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Record Number of Whooping Cranes Expected To Reach Texas This Fall
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.
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.
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 it the species’ future recovery.
“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.”
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additional aids to help people identify whooping cranes can be found on the TPWD whooping crane Web page and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service migratory bird Web page. Information about nature tourism opportunities to view wintering whooping cranes can be obtained from the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge Web site or the Rockport Chamber of Commerce Web site.
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