Featured Animal

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron by Ted Beringer

Great Blue Heron by Ted Beringer

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) Photo Credit: Ted Beringer

The Great Blue heron has a white face sporting a black eyebrow that extends back to two black plumes extending from the rear of its head.

The neck has black and white streaking down the front but is otherwise reddish gray. Mature or breeding birds have a dramatic plumage variety. The feathers on the lower part of the front neck form a long plume like a vest; it also has plumes on the lower back at the start of the breeding season. Immature birds have dull color, and lack plumes. The bill is dull yellowish, becoming orange briefly at the start of the breeding season, The lower gray legs become more orange during the breeding season. Whether hunting or resting on one leg, the Great Blue heron is a stately bird. When hunting it may stand motionless in shallow water, scanning for small fish. They also stalk with a precise, deliberate stride as they search for prey. This belies their agile ability to act rapidly with a thrust of their beak into the water, sometimes launching their entire body briefly into the air to follow prey with elaborate wing motions.

Diet: The primary food for the great blue heron is small fish, though it opportunistically consumes shrimp, crabs, aquatic insects, other small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, even turtles.

Its call is a surprising hoarse squawk that is often issued when disturbed while hunting. As it flies away appreciate the elegant six foot wingspan, its effortless, long slow wing beats, its long legs trailing behind. As it flies away, notice its head positioned to keep an eye on you.

The great blue heron adapts to a wide variety of wetlands, both fresh water and saltwater, marshes or swamps. They usually nest in trees near the water habitat where they feed. They are communal nesters that may establish a rookery of several nests with other herons to more than a hundred nests. Their nests, sometime 4 feet wide, are built of sticks. They abandon their eggs and chicks if nearby human activity becomes disruptive. Predators of eggs and nestlings include turkey vultures, ravens and crows, red-tailed hawks, black bears and raccoons. Great Blue herons will winter in the US east of the Rockies wherever there is unfrozen water with fish. Some migrate into Mexico and Central America in the winter. However in summer, it may migrate further north into Canada.

Green Heron

Green Heron by Ted Beringer

Green Heron by Ted Beringer

Green Heron (Butorides virescens)     Photo Credit: Ted Beringer

The Green heron is found throughout the eastern United States but in Kansas often breeds in the eastern to predominantly southeastern portion of the state. It is a short stocky bird with a neck that is often held close to its body. When startled, however, the neck can extend in length significantly and a short dark crest is raised to signify alarm. Even its neck feathers can be raised. Adults have glossy feathers with a green sheen on its back and wings that is most obvious in bright light from certain angles. Its neck feathers are chestnut or rusty in color with grey underparts and relatively short orange legs. Green Herons live around wooded ponds, marshes, rivers, creeks, reservoirs, and estuaries where they sit motionless near the water’s edge waiting for the arrival of a small fish to swim near enough to capture with its stout dark beak. They have been seen baiting fish with insects or anything that seems to work. While fish are their main dietary staple, their diet also includes crustaceans, frogs, insects, and even small rodents.

Mule deer

Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) Photo Credit: Jennifer Jarrett


Mule Deer by http://jenniferajarrett.blogspot.com/2012/03/deer.html

Mule Deer by http://jenniferajarrett.blogspot.com/2012/03/deer.html

In Kansas, mule deer are only found in the western one-third of the state, especially on the High Plains, Smoky Hills, and Red Hills. White tailed deer are more common east of these locations.

Compared to a white-tailed deer, the mule deer is slightly smaller in stature, has a black-tipped tail & larger ears. Also the antlers bifurcate as they grow instead of sprouting smaller branches off a main stem. The buck’s antlers are shed in the winter after rutting has occurred in the fall. Although mule deer can run, they frequently engage in stotting (pronking or pronging). This behavior is characterized by springing into the air with all feet off the ground simultaneously while the head is pointed downward as do gazelles. They have a relatively small rumen requiring them to eat only nutritious plants. Their habitat is becoming fragmented by construction of highways and residential subdivisions.


