Whooping Crane Tracking Study

To learn more about the Aransas-Wood Buffalo Whooping crane population, the Whooping Crane Tracking Partnership began banding and tracking the Aransas-Wood Buffalo Whooping Crane population in 2009. The purpose for this project is to document their locations, monitor survival and their stop over locations.

Since the study began, many key areas have been identified where the Whooping cranes stop over during migration. We did not know about many of these places until this study. Now that habitat around Aransas NWR and along the flyway corridor is under development pressures, hopefully some of these key stop over areas can be purchased, conserved, and protected to ensure that there will always be habitat available for the wild ones as they migrate along the flyway corridor.

Below is a video published February 10, 2014 by Texas Parks and Wildlife showing the capture and banding of and adult whooping crane wintering at Aransas NWR.                                          – Friends of the Wild Whoopers


The following report gives a more in depth explanation of the whooping crane tracking study project and its objectives.

The Unison Call, Spring/Summer 2013,Vol. 24 No. 1

Aransas–Wood Buffalo Whooping Crane Telemetry Projects

The Whooping Crane Tracking Partnership began in 2008 as a research project to use Platform Transmitting Terminals with Global Positioning System capabilities (GPS-PTTs) as a means to advance knowledge of whooping crane breeding, wintering, and migratory ecology including threats to survival and population persistence and to provide reliable scientific knowledge for conservation, management, and recovery of whooping cranes.

The Partnership is comprised of the Canadian Wildlife Service, Crane Trust, Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Geological Survey, with support from the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory, International Crane Foundation, and Parks Canada. Partners agree the opportunity to mark wild whooping cranes with GPS technology will greatly enhance our knowledge of whooping cranes and enable us to assess risks they face during their entire life cycle. To date we have captured and attached GPS-PTTs to 31 juvenile whooping cranes at breeding sites in Wood Buffalo National Park and 24 adult and 2 juvenile whooping cranes at wintering sites at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Capture teams consist of individuals with experience handling endangered cranes, including a licensed veterinarian.

At capture, the veterinarian performs a health check on each crane, which includes a general external examination, blood collection for pathogen, toxin, and
genetic screening, and fecal collections for parasite evaluation. Captured birds are marked with a GPS-PTT attached with a two-piece leg band that weigh approximately 72 grams, which represents <1.5% of body weight of adult whooping cranes. The GPSPTTs have solar panels integrated on all exposed surfaces to maximize battery recharge and provide an equipment lifespan of approximately 3–5 years. Transmitters are programmed to record 4 GPS locations/day which provides us detailed information on roosting sites, diurnal use sites, and general flight paths. Transmitters upload new data on a 56-hour schedule which generally allows us to identify mortality events fairly quickly when they occur. As our sample of marked cranes is reaching peak numbers, GPS-marked cranes provided >15,000 locations during winter 2012-2013. Expectations and excitement among research partners has increased and we have begun to explore
the volume of rich information provided by marked individuals.

In addition to collecting information provided by the GPS-PTTs, the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program and researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey and Crane Trust are conducting a ground-based study spanning from northern Texas to North Dakota to evaluate habitats telemetry-marked whooping cranes have used as stopover sites during migration. The ground-based stopover site evaluations allow
researchers to collect time-sensitive data that would be difficult or impossible to measure remotely and have enabled us to learn a great deal about conditions surrounding stopover sites that may have attracted whooping cranes to the area. Where many stopovers occur on privately owned lands, these evaluations depend largely on landowners allowing researchers access to their properties and we are grateful for the
access landowners have provided us during the past several migration seasons. Upon completion of the research projects, the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program plans to use information obtained via telemetry and at stopover sites to create and manage similar habitats along the central Platte River in Nebraska.

Dave Baasch
Platte River Recovery Implementation Program


***** FOTWW’s mission is to protect the Aransas/Wood Buffalo population
of wild whooping cranes and their habitat
. *****

friendsofthewildwhoopers.org logo



Whooping Cranes Beginning Their Spring Journey to Canada

Media Contact: Mark Klym, 512-389-4644, mark.klym@tpwd.texas.gov

March 6, 2014

AUSTIN — Endangered whooping cranes will soon begin their annual 2,400-mile spring migration from Aransas to Canada. As the rare birds leave the Lone Star State, Texas residents and visitors are invited to report whooper sightings.

