The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated the abundance of whooping cranes in the Aransas-Wood Buffalo population for the winter of 2019–2020. Survey results indicated 506 whooping cranes inhabited the primary survey area (Figure 1). This estimate included at least 39 juveniles and 192 adult pairs.
Whooping Cranes expand winter range
“While we did not detect growth in the size of the population this year, we do continue to observe whooping cranes outside of our primary survey area, indicating they continue to expand their winter range,” said Wade Harrell, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator. “Next year, we will be adding the Holiday Beach secondary survey area to our primary survey area given we detected enough whooping crane groups there to meet our protocol for inclusion.”
During winter 2019–2020, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continued to use a Quest Kodiak aircraft and surveys were conducted in late-January. The primary survey areas (approximately 153,950 acres; Figure 1)were surveyed once during January 27–28, 2020. The secondary survey areas (approximately 169,300acres; Figure 1) were surveyed twice this winter during January 24–27, 2020. A concerted effort was made to survey the secondary areas this year since weather conditions precluded surveying them in winter 2018–2019 and only portions of them have been surveyed since winter 2015–2016.
The long-term growth rate in the whooping crane population has averaged 4.4%. The population remained stable from winter 2017–2018 to winter 2019–2020 (Table 1). The Canadian Wildlife Service reported 24 whooping crane chicks were fledged at Wood-Buffalo National Park in summer 2018 and 37 in summer 2019. Low fledge rates have resulted in reduced recruitment and no population growth since winter 2017–2018.
During the survey period, some whooping cranes were observed outside of the primary survey areas. Table 2 provides our best understanding of whooping cranes outside the primary survey areas during the survey period. Some birds may have been missed. It is impossible to be certain that individuals did not move between these locations and to/from the primary survey area during the survey period.The survey protocol contains guidelines for promoting secondary survey areas into the primary survey area. This winter, we observed enough whooping crane groups in the Holiday Beach survey area to promote it to the primary survey area in winter 2020–2021.
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