Elk Photo by Jeff Heidel of HeidelPhotography.com

Elk Photo by Jeff Heidel of HeidelPhotography.com

Elk (Cervus canadensis)     Photo Credit: Jeff Heidel, HeidelPhotography.com

The Shawnee & Cree Indian term for Elk is Wapiti or “white rump”. Elk historically lived across the North American continent north of Mexico. Today they naturally occur in prairies and woodlands of the American & Canadian Rockies as well as the Pacific Northwest. Elk graze on grasses and forbs in the summer. As winter snows move in, they feed on the bark and twigs of shrubs and trees. The fall rut determines which dominant male can breed with a harem of cows. Their antlers are shed in the spring.   The following text is from the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism.

Elk were another big game species that were common in pre-settlement Kansas. They were also extirpated at the turn of the century. However, a small herd was maintained at the Maxwell Wildlife Area near McPherson. The 2,200-acre enclosure is operated as a refuge and also features bison. In 1981, elk from Maxwell were released at the Cimarron National Grassland, and that herd was free-ranging. To keep that herd from growing too big and causing crop damage, a limited resident-only season was opened in 1987. Later in the 1980s, elk were captured at Maxwell and released on the Ft. Riley Military Reservation. That herd is also free-ranging, and a season was established for the fort in 1990. Today, elk are primarily hunted on and around Ft. Riley, but individual elk or small herds may be found at other locations around the state, and hunting is permitted everywhere except Morton County. About 900 applications are received for the 20 or so permits allotted each year, and they are divided among military personnel and Kansas residents.


Chipmunk photo by Gilles Gonthier

Chipmunk photo by Gilles Gonthier

Chipmunk         Photo credit: Gilles Gonthier https://www.flickr.com/photos/gillesgonthier/

Chipmunks (Tamias striatus) are small squirrel-like rodents native to North America. They reside in the far eastern portion of Kansas in oak-hickory woodlands as well as suburban neighborhoods. They have five dark stripes and two white stripes along their reddish-gray and brown bodies. There are also two dark stripes crossing the face, one at eye level and another stripe underneath the eye. Their birdlike chirping can alert others to the presence of threats.

The eastern chipmunk has internal cheek pouches used to carry food to their underground burrows.  These pouches are also used to carry dirt away from the burrow during construction to avoid leaving evidence. Their burrows can be more than 30 feet long with multiple entrances. The chipmunk burrow has several chambers including clean sleeping quarters, a food cache chamber, and a refuse chamber.

Although chipmunks hibernate, there is no need to store fat since they can partake of the cache of nuts and seeds they have stored for the winter. Their diet consists of nuts, tree seeds (maple & oak in Kansas), berries, mushrooms, earthworms, slugs, grubs, insects, caterpillars, bird eggs, even frogs and salamanders. They also eat buds, shoots, and fungi including those involved in symbiotic relationships with trees such as truffles. The chipmunk plays an important role within the forest ecosystem by dispersing of seeds of trees, fruits and berries and the spores of fungi.

With only a 30-day gestation period resulting in a litter of two to eight, their numbers are kept in check by hawks, foxes, coyotes, weasels, and snakes.

The name “chipmunk” may be derived from the American Indian “Adjidaumo” pronounced a-chit’-a-mauk referring to their “head-first” descent of trees.

Wild Horse

Wild Horses; Photo from Wichita Eagle

Wild Horses Photo from Wichita Eagle

Some 10 million years ago, up to a dozen species of horses roamed the Great Plains of North America. They were initially smaller than todays horses and had three toes; some lived in primeval forests. Others became larger with single hooves and ate grass on the plains. The horse then became extinct in North America about 12,000 years ago. However, the Spanish explorers brought domesticated horses from Europe in the late 15th century. The first horses to return to the continent were 16 horses brought by the explorer Hernan Cortes. Some inevitably escaped and developed into wild herds. Wild mustangs roaming the west were descendants from these Iberian horses. Nearly ten years ago, Flint Hills ranchers convinced the Bureau of Land Management to reintroduce wild horses into Kansas where they could run on the prairie. There are now 7,000 roaming some 60,000 privately owned acres in the Flint Hills of Kansas.

