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Record numbers of whooping cranes coming


Last updated 10/25/2010 at Noon

Staff Report


AUSTIN – Things are looking up for the endangered whooping crane. The

bird made news two years ago when a record number of crane deaths were

reported during drought conditions on the Texas coast. But according to

state and federal biologists, flock numbers have rebounded, and a new

record high number of cranes should start arriving on the Texas coast

later this month.

Texas’ winter flock of whooping cranes (the birds summer and nest in

northwestern Canada in Wood Buffalo National Park) represents the last

remaining “natural” flock of whooping cranes in the wild, and, according

to Lee Ann Linam, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologist, Texas

plays an important role in the species’ future recovery.

Whooping cranes winter in wetlands along a section of the Texas coast

ranging from approximately Seadrift to Rockport, including at the

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Linam notes that public and private

landowners within the region are collaborating in habitat management

efforts for whooping cranes, but potential threats still exist, such as

oil spills, coastal development, and reduced freshwater inflows.

According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biologist Tom Stehn, the

Aransas-Wood Buffalo population of whooping cranes rebounded to 264 in

the winter of 2009-10, back from 247 at the end of the 2008-09 winter.

With 46 chicks fledging from a record 74 nests in August 2010 the flock

size should reach record levels this fall — expected to be somewhere

around 290. Once numbering only 21 birds on earth, the previous

population high was 270 in the fall of 2009.

“Under good conditions, Texas’ coastal wetlands provide a variety and

abundance of food and fresh water that normally lead to excellent

survival of whoopers over the winter,” Linam said. “Such excellent

winter survival has greatly aided the species’ amazing comeback.”

Texas also plays an important role in conserving whooping cranes as

they migrate through the state. The cranes usually pass through a

migration corridor that extends from the Texas

Panhandle eastward to

Dallas-Fort Worth and southward to the central coast wintering grounds.

Their flight path would take them over cities such as Wichita Falls,

Fort Worth, Waco, Austin, and Victoria. The majority of the cranes pass

south through Texas from late October through the end of November.

Whooping cranes are the tallest birds in North America, standing over

four feet tall. They are solid white in color except for black

wing-tips visible only in flight. They fly with necks and legs

outstretched. During migration they often pause overnight to use

wetlands for roosting and agricultural fields for feeding, but seldom

remain more than one night. They nearly always migrate in small groups

of less than four-to-five birds, but they may be seen roosting and

feeding with large flocks of smaller sandhill cranes. Hunters are

advised to learn to tell the difference between whooping cranes and

sandhill cranes, a popular game bird.

Whooping cranes are protected by federal and state endangered species

laws, and Texans can help safeguard this national treasure by helping

to prevent harm or harassment to whooping cranes. Anyone sighting a

whooping crane is asked to report it to Texas Parks and Wildlife

Department at (800) 792-1112, extension 4644 or (512) 847-9480.

Sightings can also be reported via e-mail at [email protected].


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