Kansas boasts an impressive variety of bird species while providing essential stopover sites for lots of migrating shorebirds. This state can often surprise birders thanks to its unique geography and diversity of landscapes. It’s home to wide grasslands, forested parkland, and large water reservoirs. You can easily explore the eastern parts of Kansas to find interesting birds and then visit the western regions to discover a completely different selection of avian life. If you’re ready to watch for the best birds in Kansas, this article can help.
We’ll show you some highlight species of the Sunflower State but first, let’s check out some essential gear for successful birding:
A good pair of binoculars can make a significant difference when it comes to the enjoyment of your bird observations. It’s recommended to choose a trusted brand and a model that’s more specifically designed for outdoor pursuits. A solid example is the Celestron Nature DX birding binocular.
- Field Guide
Thanks to smartphone apps, it’s no longer essential nowadays to invest in a paper-based field guide. However, if you want a more authentic birding experience, it’s still the more recommended option, especially considering how there’s no need to worry about battery life. Check out this field guide that contains all the vital information about Kansas birds and the best hot spots to visit.
- Waterproof Backpack
If you’re adventuring in high-precipitation regions of Kansas, it’s worth getting a heavy-duty backpack with reliable waterproof abilities. This model from Earth Pak is one of the best options for multiple outdoor activities. It can protect your delicate birdwatching gear while providing plenty of storage and ergonomic features.
1. Greater Prairie-Chicken
Many birders come to visit the state of Kansas just for the chance to see the memorable mating performance of a greater prairie-chicken. While this bird has experienced a considerable decline in numbers due to habitat loss, it can still be seen without too many difficulties at a traditional lek. Males can be admired during their characteristic displays involving raised feathers and expanded orange air sacs. It’s not surprising that the breeding areas of greater prairie-chickens are often called booming ground considering the distinctive sound created by the bird.
2. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
There are many birding hotspots in Kansas where you can observe the attractive scissor-tailed flycatcher. This bird will quickly grab all the attention thanks to its distinctively long and forked tail. It’s not just for show though as the tail has an important aerodynamic purpose when it comes to making sharp twists and turns in midair during insect hunting. The best time to get a good look at this type of flycatcher is in the summer when numerous birds visit the state to breed. You can also spot their characteristic silhouette and salmon-pink flanks in early spring when scissor-tailed flycatchers migrate.
3. Rose-breasted Grosbeak
With a distinctive voice and colorful appearance, the rose-breasted grosbeak is another great bird to see in Kansas. This foliage gleaner tends to spend most of its time in forest edges and woodlands. You can recognize it by its red chest and hefty bill but keep in mind that only the male birds show such distinguishing features. Females are much plainer with a streaked neutral-toned plumage. Listen for the rose-breasted grosbeak’s sweet singing or squeaky calls to get a chance of spotting one.
4. Western Meadowlark
A buoyant bird with many interesting characteristics, the western meadowlark has an important year-round presence in most parts of Kansas. This species is part of the blackbird family and shows off a bright yellow throat and chest with a black collar. Despite its great abundance, the western meadowlark isn’t particularly easy to spot in its natural grassland habitat. It feeds on the ground while the spotted brown look overall helps the bird to stay more inconspicuous. Flocks can be detected more effectively by listening for the flutelike melody of the bird.
5. Whooping Crane
A rare occurrence in Kansas, the whooping crane is a critically endangered bird that might be spotted together with more common cranes during migration. It’s a challenging species to find but birders visiting certain wildlife refuges in the state can get lucky enough to see it. Whooping cranes are considered the tallest birds on the continent and show off a particularly elegant courtship dance. Identification involves checking for a crimson cap and black wingtips visible in flight. You can also listen for its distinctive bugling call.