For more information on horses from the American Museum of Natural History, visit: http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/past-exhibitions/horse/the-evolution-of-horses

Redbelly Snake

Redbelly Snake (Storeria occipitomaculata) Photo by Ted Levin

Redbelly Snake (Storeria occipitomaculata) Photo by Ted Levin

Redbelly Snake (Storeria occipitomaculata) Photo by Ted Levin / Animals Animals

The following description is taken from the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism:

The Redbelly Snake is 8-10 inches long, has keeled scales, and a divided anal scale. On its dorsal side, its color may be slate gray or reddish brown. Two thin darker stripes are on each side. The snake’s belly may be bright orange-red or jet black. Any combination of dorsal and belly colors can occur. There are three light spots on the neck.

Redbelly Snakes prefer deeply wooded regions near rivers and lakes, sandstone woods, wooded hillsides, hillsides near streams, steep slopes of forested hills, moist areas, moist woodlands, woodlands with dense leaf litter, lowlands, forest edge, open fields, the vicinity of old dilapidated farm buildings, and woodlands which remain damp throughout the year. They are usually discovered on damp ground beneath leaf litter, leaf mold, or pine needles mixed with dead leaves; equally as often they are found under flat rocks, logs, rotten logs, boards, and other surface debris.


Redbelly Snakes are protected by the Kansas Nongame and Endangered Species Conservation Act and administrative regulations applicable thereto. Any time an eligible project is proposed that will impact the species’ preferred habitats within its probable range, the project sponsor must contact the Ecological Services Section, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, 512 SE 25th Ave., Pratt, Kansas 67124-8174. Department personnel can then advise the project sponsor on permit requirements.


As defined by Kansas Administrative Regulations, critical habitats include those areas documented as currently supporting self-sustaining population(s) of any threatened or endangered species of wildlife as well as those areas determined by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism to be essential for the conservation of any threatened or endangered species of wildlife.

Currently, the following areas are designated critical for Redbelly Snakes:

(1) All suitable habitat occurring within the section of Cherokee and Crawford counties east of U.S. Highway 69 at the Kansas-Oklahoma border (Sec. 18, T35S, R24E), extending north to State Highway K-7 (Sec. 7, T33S, R24E), then continuing north to the northern border of Crawford County (Sec. 30, T27S, R24E).

(2) All suitable woodland habitat within Douglas, Jefferson, Johnson, Leavenworth, and Wyandotte counties.

The following counties contain critical habitat for REDBELLY SNAKE:








Sandhill Crane

Sandhill crane photo by David Roemer.

Sandhill crane photo by David Roemer.

Lesser Sandhill Crane (Grus Canadensis Canadensis)

Photo by David Roemer

The body plumage of Lesser sandhill cranes is a gradient of grays but its forehead and crown are covered with a reddish skin. Adults exhibit a white cheek patch that interrupts the pale gray face, chin, upper throat, and nape. Legs and toes are black. Sandhill cranes’ 5 1/2 to 7 ½ feet wingspan allows them to soar on thermals, saving energy on long migratory flights.

People in Kansas are very familiar with Nebraska’s Platte River that attracts 450,000 Sandhill cranes in the spring preparing for their long journey north to breeding grounds in the boreal forests of Canada and Alaska. However, if you missed them in the spring, you can also observe them (albeit in smaller numbers) during their fall migration. A smaller number of Sandhill cranes stop in Nebraska while migrating south than visited during their northern migration. Instead, as many as 48,000 birds stop at the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in central Kansas between October 8th and late November. The Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma may attract as many as 25,000 birds. From here they will continue to their final winter destinations in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and northern Mexico completing a 4,000 mile journey that began in Siberia and Alaska, mostly by the collective memories of the flock.

