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Record Whooping Crane Migration Expected This Fall
AUSTIN, Texas — Wildlife scientists are predicting that a record-breaking 250 whooping cranes will reach the Texas coast this winter, and they’re asking the public to report whooper sightings.
“Last year we had 236, but I definitely think we’ll reach 250 and anything above that is kind of a bonus,” said National Whooping Crane Coordinator Tom Stehn. “I think it will be a successful year for the cranes.”
Whooping cranes have been on the endangered species list since 1970, and in the 1930s, the Aransas population was down to just 18 birds. Texas continues to play a key role in the survival and recovery of this endangered species, and today Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is home to the only self-sustaining population in the world.
During the summer months, the cranes breed in the wetlands of Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Canada. This year, a record 84 chicks were born; however, due to below-average rainfall only 40 young survived. Despite the loss, conservationists are still optimistic.
The cranes reside in Texas from November through March, where they store up on food and eventually perform courtship displays in the spring.
The blue crab is their primary source of energy, and due to the extensive rains Texas encountered this summer, experts are predicting an abundance of crab. “By the time the cranes get here there will be many juvenile crabs in this area,” said Mark Fisher, science director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Coastal Fisheries Division.
“The blue crabs seem to be the key,” said Stehn. “If there is a lot of food, almost all the cranes will make it through the winter, and if they leave here in good shape it increases their chances of survival during migration.”
Whooping cranes are the tallest and one of the rarest birds in North America. They’re considered valuable in several ways, including as a source of nature tourism in local communities.
“Whooping cranes on the Texas coast attract tourists and bird-watchers from all over the world,” said Lee Ann Johnson Linam, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department wildlife biologist, “which translates into several million dollars benefiting local economies.”
Standing at nearly five feet tall, whooping cranes are white with rust-colored patches on the top and back of their heads. They are easily distinguishable by their long legs and outstretched necks while flying. Their black wing-tips are visible only in flight. The cranes migrate throughout the central portion of the state, from the eastern panhandle to the Dallas-Fort Worth area and south through the Austin area to the central coast during October and November, usually in small groups of two to five birds.
Conservationists are asking the public to report any sightings of whooping cranes to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department at (800) 792-1112, ext. 4644 or (512) 847-9480. Sightings may also be reported through e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org). Some cranes may have a colored band around their leg as a method of identification, and any information regarding these bands would also be useful. Additional identification aids may be found on the TPWD Web site.
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