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Whooping Cranes Begin Spring Migration
AUSTIN — An ancient Texas spring tradition has begun. According to federal wildlife officials, endangered whooping cranes have begun their annual 2,400-mile trek from Texas back to their breeding grounds in northwest Canada.
Biologists at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the mid-Texas coast reported seeing a family of three whoopers headed north March 8, and, by mid-March, observers along the Platte River in Nebraska, a famed stopover site for migrating cranes, had spied whooping cranes at three different locations.
Officials expect migration activity to increase with the predominance of spring southerly winds. The traditional peak of spring whooping crane migration occurs in the first two weeks of April. Whoopers may reach their northern destination, Wood Buffalo National Park, Northwest Territories, Canada, in as little as 10 days after leaving the Texas coast.
Whooping Cranes are the rarest cranes in the world. The flock of whooping cranes that winters in Texas, which represents the only remaining naturally-occurring population of the species, reached record numbers this year, when a peak wintering population of 237 was estimated. However, overall recovery efforts for the species suffered a setback when an experimental population was decimated by winter tornadoes in Florida. That flock had been reintroduced to a migratory path from Wisconsin to Florida using ultralight aircraft.
Texans can help by reporting sightings of whooping cranes during their spring and fall migrations. To report a whooping crane sighting, contact Lee Ann Linam with TPWD by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone Mark Klym with TPWD at (800) 792-1112, ext. 4644. Whooping crane spotters are also asked to note whether the cranes have colored bands on their legs.
Whoopers, the tallest bird in North America, are entirely white except for a small patch of black feathers and red skin on the face and black wing tips that are seen only in flight. During migration they often pause overnight to use wetlands for roosting and agricultural fields for feeding, but seldom remain more than one night. They usually migrate in small family groups of two to three birds, but they may be seen roosting and feeding with large flocks of the smaller sandhill crane.
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