Friends of the Wild Whoopers, (a.k.a FOTWW) is a 501c3 nonprofit conservation organization whose mission is to help preserve and protect the Aransas/Wood Buffalo population of wild whooping cranes and their habitat.
We would like to educate those who have an interest in protecting this beautiful American bird, as well as bringing you the latest news on the Whooper.
Make sure you subscribe to stay informed. If you would like to contribute in any way, we would love to hear from you. Donations are always welcome to help with our expenses.
Wade Harrell, U.S. Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator
It seemed like fall would never arrive after a long, hot summer, but cooler, shorter days have finally made an appearance with many species of migrants now frequenting the friendly skies! Whooping Crane migration is in full swing and the first pair of our winter residents was reported by photographer John Humbert in the Seadrift area on October 9. Regular U.S. migration hotspots like Quivira NWR in Kansas have already reported their first whooping cranes of the season as well. If you have a question on whether the bird that you saw is a whooping crane or not, take a look at Texas Whooper Watch: Whooping Crane Look-Alikes.
It was an average breeding year in Wood Buffalo National Park (WBNP), with 97 nests counted in May producing an estimated 37 fledged whooping cranes counted in August that are headed South on their first migration to Texas. With a relatively low chick recruitment (24) the previous summer (2018), the overall population size did not grow last year, but remained stable at an estimated 504 individuals.
The Whooping Crane migration from WBNP to Aransas NWR is about 2,500 miles in length and can take up to 50 days to complete. It is common for whooping cranes to spend a long period of time in Saskatchewan this time of year, “staging” for fall migration by foraging on abundant agricultural waste grains. Our partners with the Canadian Wildlife Service are actively monitoring whooping cranes in Saskatchewan now and have reported seeing several of our marked birds. As of October 23, 14 marked birds were still north of the border in fall staging areas of Central Saskatchewan, one of them was in North Dakota, one was in South Dakota, one was in Kansas, one was in Oklahoma, and one was on the Blackjack Unit of Aransas NWR. There is a slight chance that some marked cranes are still on their breeding grounds in WBNP, but the lack of cellular towers make them untrackable until they begin to head south.
You might remember last fall and winter was a record wet period and we seem to be headed the other direction this year. This summer and fall was quite dry, with September, typically one of our wettest months of the year, only producing 2.94” of rain at Aransas NWR (2.94” of rain). Thus, much of the standing water that we saw across the Refuge last winter is now gone and freshwater wetlands are shrinking somewhat. Since June, we have recorded 10.94” of rain and much of the whooping crane wintering range is currently in the “moderate drought” category with the NWS 3-month outlook mixed in regards to what the future holds.
Habitat Management at Aransas:
We were able to burn a 3,780-acre unit on Matagorda Island on June 15. The area we burned consists of upland prairies that are adjacent to coastal marsh areas heavily used by whooping cranes. We also burned an additional 4,400+ acres on the Tatton and Blackjack Units. By maintaining coastal prairie habitats in a relatively open, brush-free condition, we provide additional foraging habitat that whooping cranes normally would not be able to access. Summer burns are often provide more effective at suppressing brush species in our prairies than winter burns, thus are an important tool for us at Aransas NWR.
Fall migration of the only natural wild population of whooping cranes is underway. The Whooping Crane migration from Wood Buffalo to Aransas NWR is about 2,500 miles in length and can take as many as 50 days to complete. The flock is expected to migrate through Nebraska, North Dakota and other states along the Central Flyway over the next several weeks. The Wildlife Fish and Game and Parks agencies along the flyway encourage the public to report any whooping crane sightings.
If you should observe a whooping crane as they migrate along the Central Flyway, please report them to the proper agencies. We have compiled a list of agencies and contact information below. If you need help with identification, please click on our Whooper Identification page.
MT Fish, Wildlife, & Parks
1420 East Sixth Avenue
Helena, MT 59620
MT Fish, Wildlife, & Parks
2300 Lake Elmo Drive
Billings, MT 59105
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offices at Lostwood, (701-848-2466)
National wildlife refuges
North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Bismarck, (701-328-6300) or to local game wardens
Endangered Species Biologist
Wildlife Diversity Biologist
Texas Whooper Watch also has a project in I-Naturalist that is now fully functional. You can find it here. You can report sightings directly in I-Naturalist via your Smart Phone. This allows you to easily provide photo verification and your location.
