Johnson County

County Seat: Olathe
County Size: 480 Square miles
County Checklist Species: 339
DeLorme pages 40 & 53

Google Maps of Johnson County

Johnson County is part of the greater Kansas City metropolitan area. The northeastern part of the county is heavily populated and developed. As you travel south and west the land opens to agriculture and grassland usage. The numerous city planners fit many small parks and streamway trails into their cities that provide numerous areas to watch wildlife even in densely populated areas.

Some of the best birds that have been found in the county include many Kansas rarities. Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Red-throated Loon, Red-necked Grebe, Neotropic Cormorant, Black Vulture, Swallow-tailed Kite, Laughing Gull, Mew Gull, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Violet-green Swallow, Cave Swallow, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Townsend’s Solitaire, Swainson’s Warbler, Green-tailed Towhee, Black-throated Sparrow, and Lesser Goldfinch.

Birding Locations 

1. - Antioch Park – Located at 6501 Antioch in Merriam, Kansas. Antioch Park is Johnson County’s oldest park. This small 44 acre park is home to the Johnson County Parks and Recreation registration buildings for the host of activities they provide in Johnson County. It contains two small fishing lakes, hiking trails, large playground areas, tennis and basketball courts, a rose garden/arboretum, restrooms, picnic areas, and four picnic shelters.

This is one of the premier spots to visit during spring migration. Nearly all of the eastern Kansas Neotropic migrants have been seen in the park. It is not unusual to have a list of 50 or more species in a morning walk during early to mid May. Best spots are found along the dam, along the south shore, and crossing the wooden bridge at the upper end of the south lake. The fence line and marsh on the north side of the park can have a variety of species. Feeders behind the rest rooms attract a variety of sparrows in the winter and once enticed a Pine Warbler to spend the winter eating millet. (These are used intermittently depended on the staff to keep them filled.)

To get to Antioch Park from Shawnee Mission Parkway and I-35 travel east to the first major intersection (Antioch) and turn south. The entrance is at the bottom of the hill on the east side. There are two entrances with the south entrance usually closed during the winter.

The park is open 5 am to 11 pm from March to October and 7:30 am to 8 pm from November to February.

For more information on Antioch Park you can visit their website at:

2. Ernie Miller Park – Located at 909 N. Highway 7, in Olathe, Kansas. Ernie Miller Park consists of 116 acres with three miles of walking trails, a picnic shelter, an amphitheater, and Johnson County’s first nature center. The center has interpretive displays, live animal displays, many nature programs presented by the knowledgeable staff, and a bird feeder station behind the center.

The trails wind through an upland forest habitat with a small pond and a creek that attracts birds. Although many eastern woodland species nest here the big draw is neotropic migrants during spring and fall migration.  

Park hours are from dawn to dusk. The centers hours vary and can be viewed at their web site: along with the many programs and presentations geared especially for families.

3. Heritage Park – Located at 16050 Pflumm in Olathe, Kansas. Heritage Park is a 1238 acre park that has a 40 acre lake, a 30 acre off lease dog park, stables, an 18 hole golf course, baseball, football, and soccer fields, a marina with pedal boat and sailboat rental, restrooms, and 10 picnic shelters.

The lake attracts a wide variety of waterfowl in the spring and fall with many species staying into winter if the lake doesn’t freeze over. Hiking trails loop through a wide variety of habitats which attract numerous species from sparrows in the fall and winter to neotropic migrants in the spring and fall. Many of the eastern breeding species spend the summer here. The upper end of the lake attracts terns during migration more than any other spot in Johnson County. (During the drought of 2012 the lakes upper end had exposed mudflats that attracted a variety of shorebirds.)

The park is open 5 am to 11 pm from March through September and 7:30 am to 8:00 pm from October through February.

For more information on Heritage Park you can visit their website at:

4. KCPL Wetlands – Located south of Highway 56 and Waverly in Gardner, Kansas. The Wetlands was built to improve water quality to Big Bull Creek and Hillsdale Lake (see Miami County) and as an education center. There is a viewing blind, three water impoundments, and walking trails along the dikes.