Texas Whooper Watch (http://tpwd.texas.gov/whoopingcranes/) is a volunteer monitoring program that is a part of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Texas Nature Trackers program. The program was developed as a citizen science initiative to help the agency learn more about whooping cranes and their winter habitats in Texas.

Since beginning their slow recovery from a low of 16 birds in the 1940s, whoopers have wintered on the Texas coast on and near Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Recently though, several groups of whooping cranes expanded their wintering areas to include other coastal areas and some inland sites in Central Texas. Last year, whooping cranes from an experimental flock in Louisiana spent most of their summer months in Texas, and the Whooper Watch volunteers were able to provide valuable information to TPWD, Louisiana Game and Fish and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service about these birds.

This year, biologists expect whooping cranes to start moving north in mid-March or early April. Reports to Texas Whooper Watch will also help improve the accuracy of surveys on the wintering grounds, as the growth of the flock has made traditional census methods more difficult.

Whoopers usually follow a migratory path through north and central Texas, including Wichita Falls, Fort Worth, Waco, Austin, and Victoria. During the migration they often pause overnight to use wetlands for roosting and agricultural fields for feeding, but seldom remain more than one night. The typical sighting (71 percent of all observations) is fewer than three birds, although the fall migration this year produced some groups of more than 10 birds.  They may also be seen roosting and feeding with large flocks of the smaller sandhill crane. Whoopers are the tallest birds in North America, measuring nearly five feet tall. The cranes are solid white in color except for black wing-tips that are visible only in flight, red crown and black mustache. They fly with necks and legs outstretched.

Citizens can help by reporting sightings of whooping cranes and by preventing disturbance of cranes when they remain overnight at roosting and feeding locations. Sightings can be reported to whoopingcranes@tpwd.texas.gov or (512) 389-TXWW (8999). Observers are asked especially to note whether the cranes have colored bands on their legs. Volunteers interested in attending training sessions to become “Whooper Watchers” in order to collect more detailed data may also contact  TPWD at whoopingcranes@tpwd.texas.gov or 512-389-TXWW (8999).

Additional information, including photos of whooping crane look-alike species, can be found at http://tpwd.texas.gov/whoopingcranes/ and at http://www.whoopingcrane.com/report-a-sighting/.




Whooping Cranes on a local lake

From the March issue of Georgetown View Magazine

By Christine Switzer

Photos by Paula Englehardt

Citizen scientists help track endangered birds

After a long afternoon armed with only a pair of binoculars and a notebook, a citizen scientist on the trail of whooping cranes will call the day a success if she sights one bird or perhaps a small family of three. The largest birds in North America, these rare cranes—which number fewer than 500 in the world and fewer than 400 in the wild—have been listed as an endangered species for more than fifty years. But their populations are growing, and over the past few years, Central Texas sightings of the five-foot-tall waders, replete with red crowns and black “moustaches,” have increased.

Click here to read entire article.



Friends of the Wild Whoopers recommends this Crane Trust event. The gathering of Sandhill cranes at Platte River valley in Nebraska is one of the spectacular wildlife events in North America. Whooping cranes use the same area and a few may be there during the meeting.

The Crane Trust is featuring two exciting presentations by a popular pair of leading researchers and conservationists this Saturday, March 8, at the Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center: Dr. Paul Johnsgard and the Crane Trust’s own director of science, Dr. Mary Harner. In addition, the Crane Trust’s new viewing blind for guided tours will be open for business. (Photo courtesy of Rick Rasmussen, PlatteRiverPhotography.com)

Dr. Paul Johnsgard, forever exuberant in his work. 

“We have a terrific double-header for crane lovers and nature enthusiasts alike this Saturday,” says Jeff Oates, Crane Trust Director of Marketing and Outreach. “I can’t think of a better way for people to kick off the new season and celebrate the beginning of the 2014 great sandhill crane migration.”

