental affairs for more than 50 years
  • Wichita Audubon Society

    The Wichita Audubon Society is an association of more than 1200 members who have been enjoying nature, promoting conservation, and supporting nature education since 1954. Our major education and conservation project for more than 25 years has been the development of Chaplin Nature Center. This 230 acre preserve near Arkansas City features a Visitor`s Center staffed by a full time naturalist. The naturalist conducts programs for school classes from across south central Kansas, as well as civic organizations, youth groups, and the general public. The trails through the woods and prairies, leading to the sandbars of the Arkansas river, are open to the public from sunrise to sunset year round. Our members support the Chaplin Nature Center with donations of money and time, including fund-raising, maintenance and construction projects, and staffing the Visitor`s Center.

Abbreviations Key

  • Cheyenne Bottoms Wetlands Project

    WebpageSatellite View
    The largest interior marsh in the United States, Cheyenne Bottoms is one of the most important shorebird migration stopover points in the Western Hemisphere. More than half of all shorebirds that migrate east of the Rockies pass through this 40,000-acre lowland, including 90% of North America's population of Wilson's phalarope, long-billed dowitcher, white-rumped sandpiper, Baird's sandpiper, and stilt sandpiper…
  • Kansas State Parks

    WebsiteSatellite View
    30 State Parks • 33 State Wildlife Areas • 2 State Wildlife Management Areas • 1 National Park • 2 National Historic Sites • 3 National Wildlife Refuges
  • Kansas Wetlands Education Center (KWEC)

    WebsiteSatellite View
    The Kansas Wetlands Education Center (KWEC) is a 11,246 square feet facility located 10 miles northeast of the intersection of US 281 and US 56/156 in Great Bend at 592 NE 156 Highway, Great Bend, KS 67530. KWEC is a branch of Sternberg Museum of Natural History and, therefore, a unit of Fort Hays State University (FHSU)…
  • NC Chaplin

    WebpageSatellite View
    Chaplin Nature Center is owned and operated by the Wichita Audubon Society…
  • NP Prairie

    WebpageSatellite View
    Tallgrass prairie once covered 140 million acres of North America. Less than 4 % remains, mostly in the Flint Hills of Kansas. On November 12, 1996, legislation created the 10,894 acre preserve, which protects a nationally significant example of the once vast tallgrass prairie ecosystem, while containing a unique collection of natural and cultural features from the American Indian to present.
  • NPR

    WebpageSatellite View
    Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in the Flint Hills region of Kansas was established on November 12, 1996. Since this is a new park, this homepage is new, too, and still under construction. Visit our expanded pages to learn more about this new national preserve.
  • NWR Flint Hills

    WebpageSatellite View
    Established in 1966, the refuge is managed primarily for migratory waterfowl. Intensive use by ducks and geese occurs during the spring and fall migration. Farmlands are managed on a share basis with area farmers with the refuge share providing food for migrating waterfowl and resident wildlife. Numerous ponds and a system of shallow marshes provide additional waterfowl habitat. Waterfowl and bald eagle management requires that portions of the refuge be closed and that public access be restricted during periods of intensive waterfowl use…
  • NWR Kirwin

    WebpageSatellite View
    Kirwin National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) was established in 1954 for the conservation, maintenance, and management of wildlife resources, particularly migratory birds. The Refuge is located in the rolling hills and narrow valley of the North Fork of the Solomon River in north-central Kansas. This region lies in an area where the tall grass prairies of the east meet the shortgrass plains of the west
  • NWR Quivira

    WebpageSatellite View
    For untold years, the Big and Little Salt Marshes have attracted thousands of migratory waterfowl, providing them with food, cover and a place to rest during exhausting flights between breeding and wintering areas. Indians and early settlers hunted the waterfowl in these marshes and shortly after the turn of the century, commercial hunting provided wagonloads of waterfowl to Kansas City restaurants and other eastern points.
  • SP Fancy Creek

    WebpageSatellite View
  • SP Meade

    WebpageSatellite View
    Nature trails offer visitors an up close look at the shortgrass prairie ecosystem. Utility and primitive camping, day use areas, swimming beach, and boating and fishing access make this a popular destination. Campgrounds provide 42 water/electric utility sites and 150 primitive campsites…
  • SP Prairie Dog

    WebpageSatellite View
    A prime place to experience the shortgrass prairies of western Kansas, Prairie Dog State Park occupies 1,150 acres on the shores of Keith Sebelius Reservoir in Norton County. The park is home to a thriving prairie dog colony and is the site of the last remaining adobe house in Kansas.
  • SWA Wilson

    WebpageSatellite View
    Wilson Wildlife Area encompasses approximately 8,000 acres of wildlife land surrounding 9,000 acres of water ( Wilson Reservoir) nestled into the scenic Smoky Hills of north central Kansas.
  • SWMA Pratt Sanshills

    WebpageSatellite View
    Most of the 5,715-acre area is sandhill prairie with moderate to steep dune topography. There are also several miles of multi-row shelterbelts throughout the area, as well as windmills, solar wells, and hydrants that provide water for wildlife.
  • SWMA Tuttle Creek

    WebpageSatellite View
    Tuttle Creek Reservoir is the key unit in the system of flood control projects within the Kansas River Basin and is the second largest lake in Kansas. The Wildlife Area contains approximately 65% permanent vegetation (trees and grasses) with the remaining 35% in cropland, marshes and other food plots. There are three marshes that can be pumped totaling 365 acres and three marshes dependant on runoff totaling 115 acres.
Sightings, News & Forums
Trip Reports
  • 2019 [09 September] - Ed Pembleton

    PDF Report
    We headed north to Hesston and the Dyck Arboretum for an introduction to the native plants found in the tall and mixed grass prairies of central Kansas. The Annual and Maximilian Sunflowers stood up and out from the crowd of yellow blossoms. Some specimens of prairie grasses, Big & Little Bluestem, and Indian Grass caught our attention because they were still blooming. Our attention was soon diverted skyward where lingering Mississippi Kites swept back and forth across the horizon. Then Brown Thrashers foraging under the shrubs brought our focus back to the ground. Recent emigrants to Kansas, Eurasian Collared-Doves “cooed” from all corners of the arboretum and clearly outnumbered the Mourning Doves in this neighborhood.
  • 2021 [09 September] - Ed & Sil Pembleton

    PDF Report
    ... Large rafts of American White Pelicans formed snowy islands as they crowded into the far side of the central pool, while sporadic flights of White-face Ibis crossed the horizon at high speed. Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, and a few Mallards fed in quiet waters behind cattail clumps, while Canada Geese rode white-capped waves out in the pools. Baird’s Sandpipers were the most numerous small shorebird—a usual situation at the Bottoms. American Avocets, Black-necked Stilts and Greater Yellowlegs walked elegantly along the mudflats, and a White-rumped Sandpiper made its initial appearance...
Other Links
  • Wild Bird Watching

    Birdwatching information about the nesting, mating, and feeding habits of common North American backyard birds
Photographers & Artists
  • Artist - Anthony Galv

    I began drawing wildlife while in high school. In 1963 my family moved to Denver, CO. I had been sketching hot rods up to that time and it was during a two week we`ll leave the motel when we find a place period that I found I enjoyed drawing birds
  • Photographer - Wild Love Photography

    Photography blog celebrating the birds of Northeast Kansas

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