6. American White Pelican
If you like watching large birds, you can’t miss the American white pelican during a Kansas birding trip. This is an impressive bird to see soaring or scooping up fish on the water. This type of pelican is a common sight at the state’s lakes during its migration period. It’s worth keeping your eyes peeled to check the skies for large flocks of big pelicans. They tend to soar fairly high up so it’s important to invest in more performant binoculars to get a proper view.
7. American Bittern
The reedy marshes of Kansas provide the right ecosystem for populations of American bitterns. These streaky brown birds blend incredibly well in their habitat, especially when sitting still to stalk prey. The spring and summer seasons are ideal for getting a good look at an American bittern. Listen for its strange booming call to be able to find the bird’s more specific location. Even though this is a fairly abundant species, it’s surprisingly challenging to see properly for many birders. The bitterns are very secretive and it can take some luck to see past their camouflage.
8. Mississippi Kite
With a streamlined silhouette and slender gray-white body, the Mississippi kite is a common visitor in Kansas during the summer breeding season. This is a sleek raptor that’s quite spectacular to watch when it hunts insects midair. It’s also very protective of the nest tree so you might be able to spot a kite trying to chase away intruders. Not a solitary bird, the Mississippi kite prefers hunting together with others and living in colonies. Though the birds live in open woodlands, they can be sometimes found in urban areas like city parks.
9. Black Rail
Kansas could be a good location for birders searching for extremely rare species like the elusive black rail. It’s not just the reduced population and restricted range but this bird is also blending very well in dense marshes. You’re facing quite the challenge if you decide to search for the scarce black rail. The best hope for locating this probing bird is to listen for its specific call sounds. Check some wetland areas in Kansas at night to increase your chances of finding it. The spring season looks to be the best time for finding a black rail.
10. Stilt Sandpiper
Stilt sandpipers are elegant shorebirds that prefer freshwater habitats. This species breeds in the arctic region and winters in Central America. Therefore, the best time to spot a stilt sandpiper in the US is during the migration period happening in the spring and fall seasons. Kansas is an ideal place to get a good view of this sandpiper. If you can see shorter-legged dowitchers, it’s safe to say that this similar species is nearby. Stilt sandpipers are long-distance migrants wading in shallow waters for their food.
11. Forster’s Tern
The Forster’s tern is a widespread bird that can be seen in Kansas during migration. It flies on silvery wings while spends most of its time in marshes and lakes. This short-legged tern can be identified by its forked tail and characteristic black eye patch. Compared to more common terns, this species shows off a longer tail. It’s usually easier to see Forster’s terns in the winter along coastal beaches but there are many marshy regions of Kansas that act as good stopovers when the birds are migrating.
12. Peregrine Falcon
If you want to observe a spectacular raptor, the peregrine falcon is quite the sight during hunting. It feeds on other birds while engaging in fast aerial dives. The peregrine falcon is now widespread in North America though it used to be almost eradicated due to pesticide poisoning. Migratory falcons will visit some important birding hotspots in Kansas so you can admire their skillful hunting. Birds have been noted to reach incredible speeds when dropping toward their prey.
13. Prothonotary Warbler
A brilliantly colored warbler, the prothonotary species deserves a good look if you explore the forests of Kansas. Prothonotary warblers enjoy mostly swampy woodlands in the Southeast but can also hang around forests along rivers. This is a heavy-bodied warbler that shows off a vibrant yellow appearance. The black eye of the bird creates strong contrast with the golden plumage. Look for prothonotary warblers in the southeast regions of Kansas. Search through the understory of the forest as this tiny bird can often stay hidden there. This warbler is known to be attracted to nest boxes.
14. Loggerhead Shrike
A fierce songbird that can be found mostly year-round in the state of Kansas, the loggerhead shrike is an interesting discovery for any birder. Though the populations of this small raptor bird have experienced a considerable drop, it’s still fairly common to see in open country. Look for the bird’s dark mask and distinctive gray-and-white body. Loggerhead shrikes are not difficult to spot visually considering how they tend to perch in conspicuous locations. During hunting, this bird can sometimes hover above its prey like a larger raptor. That aspect, together with the reduced size, can give you an important identification clue.
