A million migratory birds will find dust in the wetlands of Kansas

Large swaths of Kansas that are normally green and lush are bone dry due to the drought, which is expected to affect many bird species that migrate through the area.

Cheyenne Bottoms in Kansas is the largest inland wetland in the United States and is located about 110 miles northwest of Wichita.

Stock photo of a Canada goose flying over the Wakarusa wetlands in Kansas. Cheyenne Bottoms wetlands, also important for migratory birds, are almost completely dry due to drought.
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And in 2022, the wetlands are almost completely dry because there has been almost no water since June.

“We’re 100 percent dry. There’s no water on the property,” said Jason Wagner, wildlife area manager for Cheyenne Bottoms. The Wichita Eagle. “It’s kind of the perfect storm this year.”

Kansas Drought and Dead Cattle

The U.S. Drought Monitor shows that as of Nov. 15, more than a third of the entire state of Kansas is in “Extreme Drought,” the highest level the monitor measures. The rest of the state ranges from “Extremely Dry” to “Extremely Dry,” with zero percent of Kansas experiencing such conditions.

These conditions are believed to be caused by a combination of unusually low precipitation and high temperatures: a Kansas State University report shows that the third quarter of 2022 was the second driest since records began in southeast Kansas in 1895. A record in south-central Kansas.

These extremely dry and hot weather conditions have led to the massive loss of animals, including livestock. In July 2022, more than 2,000 cattle were reported to have died from the heat in a few days.

USDM Kansas drought
US Drought Monitor image of drought conditions affecting Kansas as of November 15, 2022. Large parts of the state, which are usually green and lush, are bone dry due to drought.
US Drought Monitor / Brad Rippey / US Department of Agriculture

Cheyenne Bottoms: Important Birding Pit Stop

Desiccation of the Cheyenne Bottoms, a resting place for 750,000 to 1 million birds each year during their annual southward migration, will also have a wide impact on wildlife.

Tom Langen, professor of wetland ecology at Clarkson University in New York, said Newsweek: “Kansas wetlands are especially important for migratory shorebirds, waterfowl, cranes, and other waterfowl. Shorebirds and waterfowl thrive in the Arctic tundra, swamps, or steppe regions of the great boreal forest belt.

“They stop in Kansas because the marshes are wide, shallow, full of small worms and other invertebrates that provide food that shorebirds need and seeds that some waterfowl feed on,” Langen said.

“Then the birds head south to the Gulf Coast, Central and South America, and some to Chile and Argentina. They also use the Kansas marshes on their way back in the spring.”

In 2022, there is no normal flow to wetlands.

“Our bird numbers are nothing [this year]”, Wagner said. “A lot of them don’t even stop because they have nothing to stop.”

cheyenne bottom
Stock photo of migrating blackbirds in Cheyenne Bottoms, Kansas. In 2022, the herds will find dust instead of water due to the ongoing drought.
iStock/Getty Images Plus

Depending on the species, the lack of this pitstop can seriously affect many birds.

“Many long-distance migratory birds depend on stopovers to ‘refuel’ by eating enough to rest and obtain enough fat to fuel the next leg of the journey. As birds fly, they can only store so much fat to last the entire journey. This , especially for smaller birds. That’s why safe, nutrient-rich roosts are so important,” Langen said.

said Lisa Webb, cooperative associate professor and assistant division chief of the United States Geological Survey Missouri Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Division. Newsweek: “Less available/submerged wetlands may mean birds have to fly further or rely on sub-optimal habitats. Flight is an expensive, energetic activity and therefore flying longer distances between stops may deplete birds’ energy reserves and can make them vulnerable to predation or other sources of mortality.

“Even if the birds are able to complete the migration, the energy loss from having to fly longer distances without stopping can leave them with less energy reserves to survive the winter,” Webb added.

Without resting sites, birds will not be able to reach the next available source of food and water, and if they do, these sites will be very crowded.

Langen said, “Birds will become denser in the wetlands in the rest of the stand. Food competition is fierce and there is usually less cover, so the risk of predation by raptors, coyotes and other predators is increased.

“Overcrowding can lead to outbreaks of avian botulism and other diseases. Thus, again, survival is reduced. Those that survive the migration trip may have lower nesting success the next breeding season due to the physiological stress of inadequate stopovers.”

If this drought continues for several years, the populations of some of the affected migratory species may decline.

flying bird
Stock photo of a wading bird in the Kansas marshes. Drought reduced some such environments to dust in 2022.
iStock/Getty Images Plus

Langen said: “Prolonged drought may lead to population declines in some long-distance migrants, but this really depends on whether there are alternative migration sites.

“On a large scale, regional long-term droughts, such as those experienced in the Plains and throughout the American West, are likely to result in population declines due to inadequate availability of high-quality habitat and overcrowding in those that remain.” he added.

“However, other stressors may be synergistic. In particular, rapid climate warming in the Arctic and boreal forests is changing the ecology of those regions, and this is likely to affect shorebird and waterfowl populations in ways we cannot yet predict. The combined effects are climate change on breeding grounds. change and the reduction of wetlands in nomadic stops are of concern to conservationists.”

However, Webb said all is not lost for these migratory birds, as their ability to fly gives them greater flexibility than land-dwelling animals.

“In the short term, drought is unlikely to cause bird species extinction. Although drought will affect some individuals, waders are flexible and opportunistic foragers during migration, and sufficient numbers are likely to survive to sustain the population,” he added.

“In the long term, it is unclear how drought affects migratory wetland birds. In the absence of wetlands for long periods of time, birds could shift their migration routes and distribution to parts of the country with more reliable water and food resources,” Webb said.

When will the Kansas drought end?

Meteorologists aren’t sure how long this drought will last, though past droughts in Kansas have lasted several years.

During the 1930s, periods of drought-induced dust storms in the Great Plains states, including Kansas, are thought to last up to eight years. The Cheyenne Bottoms last dried out in 2013, but were refilled by late spring rain before the fall migration season.

However, Jeff Hutton, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Dodge City, told High Plains Public Radio in August that drought periods like these are expected, and farmers and other affected parties simply have to wait for the natural cycle of the weather.

“They know they’re going to have to endure these bad years,” Hutton said, “before we get back on the good gravy train.”

Many climate scientists say extreme weather events like the drought in Kansas will get worse over time because of the effects of climate change.

Auroop Ganguly, director of Boston Northeastern University’s Sustainability and Data Science Lab, said earlier. Newsweek“On the hydrometeorological hazards side, heat waves are getting hotter and more predictable — getting hotter, colder temperatures persisting if less frequently, heavy precipitation getting heavier, and so on.

“Impacts could be wide-ranging across many sectors, such as ecosystems and coastal processes, aspects of the water-energy-food nexus, infrastructure and urban lifelines,” Ganguly said.

Do you have an animal or nature story to share? Newsweek? Have a question about drought and animals? Let us know via science@newsweek.com.

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