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

Whooping Cranes Prove to be Tough Survivors

From the August 2010 edition of Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine.

With grace, stamina and charisma, the whooping crane has shown an extraordinary ability to survive.

By Noreen Damude

What does the 3-D blockbuster film Avatar, with its lush reimagining of Edenic nature on an alien moon, have to do with the whooping crane? It’s true, the whooping crane story plays out like a Hollywood script: starting with tragedy, continuing with struggles and setbacks and ending with renewed hope and dreams for the future. The secret, though, lies in the word “avatar,” for the whooping crane is quintessentially a symbol of our own planet’s untamable past, conjuring up those half-remembered magical moments when the world was young and great white birds flew over vast marshlands and dark forests larger than life.

With forebears harking back to ancient Eocene landscapes, well before the transmogrifying touch of humans, the whooper has danced a fitful dance along the edge of extinction, reminding us of the fragility of life and of the tight connections we all share as living things. If any single bird species symbolizes the North American conservation movement of this century — and the compelling reasons to preserve and protect our natural heritage — the whooping crane is it. So what special charisma, what mystical power for garnering human empathy, does the whooping crane wield in a world increasingly fractured by interminable wars, terrorism and vanishing resources? Just like the Mercury astronauts of yore, whoopers strut the “right stuff.”

Click to read the rest of Noreen Damude’s article “Whooping Cranes Prove to be Tough Survivors”.