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/.

2014-03-06

http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/newsmedia/releases/?req=20140306a

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Determination and the Whooping Crane

The two photos below were sent in by Kevin Sims, a fan of FOTWW. The two photos were recently taken on a foggy morning at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and show one lone Whooping Crane foraging deep in the mud for blue crab.

On the hunt for blue crab.
On the hunt for blue crab. Photo by Kevin Sims

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a short time, some determination, and muddy faced , the whooper is finally rewarded with a blue crab for its meal. By the size of the crab, it might be safe to say that the hunt was worth the effort. That is one large blue crab!

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A fine reward. Photo by Kevin Sims.
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Whooping Cranes Love Blue Crabs

It won’t be long now and the “wild ones” will be thinking about returning to WBNP and nesting. Some of their cousins, the sandhill crane have already started their mirgration. At this time, the wild ones are still enjoying the blue crabs that, thankfully, have been plentiful this winter at ANWR.

Why are blue crabs so important to a Whooping Crane’s diet? The Whooping Cranes require blue crabs to build up their body resources and reserves for their long journey home and for successful nesting. Without a sufficient supply of blue crabs to eat during the winter, their chances of a successful nesting season and raising chicks is drastically reduced. Blue crabs are rich in protein but more importantly, the meat and shells are highly rich in calcium, necessary for strong bones and also for forming eggshells.

In the photo below, you can see a Whooping Crane foraging for blue crabs as one looks on.

Whooping Crane looking for blue crabs.
Photo Courtesy of Kevin Sims.

With those long pointed bills, the blue crab below was no match for the whooper.

Whooping Crane looking for blue crabs.
Photo courtesy of Kevin Sims.
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Whooping Cranes Feeding at Aransas NWR

Two whooping cranes feeding on crabs. What a wonderful way to start the day at Aransas NWR. Video courtesy of Kevin Sims of Aransas Bay Birding Charters.

 

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***** 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.

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