“Unusually cold weather has delayed the migration a bit, but the dam is breaking, with warmer weather on the way and more and more cranes arriving every day,” says Oates. “In addition to our speakers, the Crane Trust is also christening its new public viewing blind on the river, with incredible, never-before seen panoramic vistas on the river.” The new blind, he adds, will be available for the 2014 season.

World-renowned ornithologist, author, and UNL professor Dr. Johnsgard will start Saturday’s program at 11:00 a.m. with his presentation “Sandhill Cranes and Other Spring Birds of the Platte.” Just back from Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Dr. Johnsgard will draw on his many decades of study and field observations throughout the Central Flyway.

Dr. Mary Harner (L) visits with Dr. Jane Goodall at the Crane Trust.

Dr. Harner will follow at 12:30 pm with “An Inside Look at Sandhill Cranes on Mormon Island & the Platte River.” As Crane Trust Director of Science, Dr. Harner overseas the design and implementation of all research on Crane Trust lands. She also heads the Crane Trust’s innovative new conservation and training program known as REACH, short for Research Experience to Achieve Conservation of Habitat.

Looking ahead to the following weekend, the Crane Trust’s Wild About Nebraska Speaker Series will feature Blake Hatfield on March 15, and his “Nebraska Birds of Prey” presentation with live raptors, courtesy of the Fontenelle Forest Raptor Recovery Program.

Following below are brief outlines of their respective presentations:

Saturday March 8, 2014

11:00am: “Sandhill Cranes and Other Spring Birds of the Platte”

Dr. Paul Johnsgard’s talk will concentrate on the chronology of the spring migration in the Platte valley, the social structure of the flock, and pair-family components. He will talk about pair lengths and pair bonding, and the importance for the Platte in providing the food stores needed for the following breeding season. He will also touch on the increasingly important influence of snow geese on limiting the major food sources of the cranes.

Saturday March 8, 2014

12:30pm: “An Inside Look at Cranes on Historic Mormon Island and the Platte”

Dr. Mary Harner’s talk will begin with an overview of the Crane Trust’s three-year study of overwintering cranes along the central Platte River. She will also talk about the Crane Trust’s monitoring of sandhill crane roosts along Platte River, with powerful new mapping of bird numbers and roost locations, including the first two weeks of March 2014.

Dr. Harner will conclude with an astonishing up-close look at crane behavior on Mormon Island and other carefully managed areas as it has never been displayed before, including time-lapse videos and an overview of new directions/camera placements for the future.

March 15, 2014

11:00 a.m. Nebraska’s Birds of Prey

Blake Hatfield of Fontenelle’s Raptor Recovery Program will demonstrate with live birds how these incredible predators of the sky have adapted to become a vital part of the Nebraska landscape. Each has its own special place in the uniquely complex Platte River ecosystem. Blake will bring a live hawk, falcon, owl, and turkey vulture for his presentation and will demonstrate how well equipped they are to inhabit their space atop the food chain.

All presentations are open to the public and are being held at the Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center near Wood River in south-central Nebraska, I-80 Alda Exit 305. Before and after the presentations, visitors can browse the Center’s art gallery and gift shop or take a short walk to see the live bison exhibition herd, climb the observation tower and hike out onto the prairie. The Crane Trust’s large touchscreen communication displays, featuring the Platte Basin Time-Lapse Project and other videos, will also be on hand for visitors to experience.

NEW Crane Viewing Blind for 2014

A new crane-viewing blind is also being unveiled this weekend at the Crane Trust, with unprecedented panoramas of cranes roosting and traveling the Platte River. Guided tour reservations for the new blind can be made online at NebraskaNature.org or by calling the Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center at 308-382-1820. Construction of the new blind was made possible in part with a charitable gift from the Thomas & Faye Conlon Fund of the Grand Island Community Foundation.

Established in 1978, the Crane Trust is a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection and maintenance of critical habitat for cranes and other migratory birds along the Platte River through leading science, habitat management, community outreach, and education.


 Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center /

9325 S. Alda Road / Wood River, NE 68883

www.NebraskaNature.org / 308-382-1820