This 55 acre park is the only reliable shorebird habitat in Johnson County when the water is managed for mudflat habitat in the spring and fall. Large concentrations of waterfowl can be found here when deeper water is available in the late fall and early spring. Some of the rarities for the county include American Bittern, Virginia Rail, Least Tern, Marbled and Hudsonian Godwit, Short-billed Dowitcher, Black-necked Stilt, Ruddy Turnstone, Red-necked Phalarope, Sprague’s Pipit, and Yellow-headed Blackbird. Nesting boxes have been provided for Tree Swallows that line the ponds.

To reach the wetlands from the east take I-35 to the Highway 56 Gardner exit. Continue west all the way through town. Just after the speed limit increases you will turn left on Waverly. The wetlands is on the left after the first railroad crossing.

The wetlands area is open dawn to dusk.

For more information you can visit the website at:

5. Killcreek Park – Located near 116th and Homestead in Olathe, Kansas. This is one of Johnson County’s newest parks being built in 2001. Killcreek Park has 17 miles of walking, mountain bike, and equestrian trails, a 28 acre lake with swimming beach, a marina with canoe, pedal boat, and fishing boat rentals in the summer, a playground, and 4 picnic shelters.

Killcreek Park is one of the quieter parks in the area as it is in a remote area of Olathe.

The varied habitat in the park ranges from prairie, riparian and deciduous forest, a lake, and wetlands.  Most of the nesting songbirds in Johnson County can be found here as well as neotropic migrants in the spring and fall. It is a nice place to study Eastern and Western Meadowlarks side by side in the winter. Least Bittern have been found in the wetlands at the upper end of the lake. A walk along Kill Creek is recommended as the trail has riparian habitat on one side and grassland on the other You can find nesting Barred Owls, numerous warblers, vireos, and flycatchers in the spring. A fall walk can also find many of the expected wintering species such as sparrows, Brown Creeper, nuthatches and kinglets. 

To reach Killcreek Park take the Killcreek Road exit off Highway 10. Travel south to 115th St, turn right to Homestead, turn left, and the park entrance is at the top of the first hill.

For more information visit their website at:

6. Mill Creek Streamway Trail – The Millcreek Streamway Trail is a 17 mile trail that follows Mill Creek as it meanders from Olathe north to the Kansas River at Nelson Island. There are eight access points along the length of the trail. There are three picnic shelters located along the trail. Many different species can be located along the trail as it passes through grasslands, riparian habit, ponds, marshes, and over the creek. Some of the best accesses are the two in Shawnee Mission Park, the Midland Drive access, and the Wilder Drive access where the north end of the trail ends on Nelson Island along the Kansas River. A wide variety of birds can be found at any season including ducks, herons, owls, flycatchers, vireos, warblers, sparrows, and finches. The winter of 2012-13 brought many rare gulls to the Kansas River viewed from Nelson Island including Kuemlien’s Iceland, Lesser Black-backed, Glaucous, and Thayer’s.

WARNING: This is a popular bicycle trail. Some riders travel very fast along sections of the trail. The trail runs along a main line of the Burlington Northern/Santa Fe railroad. There are tunnels under the tracks and road crossings where it can be very loud.

For more information you can visit their website at:

* There are several other streamway trails including Tomahawk Creek along Mission Road in Leawood, KS, and Turkey Creek between 75th Street and Johnson Drive in Mission, KS that attracts many of the same species and are relaxing walks.

7. - Olathe Lake -  Located at 625 Lakeshore Drive, Olathe, KS. Olathe Lake is a 170 acre lake surrounded by a 208 acre park. Located in western Olathe. There are three small picnic shelters and one large picnic shelter, a playground, two fishing docks, a handicap accessible fishing pier, and a boat ramp.

The lake was developed in 1959 as a water source for the City of Olathe. Since then it has attracted birders especially for water birds in the spring and fall. The first Black-bellied Whistling Ducks for the county were found here in 2008. Loons, grebes, waterfowl including the rare scoters, and all the expected neotropic migrants and nesting county birds can be found here.

For more information visit their website at: http//

8. Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens – Located at W 179th Street, Overland Park, KS. The 300 acre Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens is located in southern Overland Park. It has a visitor’s center, a café, nearly five miles of trails, a small pond, a shelter house, and a botanical gardens where a large variety of plants, flowers, trees and shrubs native to the area can be viewed and evaluated.

The arboretum has been a birding hotspot long before the gardens was developed. The chip trails lead along Wolf Creek and has some of the best riparian habitat in the county.

This is one of a few areas in the county to support nesting Pileated Woodpeckers. The main attraction to birding the arboretum is the number of warblers, vireos, flycatchers, and other neotropic migrants that visit the area. Birdfeeders can be found near the visitor’s center and a birdfeeder station with an observation house near the creek attracts many species year round.

*As of January 2013 there is an admission charge of $3.00 per adult and $1.00 children 6-12.

Hours of operation are April 10 to September 30 from 8 am to 7:30 pm  and Oct 1 to April 9 from 8am to 5 pm .

For more information you can visit their website at: http//

9. Prairie Center – Located at 26235 W 135th St, Olathe, KS. The Prairie Center consists of 300 acres of tallgrass prairie and riparian habitat.  The primary goal is to provide a preserve where prairie habitat can thrive and to educate the public about the ecology of prairies. Access is restricted to the trails cut through the prairie and a few gathering places. The preserve is open daily dawn to dusk for walking the trails or fishing in the small lake. Henslow’s Sparrow, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Yellow-billed Cuckoo have all nested at this fine area.   

For more information you can visit their website at:

10. Shawnee Mission Park – Located at 7900 Renner Road, Shawnee, KS. Shawnee Mission Park is one of Johnson County’s oldest parks. Dedicated in 1964 it consists of 1250 acres including a pond and a 120 acre lake. The park has several playgrounds, 12 picnic shelters, An 18 hole Frisbee golf course, an archery range, a 53 acre dog off leash area with a dog beach, and several hiking trails. A swimming beach and a marina with canoe, kayak, and paddle boat rental are open in the summer months.

This is one of the premier parks for watching wildlife at anytime of year. A variety of habitats ranging from the lake to prairie to deciduous and riparian forests leads to a wide variety of birds seen in the park. Most of the nesting species in the county are found within the parks boundaries. The park bird list includes a loop below the dam of the Mill Creek Streamway Trail and is currently 254 species. Mammals seen in the park include Bobcat, Coyote, Beaver, Woodchuck, and numerous White-tailed Deer.

Some of the best places to bird are the Walnut Grove and nature trail, the lake, the observation tower during migration, the small pond area, along the boardwalk at the upper end of the lake, and below the dam along the Mill Creek Streamway Trail.

Many of the counties rarities come from the park including Cinnamon Teal, Barrow’s Goldeneye, all three scoters, Red-throated Loon, Neotropic Cormorant, Laughing Gull, Mew Gull, Violet-green Swallow, Townsend’s Solitaire, Henslow’s Sparrow, and Black-headed Grosbeak.   

The park is open from 7:30 to 8:00pm November thru February and 6:00am to 11:00pm March thru October.

Permits are required for several park activities including boating, fishing, and archery.

For more information you can visit their website at: cfm

Being part of the Kansas City metropolitan area there are hundreds of birding and nature activities in the area. There are also hundreds of parks, trails, lakes and backyards in the area that are incredible birding spots not listed here. You can study the Burroughs Audubon of Greater Kansas City website for field trips in the area. Several of the wild bird stores in town have field trips each month in the metro area as well. The Kansas and Missouri birding list serves have many area participants that post their sightings each week.

Questions can be directed to

Updated February 2013 - MEL

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