Estimated Texas Wintering Whooping Crane Population Breaks 500

U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Date:  August 21, 2018

Contact:  Wade Harrell, 361/676-9953 wade_harrell@fws.gov

Beth Ullenberg, 505/248-6638 beth_ullenberg@fws.gov

Estimated Texas Wintering Whooping Crane Population Breaks 500

Whooping Crane Population
Whooping Crane at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Kevin Sims®

Survey accuracy improved with shift from December to February timeframe

The first winter after Hurricane Harvey ravaged the Texas Gulf Coast, an estimated 505 whooping cranes arrived on their Texas wintering grounds after migrating 2,500 miles from their breeding grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada.  Each fall the birds make their way back to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding habitats, where they spend the winter.  Once they have arrived, wildlife biologists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey the birds by air and analyze population trends.

Biologists have completed analysis of aerial surveys of the Aransas-Wood Buffalo whooping crane population done last winter.  A switch in aircraft the previous winter and a shift to surveying later in the winter when a larger proportion of the population had arrived helped improve accuracy of the counts.  Preliminary data analysis indicated 505 whooping cranes, including 49 juveniles, in the primary survey area (approximately 153,950 acres) centered on Aransas National Wildlife Refuge near Austwell, Texas. An additional 21 birds were noted outside the primary survey area during the survey. This marks the 6th year in a row that the population has increased in size and the first time the population has topped the 500 mark.

“Breaking the 500 mark for this wild population is a huge milestone”, stated Amy Lueders, the Service’s Southwest Regional Director. “Seeing this iconic bird continue to expand demonstrates how the Endangered Species Act can help a species recover from the brink of extinction.  I have to credit our biologists and our partners and local communities who continue to invest so much time and effort to improve our ability to make sure future generations have the chance to marvel at the beauty of these amazing wild birds.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has implemented several small changes that have greatly improved the agency’s capacity to survey the birds. “After two years of testing a shift of our December survey timeframe to later in the winter, we believe our previous survey estimates were likely low given that not all the whooping cranes had completed migration by mid-December. We had indications of a later than expected fall migration over the last several years via migration reports and telemetry data. This is the first year that we have based our winter abundance estimate from a February survey timeframe rather than a December timeframe. It may seem like population numbers jumped more than usual, but in reality we are just capturing a more complete proportion of the population, with most birds having completed migration by early February” stated U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Whooping Crane Coordinator Wade Harrell.

Harrell said biologists will continue to conduct flights in late January and early February for future surveys.  He also stated that staff at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge continue to make progress in recovering from the impacts of Hurricane Harvey.  “The good news is that the coastal marsh that supports our wintering whooping cranes was not significantly damaged by the hurricane and recovered quickly from any impacts, demonstrating how resilient intact wetland habitats can be.”

Whooping cranes are one of the rarest birds in North America and are highly endangered. Cranes have been documented to live more than 30 years in the wild.   Adults generally reach reproductive age at four or five years, and then lay two eggs, usually rearing only one chick.

More information about the survey and whooping cranes can be found on the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge website at http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Aransas/ or by calling the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Contact Station at: (361) 349-1181.

To read an in depth report of the survey results in PDF format, click here.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service.

 For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov. Connect with our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/usfws, follow our tweets at www.twitter.com/usfwshq, watch our YouTube Channel at http://www.youtube.com/usfws and download photos from our Flickr page at http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwshq.

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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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Whitney Lake – Corps of Engineers’ Jewel for Whooping Cranes

by Pam Bates, Friends of the Wild Whoopers

Whooping Crane “stopover habitats” are increasing in importance on Corps of Engineer lakes according to Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW). Chester McConnell, FOTWW’s wildlife biologist explains that, “due to numerous land use changes on private lands, many wetlands and ponds that once served as Whooping Crane habitat are being drained and converted to other uses. So the large Corps of Engineer lakes are being used more and more by the cranes.”

Mostly, during migration Whooping Cranes “stopover” on lakes, natural wetlands and small ponds on private farms just to eat and rest overnight. Like humans on a long trip they just need a small place to briefly stop, feed, rest and then continue their journey. Importantly, Whoopers are compatible with other wildlife and briefly share their habitats. Ensuring that sufficient areas with the proper conditions as stopover sites are available is important for the survival of the species. Sensible practices applied by conservation interest can help reduce potential morality that occurs during migration.

FOTWW’s evaluations continue

FOTWW is continuing its evaluations of Corps lakes to identify areas with good Whooper habitat; habitats that need improvements; and areas that can be developed into good habitat. McConnell reasons that: “Corps lakes are federally owned and, if we can design projects that do not interfere with the Corps mission, then projects that help endangered Whooping Cranes should be authorized. Land cost are the major expense in such projects and using federal lands would eliminate that cost.”

Whitney Lake visited

McConnell visited Whitney Lake on April 12, 2018 to assess potential habitats for Whooping Cranes. Michael Champagne, USACE – Natural Resources Specialist, Fort Worth District made arrangements for our trip. Nickolus Mouthaan, Park Ranger led us on a tour of the lake to examine all potential places that could provide Whooping Crane “stopover habitats”. Brandon Mobley, Natural Resource Specialist, Fort Worth District Office participated in the tour. We discussed the natural resource objectives for Whitney Lake and needs for management (Figure 1).

Whitney Lake
Figure 1. Brandon Mobley, Natural Resource Specialist, Fort Worth District Office (on left) and Nickolus Mouthaan, Park Ranger (right) joined Chester McConnell, FOTWW during evaluation of “stopover habitats” on Whitney Lake. These men are standing on a broad expanse of grassland adjacent to a large lake inlet in H-10 Hunting Area. This is an excellent area to serve as “stopover habitat” for Whooping Cranes. Any cranes choosing to stopover here would have a wide glide path to land on the lake shore. The site is clear of obstructions and provides a gradual slope into the shallow water which is 2 to 10 inches deep in the roost area. Horizontal visibility around the roost site is good and allows the Whoopers to spot any predator that may be lurking nearby. Whoopers can feed on aquatic animal in the lake and forage on insects and grains in nearby fields.

About Whitney Lake

Whitney Lake was authorized by the Flood Control Acts of August 18, 1941 to provide flood control, hydroelectric power, water conservation for domestic and industrial uses, recreation and other beneficial water uses. The lake is located along the county lines of Hill and Bosque Counties on the main stem of the Brazos River. It encompasses a total of 49,820 acres and has a flood capacity of 1,372,400 acre-feet of water. At elevation 533 feet above Mean Sea Level (MSL), the normal pool level, the lake covers 23,560 acres and has a capacity of 627,100 acre feet.

Approximately 13,500 acres of government-owned land surrounding the lake are dedicated as natural areas. Primarily used for flood storage, this land is also intended for low impact public use with a minimum of facilities provided. The lake’s large size and diverse habitat support a number of native and introduced species of fish. The lake is a common stopping, resting and feeding area for Whooping Cranes, ducks, geese, shore birds and other waterfowl. This same land is primarily where FOTWW has recommended projects to increase benefits for Whooping Cranes (Figure 2).

Whitney Lake
Figure 2. This shore area on Whitney Lake is clear of obstructions and vegetation is short due partially to fluctuations in lake water levels. Any nearby predators could be easily detected. The water is shallow (2 to 10 inches) making it an excellent roost area. Overall it is an excellent Whooping Crane “stopover site”.

 

***** 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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