Habitat:  Sandhill cranes require freshwater wetlands, such as marshes, wet grasslands and river basins. They breed mostly in open sedge meadows in wetlands that are contiguous to uplands with short vegetation.

Predators: Mammalian predators: foxes, raccoons, coyotes, wolves, bobcats and lynx. Aerial predators: eagles, large owls and Peregrin falcons. Sandhill cranes jump into the air and kick when defending themselves from aerial predators. Land predators can be stabbed with a crane’s bill with enough power to penetrate its skull. But in Alaska different predators are threats: golden eagles and arctic foxes.

Diet: Sandhill Cranes are generalists that feed on planted agricultural seeds such as corn, tubers, grains, mice, snakes, insects and worms.

Dancing: Sandhill cranes engage in exuberant dancing (jumping, running, and wing flapping) especially during courtship. This includes a variety of neck positions and vocalizations. These calls can be heard at https://www.savingcranes.org/sandhill-crane.html

Kansas Duck Season

Ducks in flight.

Ducks in flight.

Teal season is over for the year, but marsh madness has just begun. From Oct. 4, 2014 – Jan. 25, 2015, waterfowl hunters in various parts of the state will have opportunities to pursue one of the sky’s most sought-after game birds – ducks. So brush up on your waterfowl ID skills, load up those waders, and pack your decoys, it’s time to hit the marsh.

Waterfowl hunters 16 and older must have a Federal Waterfowl Stamp, and all hunters who are required to have a hunting license must also have a Kansas State Waterfowl Permit and a Kansas Harvest Information Program (HIP) Permit before hunting ducks, geese, or mergansers. Licenses, stamps and permits may be obtained wherever licenses are sold, or online at ksoutdoors.com, except for the Federal Waterfowl Stamp, which can be purchased at a U.S. Post Office.

Kansas HIP Permits are $2.50, State Waterfowl Stamps are $7, and Federal Waterfowl Stamps are $16.50. Hunters may also purchase a 48-hour Waterfowl license if they so chose for $27.50.

Federal and state waterfowl permits are not required to hunt coots, doves, rails, snipe, woodcock, or sandhill cranes; however a HIP Permit is required.



High Plains Zone: Oct. 4-5, 2014

Low Plains Early Zone: Oct. 4-5, 2014

Low Plains Late Zone: Oct. 25-26, 2014

Low Plains Southeast Zone: Nov. 1-2, 2014

(Bag limits for the youth seasons are the same as during the regular seasons and include ducks, geese, coots and mergansers.)


Season:  Oct. 11-Dec. 8, 2014 AND Dec. 20, 2014-Jan. 25, 2015

Area open: High Plains Zone*

Daily bag limit: 6**

Possession limit: Three times the daily bag limit


Season: Oct. 11-Dec. 7, 2014 AND Dec. 20, 2014-Jan. 4, 2015

Area open: Early Zone*

Daily bag limit: 6**

Possession limit: Three times the daily bag limit


Season: Nov. 1, 2014-Jan. 4, 2015 AND Jan. 17-25, 2015

Area open: Late Zone*

Daily bag limit: 6**

Possession limit: Three times the daily bag limit


Season: Nov. 8-9, 2014 AND Nov. 15, 2014-Jan. 25, 2015

Area open: Southeast Zone*

Daily bag limit: 6**

Possession limit: Three times the daily bag limit

*A map showing duck zone boundaries is included in the 2014 Kansas Hunting and Furhavesting Regulations Summary or can be viewed at www.ksoutdoors.com

**The daily bag limit on ducks is six, which may include no more than five mallards, of which only two may be hens; three wood ducks; three scaup; two pintails; two redheads; and one canvasback. Possession limit is three times the daily bag limit.

For more information on Kansas duck hunting, visit www.ksoutdoors.com and click “Hunting/ Hunting Regulations/Migratory Birds.”