If you are not a smart phone app user, you can still report via email: email@example.com or phone: (512-389-999). Please note that our primary interest is in reports from outside the core wintering range.
Do not disturb and why reporting is important
Should you see a whooping crane, please do not get close or disturb it. Keep your distance and make a note of date, time, location, and what the whooping crane is doing. If the whooping crane is wearing bands or a transmitter, please note the color(s) and what leg(s) the bands are on.
You may wonder why the wild life agencies are asking for these sightings to be reported. The reports are very helpful in gathering data and information on when and where the whooping cranes stopover, what type of habitat they are choosing, and how many there are.
With just over 500 wild whooping cranes migrating along the Central Flyway, odds are low of seeing a wild whooping crane. However, FOTWW hopes that someone reading this article will be one of the lucky few and if you are, please report your sighting so that these agencies and other conservation groups, including FOTWW can continue helping these magnificent cranes.
***** FOTWW’s mission is to help preserve and protect the Aransas/Wood Buffalo
population of wild whooping cranes and their habitat. *****
Friends of the Wild Whoopers is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization.
504 Wild Whooping Cranes Estimated at ANWR this past winter
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists have completed analysis of last winter’s aerial surveys of the Aransas-Wood Buffalo whooping crane population. “Preliminary data analysis indicated 504 whooping cranes, including 13 juveniles, in the primary survey area (approximately 153,950 acres) centered on Aransas National Wildlife Refuge near Austwell, Texas.
This is comparable with the prior winter’s estimate of 505 whooping cranes, indicating the population remained stable but did not experience the growth this year that it has the past several years. An additional 12 birds were noted outside the primary survey area during the survey. This marks the 2nd year in a row that the population has topped the 500 mark. The lack of population growth last winter likely resulted from a low chick production season on the breeding grounds of northern Canada during the spring-summer of 2018.”
Delay in Whooping Crane survey
During winter 2018–2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continued to use a Quest Kodiak aircraft and surveys were conducted in mid-February. The primary survey area (approximately 153,950 acres; Figure 1) was surveyed multiple times during February 9–14, 2019. San Jose Island, West Marsh, Lamar-Tatton, Matagorda Island Central, and Welder Flats-Dewberry were surveyed 4 times and Blackjack was surveyed 5 times. Due to logistical constrains and poor weather conditions, the secondary survey areas (approximately 169,300 acres; Figure 1) were not surveyed this winter. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted the survey later than planned which likely resulted in underestimates of recruitment due to late season changes in plumage coloration.
No growth this year for Whooping Crane Population
The long-term growth rate in the whooping crane population has averaged 4.5% (n = 95; 95% CI = 1.77– 6.98%). The population remained stable from winter 2017–2018 to winter 2018–2019 In summer 2018, the Canadian Wildlife Service reported 24 whooping crane chicks were fledged at Wood-Buffalo Nation Park which is lower than normal. Recruitment was low resulting in no population growth.
Now that summer has “unofficially” come to an end, our thoughts begin to focus on fall with its crisp cool days, leaves changing colors, and the upcoming whooping crane migration from Wood Buffalo National Park to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. We are not the only ones anticipating the beginning of migration. Our good friend Val Mann is also waiting for migration to begin. Each year, she and her sister Kim explore the grid roads of Saskatchewan, in search of the beloved and elusive whooping crane.
In anticipation of the start of migration, Val has been working on photos of a whooping crane family taken a couple of years ago and sent us the lovely photo that she was able to capture.
Val writes, “It’s almost time for whooping cranes to begin their annual return to Texas from their summer homes in Wood Buffalo National Park including their fall stopovers in Saskatchewan. Sandhill cranes will also be on the move. A couple of years ago, we were fortunate enough to photograph a family of whooping cranes in a roadside slough using our dusty grid road-coloured vehicle as a blind. Cranes typically do not come close to the road as they tend to prefer the middle of fields, at least a mile or two from the road. In this photograph, powerful telephoto lenses and post-production cropping give the illusion that the parent crane and colt were much closer than they actually were. If extremely lucky this fall, we will see migrating cranes as they stage in farmers’ fields and sloughs.”
Friends of the Wild Whoopers thanks Val for her photo and we wish both Val and Kim success in their travels along the grid roads of Saskatchewan this fall.
***** FOTWW’s mission is to help preserve and protect the Aransas/Wood Buffalo population of wild whooping cranes and their habitat. *****
Friends of the Wild Whoopers is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization.