Toward the end of January we are usually overwhelmed with requests for programs about Kansas animals. The reason for this is obvious: every Jan. 29 we celebrate the day that Kansas officially became the 34th state. Our Kansas programs usually focus on state animals and plants: the bison, ornate box turtle, western meadowlark, barred tiger salamander, honey bee, cottonwood tree, little blue stem and the sunflower. While these animals and plants definitely deserve recognition, there are hundreds of others out there that also play an important role in making Kansas the beautiful and diverse state that it is.

If you step outside, you are sure to see some kind of life, even in the middle of winter. The grass under your feet and the bare-branched tree off in the distance are not dead, merely sleeping. In spring they will come alive with vibrant colors and offer haven to the many animals that live in our region.

Right now, you still might be able to catch a glimpse of a sparrow, blue jay, cardinal or starling sitting in the branches of the tree. Mourning doves are also a common bird in Garden City. They are distinguished from their cousin, the pigeon, by a tan body and tail feathers that form a point in the back. If you have an old building nearby, you might be able to spot a barn owl sleeping in the rafters during the day or see him gliding silently looking for food at night. Bobwhite quail also can be found darting from one patch of tall grass to another. In fact, there are so many different types of birds that the annual winter bird count last month showed 35 different species just at the zoo and Finnup Park alone while Garden City boasted an amazing 52 different types of birds!

Aside from birds, there are a lot of terrestrial animals in Garden City, as well. Cottontail rabbits can be found in abundance all around our area. They are experts at hiding, so you may not notice them except by their tracks in the mud or snow. The same holds true for opossums and the ever-enjoyable black and white striped skunk. And I am sure that everyone with a bird feeder has witnessed a squirrel attempting to pillage the food from the hungry birds.

In spring when the weather warms up and the sun stays out longer, more animals will wake from their winter hibernation or travel back north from their warmer southern grounds. Woodhouse's toads, plains garter snakes, and many other reptiles and amphibians will dig out of their cozy burrows and once again roam the fields and pastures in search of food. Some of that food will consist of crickets, grasshoppers, worms and thousands of other invertebrates. And these are just the more common animals you will find in the western part of the state. Eastern Kansas has a whole new variety of flora and fauna thanks to the very different geography and annual precipitation.

So during this Kansas Day, make sure to get out and explore what our beautiful state has to offer. You may be surprised at the diversity that you find! Our state is so much more than bison and box turtles and sunflowers, despite how important our state symbols are. If you need a little help to get you started, be sure to stop by the Finnup Center for Conservation Education during weekdays and take a look at our Kansas exhibit, which houses a wide range of native Kansas animals. Or better yet, pick up a field guide and start your own Kansas species scavenger hunt and see how many different animals you can find. Our great state certainly won't disappoint!