Deaths of Endangered Whooping Cranes Under Investigation

deaths of endangered whooping cranes
Oklahoma Game Warden Jeremy Brothers approaches the injured whooping crane that later died due to its injuries.

Whooping Crane Deaths Under Investigation

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to investigate the deaths of endangered whooping cranes near Tom Steed Lake in Kiowa County.

One whooping crane was discovered by hunters who notified game wardens with ODWC. The whooping crane subsequently died while being transported to a veterinarian clinic. Additional evidence was recovered at the scene. The USFWS’s Wildlife Forensics Laboratory conducted a necropsy and verified the cause of death as a shotgun wound.

Further investigation of the original crane’s location uncovered evidence of three additional whooping cranes, bringing the total loss to four. All of the deaths are being investigated by ODWC and USFWS law enforcement officers.

“This is sickening to see such a wanton waste of wildlife, and our Game Wardens are very eager to visit with the individual or individuals who committed this crime,” said Wade Farrar, Assistant Chief of Law Enforcement with the Wildlife Department. “Somebody out there knows something that will help in this investigation, and I trust that they will do the right thing and come forward.”

Whooping cranes are an endangered species with a total population of approximately 500 birds in North America. Whooping cranes are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Endangered Species Act. A conviction for killing a whooping crane can carry up to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine per person under the Endangered Species Act, and up to six months in jail and a $15,000 fine under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Reward Offered for Information

Anyone with information regarding the deaths of these whooping cranes is asked to contact the Wildlife Department’s Operation Game Thief at (918) 331-5555 or the USFWS’ Office of Law Enforcement in Fort Worth, Texas, at (817) 334-5202. Callers with information may remain anonymous.

Operation Game Thief, the Oklahoma Game Warden Association, ODWC’s Wildlife Diversity Program and the USFWS are offering cash rewards for information leading to the conviction of the person or persons responsible for the death of these endangered cranes.

Whooping cranes travel through Oklahoma during migrations to and from their breeding grounds in Texas. Most whooping crane sightings in Oklahoma are reported from mid-October through November. Whooping crane sightings can be shared with the Wildlife Department online.

***** 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.

fall migration
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Record Year for Whooping Crane Nests at Wood Buffalo NP

Wood Buffalo
Nesting pair of whooping cranes and nest at Wood Buffalo NP © Photo by Parks Canada and Canadian Wildlife Service – L. Parker Click photo to enlarge.

It was a record year for the 2021 whooping crane nesting season at Wood Buffalo National Park, (WBNP). Park and wildlife officials were able to observe 102 nests during their spring nesting survey. In 2017, a total of 98 nests were observed on the nesting grounds. The 102 nests were found using traditional flights and at least 4 of the nests were found using the crowdsourcing techniques, Zooniverse. This satelite imagery once perfected could become important with the surveys in the future and as of now is proving to be helpful when used along with the standard aerial surveys.

Zooniverse crowdsourcing project.

The crowdsourcing project is continuing and still needs virtual volunteers from near and far to sign into Zooniverse and take part!  If you’ve not had a chance, take a few moments to sign on or share this link with others who might like to learn more and study the Whoopers from space!”  https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/whcr-cr/whooping-cranes/classify?reload=0&workflow=18333

Conditions at Wood Buffalo NP

For the most part, Parks Canada operations have returned to fairly normal levels, with COVID-19 mitigations such as physical distancing and masking still in place. Park staff have been able to operate campgrounds, interpretive programs and hikes, the Fort Smith visitor centre and all the usual resource conservation work that comes with Canada’s biggest national park.

Overall it’s been a good summer—with not much extreme weather other than a really bizarre one week stretch which this area and western Canada almost never ever experiences. It’s been the worst forest fire season on record in some places, but the WBNP area of the NWT has been relatively mellow and fortunate this summer.

Become involved with counting nests

Want to get involved and be a citizen scientist and help out the biologists? Just go to Zooniverse. Once there, you can register, do a tutorial and once that is done, you are ready to begin your own nesting survey. Who wouldn’t want to participate doing that!

Zooniverse is the world’s largest and most popular platform for people-powered research. This research is made possible by volunteers — more than a million people around the world who come together to assist professional researchers.

 

***** 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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Citizen scientists wanted for counting Whooping Crane nests at WBNP

Citizen scientists
Whooping Crane sitting on nest. Note crane in center of photo. ©Parks Canada / Wood Buffalo National Park. (2016)

The Whooping Crane nesting season is well underway at Wood Buffalo National Park (WBNP) and things are looking positive while biologists are in the midst of the annual Whooping Crane nesting survey. This spring, they are able to conduct their survey using helicopters, while following safe Covid-19 protocols. So in the next few weeks, we hope to know their results and how many nests were observed within and outside the park.

In the meantime, there is something that you will be interested in doing. Counting Whooping Crane nests. Yes, you read that correctly!

Citizen scientists wanted

The Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS), Parks Canada (PC) and other organizations are working collaboratively to investigate the use of high-resolution satellite imagery to detect nesting cranes as an alternative method to monitor the breeding population.

Biologist are looking for volunteers (you!) to help them quickly review over 100,000 small satellite images through an online crowdsourcing platform to identify possible nest locations. Your results will be reviewed by biologists and will be used to identify, manage and conserve new breeding areas not previously identified and to refine methods to monitor and manage this endangered species.

Citizen scientists
Nesting pair of whooping cranes and nest with two eggs. © 2016 Photo by Parks Canada and Canadian Wildlife Service – L. Parker (2018)
whooping crane images
Adult whooping crane incubating eggs. © Photo by Parks Canada and Canadian Wildlife Service – L. Parker (2018)

How to become involved

Want to get involved and be a citizen scientist and help out the biologists? Just go to Zooniverse. Once there, you can register, do a tutorial and once that is done, you are ready to begin your own nesting survey. Who wouldn’t want to participate doing that!

Zooniverse is the world’s largest and most popular platform for people-powered research. This research is made possible by volunteers — more than a million people around the world who come together to assist professional researchers.

***** 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.

fall migration
friendsofthewildwhoopers.org
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Whooping Cranes begin Spring Migration – 2021

by Pam Bates

Spring Migration Underway

Spring Migration
Whooping Crane at Rowe Sanctuary during the 2020 spring migration. Click to enlarge.

A few of the birds in the world’s only remaining wild population of Whooping Cranes have begun their annual spring migration back to their nesting grounds at Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Canada. The others will soon follow. They are repeating an event that has been going on for thousands of years. Following good conditions during the winter season on their Aransas National Wildlife Refuge winter grounds, the Whoopers appear to be in healthy condition. So, as the remaining Whoopers join the early birds and depart on their 2,500 mile migration to their nesting grounds there is hope for a successful reproduction and nesting season.

Traveling in small groups the Whoopers are expected to begin arriving at their nesting grounds during late April and May.

Spring Migration
Whooping Cranes – Rowe Sanctuary Photo: © 2016 John Smeltzer

Report your observations

Friends of the Wild Whoopers is asking the public to report any Whooping Cranes they see along rivers, wetlands and fields. Report your observations to the wildlife agency in your state.

Whooping Crane Migration Map
Whooping Crane current and former range and migration corridors. Click to enlarge.

If you should observe a whooping crane as they migrate along the Central Flyway, please report them to the proper agencies. We have compiled a list of agencies and contact information below.

Montana reports

Allison Begley
MT Fish, Wildlife, & Parks
1420 East Sixth Avenue
Helena, MT  59620
abegley@mt.gov
(406) 444-3370

Jim Hansen
MT Fish, Wildlife, & Parks
2300 Lake Elmo Drive
Billings, MT  59105
jihansen@mt.gov
(406) 247-2957

North Dakota

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offices at Lostwood, (701-848-2466)
Audubon, (701-442-5474)
National wildlife refuges
North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Bismarck, (701-328-6300) or to local game wardens

South Dakota

Eileen Dowd Stukel; eileen.dowdstukel@state.sd.us; (605-773-4229)
Casey Heimerl; (605-773-4345)
Natalie Gates; Natalie_Gates@fws.gov; (605-224-8793), ext. 227
Jay Peterson; Jay_Peterson@fws.gov; (605-885-6320), ext. 213

Nebraska

Nebraska Game and Parks (402-471-0641)
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (308-379-5562)
The Crane Trust’s Whooper Watch hotline (888-399-2824)
Emails may be submitted to joel.jorgensen@nebraska.gov

Kansas

Jason Wagner
jason.wagner@ks.gov
(620-793-3066)

Ed Miller
ed.miller@ks.gov
(620-331-6820)

Whooping Crane sightings at or near Quivira NWR should be reported to:
Quivira National Wildlife Refuge
620-486-2393
They can also be reported to this email:  quivira@fws.gov

Oklahoma

Sightings can be logged online here

Matt Fullerton
Endangered Species Biologist
(580-571-5820)

Mark Howery
Wildlife Diversity Biologist
(405-990-7259)

 

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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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