U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Friends of the Wild Whoopers agree to assist in the recovery of endangered whooping cranes

Washington (July 10, 2018) – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) announced today the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Friends of the Wild Whoopers to assist in the recovery of endangered whooping cranes.

Per the MOU, USACE and Friends of the Wild Whoopers will jointly assess whooping crane migration stopover habitat at USACE water resources development projects. The assessments will be used by USACE to develop work plans that maintain and improve existing habitat and create additional habitat for this critically endangered bird as part of USACE Environmental Stewardship Program.

U.S.Army Corps of Engineers
A flock of whooping cranes stop to feed and rest in a field at the U.S.Army Corps of Engineers, Kanopolis Lake during their fall migration. In 2017, conservation efforts in the U.S. and Canada have seen the population increase to an estimated 431 birds. (Photo by U.S.Army Corps of Engineers, Kansas City District)

The whooping crane is one of the most endangered bird species in the world and is commonly seen as America’s symbol of conservation. Standing 5 feet tall with a wing span of 7 feet, it is the largest bird in North America.

Once fairly common, the species was reduced to just 16 birds by 1943. Market hunting and indiscriminate shooting along with habitat loss led to the decline of the species. Conservation efforts in the United States and Canada have seen the population increase to an estimated 431 birds in 2017.

This partnership is consistent with USACE’s responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act, which states that federal agencies may use their existing authorities to assist in the recovery of listed species.

Read more here.

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Wild whooping cranes – wintering in Texas

Slideshow – Wild whooping cranes wintering in Texas

We would like to thank one of our biggest supporters and cheerleaders, Charles Hardin and his lovely wife, Jen for making and sharing this lovely slideshow with Friends of the Wild Whoopers, (FOTWW). As some of you who know Charles, he and Jen have enjoyed some great winters near Lamar and the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge while our beloved whoopers are spending their winters there. While going through some photos from past winters, Charles decided to make FOTWW a lovely slideshow to share with everyone, hoping that it brings awareness to FOTWW and the only natural remaining wild flock of whooping cranes.

We hope you enjoy Charles’ slideshow and we especially hope that you will share it with your friends and social media group members to help spread the word about the wild flock and FOTWW.

Thank you again, Charles and Jen!

***** 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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Whooping Crane Nest Survey on Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park

by Chester McConnell, Friends of the Wild Whoopers

A total of 86 Whooping Crane nests were located during the 2018 nesting survey on Wood Buffalo National Park (WBNP), Canada according to Rhona Kindopp, Manager of Resource Conservation, Parks Canada.

Whooping crane nest survey results

Kindopp explained: “We have a preliminary count of 86 nests, the second highest number ever recorded. Last year we set a record with 98 nests. We don’t count recently hatched chicks as part of this survey because we do a survey of fledged chicks each August. We are encouraged by the significant number of nests established this year. The previous record was 98 in 2017 and the before that it was 82 in 2014. We are seeing a large, relatively stable number of nests over the past few years, and the variance in the numbers of nests is within the normal range. We believe this bodes well for the ongoing health of the Wood Buffalo-Aransas Whooping Crane flock and we look forward to seeing the results when we count chicks later in the season.”

The next survey will be conducted in September to count the number of juvenile Whooping Cranes that hatched and survived.

WBNP’s central role

Notably, Kindopp pointed out that: “As the last natural whooping crane nesting habitat is under our stewardship, we play a central role in the nesting survey and in the fledgling survey that takes place later in the summer. Sharon Irwin, WBNP Resource Conservation Officer, WBNP Ecologist Lori Parker and John Conkin of the Canadian Wildlife Service took part in the survey, which was carried out May 25-29 for a total of 5 days.

The vast wetlands in northern Wood Buffalo National Park are the whooping cranes’ nesting area. They build their nests alongside the shallow ponds that contain the frogs and insects they feed on throughout the summer. There, the nesting pairs will raise one or occasionally two chicks which must then make the long trip back to Texas in the fall.

Canada’s network of protected areas play an important role by protecting and restoring healthy, resilient ecosystems and contributing to the recovery of species at risk.

Conducting the survey

Kindopp described the survey procedure: “The survey is carried out by flying in a helicopter in a grid pattern over last year’s nest locations. If we don’t find a nest on a grid search we then fly to the old nest site and fly ever widening circles around site.  We also have recent locations for satellite banded birds to check.”

“The water levels in the ponds of the nesting area are good and overall habitat conditions look very positive this year. Clearly, the crane have found nesting conditions very favorable. Nesting started a bit later than usual this year because of cold temperatures.” according to Kindopp.

whooping crane
Figure 1. Whooping Crane sitting on nest. Note crane in center of photo. ©Parks Canada / Wood Buffalo National Park.

Due to the remote location of their nesting grounds and its inaccessibility to humans, the cranes are fairly secure while they are in the park. They face more challenges in their migration corridor through Canada and the United States due to habitat loss. We work with conservation agencies in the United States to monitor the progress of the cranes and share data on the state of their habitat.

Whooping crane life

Whooping Cranes live a hurried life during their reproduction period. When the nesting birds (5 years of age and older) leave their winter habitats on Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas coast they seem to be in a rush. Spring migration periods from Aransas to Wood Buffalo are quicker than the fall migrations that travel south. The belief is that the nesters are in a rush to get to their nesting grounds so they can nest and rear their chicks during the short summer period available in their northern range.

Wild Whooping Cranes have now settled down on Wood Buffalo. They arrived there during late April and May after migrating 2,500 miles from Aransas Refuge on the Texas coast. Each nesting pair located their nesting site which is normally in the same general area as past years. Park records show that several pairs have nested in the same areas for 22 consecutive years. Soon after their arrival on their nesting grounds, they build their nest.

Nesting territories for Whooper pairs vary in size but average about 1,500 acres. They guard their territories. Nesting neighbors typically locate their nest at least one-half mile away. Nests are normally constructed in shallow water with vegetation from the local area.

Wild Whooping Cranes nesting information

According to several research reports, eggs are typically laid in late April to mid-May. Normally two eggs are laid but infrequently only one and rarely three have been observed in nests. Incubation begins when the first egg is laid and continues for about 30 days. Since incubation starts when the first egg is laid, the first chick hatched is about two days older than the second hatched. This variance in age is significant and creates problem for the younger chick. It is weaker than the older chick and has difficulty keeping up as the adults move around searching for food. The younger chick often dies due to its weakness. Records indicate that only about 10% to 15% of the second chicks hatched survive. Importantly, the second egg plays an important role in providing insurance that at least one chick survives.

From the time Whoopers begin egg laying until their chicks are a few months old, the family groups remain in their breeding territory. They feed there and don’t move long distances until after their chicks fledge.

Nest survey results for the period 1966 to 2016 are shown in the graph below.

whooping crane
Figure 2. Nest survey results for the period 1966 to 2016.
whooping cranes
Figure 3. Sass River – Whooping Crane nesting grounds. Photo by John D. McKinnon
whooping crane
Figure 4. Whooping Crane on nest in Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada.
Photo by Klaus Nigge

Parks Canada is a recognized leader in conservation. Through its Conservation and Restoration Program, Parks Canada takes actions to preserve national parks and contribute to the recovery of species-at-risk. Canada’s network of protected areas play an important role by protecting and restoring healthy, resilient ecosystems and contributing to the recovery of species at risk.

Friends of the Wild Whoopers will publish an update of the ongoing Whooping Crane chick reproduction and related activities soon.

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Whooping Cranes in Saskatchewan-Spring 2018

Kim and Val Mann are avid birders and lucky enough to live within the migration corridor in Saskatchewan. Every spring and fall, the two of them enjoy the offerings that the grid roads have to offer and hope they will be lucky enough to see a whooping crane or two. When they are lucky to see and photograph whooping cranes, they are kind enough to send us some of their photos to share with all of you. This spring was no different. While out for a “drive about” on Monday, they saw some of our beloved whooping cranes who are still migrating through Saskatchewan on their way to Wood Buffalo National Park.

Whooping Cranes in Saskatchewan
Photo #6846 – Whooping Crane pair feeding Monday afternoon. Photo by Kim and Val Mann ~ Click photo to view at full size.

Kim states that “two Whooping Cranes with a flock of Sandhill Cranes were sighted south of Regina on Monday. The cranes were about a mile from the road. In addition to being extremely far, the heat haze/shimmer was terrible. Long range telephoto camera lenses are extremely susceptible to this effect – the resulting photos look like one is looking through warped glass fragments. The background in Photo 6846 shows the effect of extreme heat haze. The photos of the crane pair have limited cropping to reduce the heat haze effects.”

Whooping cranes in Saskatchewan
Photo #7103 – whooping crane pair walking in the farmer’s field Tuesday morning. Photo by Kim and Val Mann.

Kim and Val returned to the same area on Tuesday morning to see if the Whooping Cranes were still there. “The cranes were still there but still very far from any roads. Heat haze was bad and the wind had picked up and was quite strong.”

Kim says that “Seeing Whooping Cranes during spring migration was amazing!”

Photo #7271 – the pair roosting on a large dirt pile by the shore. The grey “sky” is actually dust/dirt blowing off the ground. Photo by Kim and Val Mann ~ Click photo to view at full size.

Friends of the Wild Whoopers thanks Kim and Val for sharing their photos and experience of seeing the whooping cranes in Saskatchewan. We enjoyed their photos and story this spring as much as we have always enjoyed them in past posts that they have shared with us. We hope you enjoy them as well.

Be sure to click on the photos to view them at full size.

***** 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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