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Record Numbers of Whooping Cranes Expected This Fall
AUSTIN, Texas — Record numbers of the endangered whooping crane, arguably the state’s most famous “winter Texan,” are expected to arrive in South Texas this winter. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports record production this summer with the North American population exceeding 500 for the first time in 100 years.
If migration goes well, 230 whooping cranes, including 40 chicks, should reach the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge compared with 220 last winter. About 10 birds were lost during migration last fall. Everyone is encouraged to report sightings of these large white birds with dark wing tips to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department or the USFWS.
This is the second year TPWD is offering a new tool for sportsmen to help protect whooping cranes and other similar birds. “Be Sure Before You Shoot” is a video training tool designed to help goose and sandhill crane hunters make correct identification in the field and avoid take of non-game birds.
Shooting deaths of whooping cranes are rare (seven whoopers from the Texas flock are known to have been shot since 1968), due in large part to efforts by state and federal agencies to make sportsmen and other citizens aware of the protected status of the whooping crane. While brochures and web sites have been used to educate hunters and the public in the past, “Be Sure Before You Shoot” is the first product to offer side-by-side identification tips for sportsmen in a video format.
The Aransas-Wood Buffalo flock of whooping cranes, which nests in the Northwest Territories of Canada and winters on the mid-Texas coast in the Rockport-Seadrift area, once numbered as low as 15 birds in 1941.
According to Lee Ann Linam, TPWD biologist, “The success story for this endangered species is truly remarkable and is due to cooperative efforts over many years by federal agencies, states, private conservation organizations, private landowners, and sportsmen. However, due to a variety of hazards, migration is the most vulnerable period for whooping cranes. We hope that this video will help increase the safety margin just a bit as whoopers make that 2,500 mile trip south from Canada.”
Hunters and bird watchers should be on the lookout for whooping cranes migrating through Texas from mid-October through mid-December. Their migratory path can range from the eastern half of the Texas Panhandle, through the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, and south through Austin and Central Texas.
Whooping cranes are the tallest birds in North America, standing nearly five feet tall. They are solid white in color except for black wing-tips that are 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, according to Linam, but seldom remain more than one night. She said the birds nearly always migrate in small groups of less than six birds, but they may be seen roosting and feeding with large flocks of the smaller gray sandhill crane.
Anyone sighting a whooping crane is asked to report it to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department at (800) 792-1112 x4644. Sightings can also be reported via e-mail to email@example.com. Copies of the 17-minute “Be Sure Before You Shoot” DVD are available for $10 (including shipping) from: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, 3000 So. IH-35, Suite 100, Austin, TX 78704. Checks should be made payable to TPWD Nongame Fund. For more information on the video contact Lee Ann Linam at 512-847-9480 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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