15. Bald Eagle
The bald eagle is an emblematic bird that can be seen soaring in solitude or gathering in larger flocks in the cold season. There are many good areas in Kansas to see this regal bird of prey but it’s recommended to check along bodies of water in the winter. Bald eagles are not truly bald but the white head contrasts quite strongly with the darker tone of the body. This bird of prey is quite majestic to watch during flying. It soars on very broad wings. The tail of the eagle has a matching white look as the head.
16. Great Blue Heron
Birders looking for herons won’t be disappointed when visiting Kansas. The marshes and riverbanks of the state can provide lots of attractive bird sights, including the great blue heron. This stately bird isn’t brightly colored but it does have a subtle steel-gray look with a noticeable blue tinge. The most colorful part is the long orangish bill. Another elegant feature of the great blue heron is the presence of head plumes. This wading bird primarily hunts for fish in the water but will sometimes visit open fields to feed.
17. Western Kingbird
Widespread in the western part of the US, this kingbird features a colorful blend of yellow and gray for its plumage. It’s commonly encountered in Kansas during the summer in various open habitats. Western kingbirds are large-bodied flycatchers that can be quite easily recognized by the yellow belly, long tail, and hefty bill. This bird is always looking for insects and tends to sit in fairly conspicuous perching locations. The western kingbird is known for its more aggressive attitude towards potential intruders into their territories. It can be more easily identified by birders when listening for the bird’s squeaky calls.
18. Baltimore Oriole
Baltimore orioles are a familiar sight throughout eastern US regions. These birds boast a beautiful whistling song and a vibrant orange plumage. Search for them in Kansas during the spring and summer seasons. While male orioles are great singers, females can be best admired when crafting their characteristic hanging nest. If you want to catch a sight of a Baltimore oriole, it’s important to explore its natural open woodland habitat. The bird tends to sit perched in the upper foliage of trees so it’s recommended to get your hands on high-quality binoculars to spot it.
19. Double-crested Cormorant
With an iridescent snaky neck, double-crested cormorants delight birders everywhere during their expert diving to catch fish. The birds have a fairly widespread presence throughout the US but it depends on the season whether you might be able to see it. The lakes of Kansas can be populated by double-crested cormorants when the birds are migrating. You can also find them during the winter but only in southeastern parts of the state. The matte-black cormorants will often get their wings spread out to dry after water diving sessions.
20. Cinnamon Teal
True to its name, the Cinnamon teal duck shows off a reddish appearance that helps it blend in its reedy wetland habitat. Only the breeding male bird has the distinctive look that gives the name of the species. It has a cinnamon-colored plumage and a striking red eye whereas the female shows a patterned brown body and a black eye. Cinnamon teal ducks are visitors in the state of Kansas during the migration season. The long and wide bill is a distinctive feature useful for separating the bird from similar species after it molts the breeding plumage.
21. Wood Duck
Winters in Kansas can be great for birders looking to observe wood ducks. Many people view them as the most beautiful of all waterfowl and it’s not hard to see why. The male wood duck shows an intricately colorful plumage with an elegant iridescent crest. The body of the duck is quite boldly marked as well. The female is less impressive but it shows a notable white teardrop and a dark blue wing patch. Finding wood ducks shouldn’t be that hard as long as you visit wooded swamps or marshes. They can be seen along lakes as well but the birds will usually stick close to the shore.
22. Northern Harrier
Fairly easy to recognize even from far away, the northern harrier keeps its wings in a distinctive V-shape during flight. This is a type of hawk whose face resembles the appearance of an owl. It hunts mice and voles while being encountered year-round throughout Kansas. The northern harrier stands out compared to other raptors so it’s often the target of birders. This slim bird is usually observed when gliding low over fields and open grasslands. While both males and females show long tails, the males have a grayish plumage compared to the browner female birds.
23. Bell’s Vireo
One particularly energetic vireo, the Bell’s species can add some life to many scrub habitats. This is a breeding bird in Kansas so you can expect to see it regularly in the summer when searching through shrubs and thickets. Bell’s vireos are gray-and-brown birds that sing very frequently. The small size and preferred environments make the bird easier to hear before getting a good view. Listen for the characteristic song performed by the male vireo on an early morning. To distinguish it from similar-looking birds, check for this species’ unique tail movements.
24. Horned Lark
Birders looking for rare larks should consider exploring the grasslands of Kansas to search for this species. The horned lark is a permanent resident in the state. It stands out compared to similar birds thanks to the tiny black hornlike feathers on the male’s head. There’s also a black mask that contrasts with the yellow patch on the bird’s face. Female birds are more plain showing off a paler body compared to the male. Horned larks are ground foragers and can be hard to spot in a large empty field unless they face towards you.
25. Glaucous Gull
The glaucous gull is just one of the rare gulls that can visit the state’s large reservoirs. It breeds in the arctic and is one of the largest gulls in the world. You’ll most likely see glaucous gulls in their nonbreeding plumage that’s made of mostly white feathers streaked with brown spots. This heavy-bodied gull shows white wingtips. It has a very diverse diet that includes fish, fruit, insects, and even other seabirds. A notable aspect of the glaucous gull that sets it apart from other species is the way pairs form very strong bonds.
26. Red-bellied Woodpecker
Kansas is home to many species of woodpeckers. One particularly attractive one to observe year-round is the red-bellied woodpecker. It’s quite impressive visually considering the barred back and bright red nape. Males stand out a bit more as red feathers are also found at the top of their heads forming a red crown. Similar to other woodpeckers, the red-bellied species prefers living in forests. Check along the main branches of trees as these birds tend to sit at middle heights. Listen for the distinctive call of this woodpecker that’s more frequently performed in the spring and summer.
27. Eastern Screech-Owl
Despite producing spooky sounds at night, eastern screech-owls are really small and so well camouflaged that can be easily missed even when looking straight at its nook. These nocturnal predators have different morphs such as gray and red. The owl has a considerably widespread presence in Kansas. You can pretty much look for it in any forested regions. Although the mysterious trill of the eastern screech-owl helps a lot with the discovery of the bird, you can also use a different method. Listen for sounds made by numerous alerted songbirds trying to chase away an owl.
28. Greater Scaup
Although heading to the coast represents the best way to see greater scaups, it’s good to know that smaller populations can also be found visiting inland lakes and ponds. This duck differs from the lesser scaup just by the head shape. Greater scaups have a rounded head. You can find this bird in Kansas during the winter in migration periods. Males show greenish iridescence on the head while female birds have a warm brown head with a white patch. Male greater scaups have white flanks and a gray back whereas females are dressed in brown overall.
29. Scaled Quail
Although scaled quails are more widespread in southwestern deserts, the bird’s range extends to a few select locations in Kansas where it resides permanently. This is a game bird with a very interesting look. True to its name, the quail has elegant scaling on the upper body and belly. Another distinctive characteristic is the peaked crest. Scaled quails live in groups and are quite fearful of people or other intruders. Sparsely vegetated grasslands are some of the best environments to search for these birds. They’re not as common as they used to be so it’s worth relying on the male’s singing to guide you to the bird’s location.
30. Indigo Bunting
Elegantly clad with bright blue feathers, indigo buntings are often sought by birders looking for colorful birds. Kansas provides multiple open woodland habitats for them to use as breeding grounds in the summer. Indigo buntings are fairly widespread in eastern North America. They sing quite frequently and feed on insects. Keep in mind that only breeding males will be easily recognized by their rich blue plumage. Females or juvenile males have a brownish appearance with only very subtle blue tinges on the wings and tail.