Whooping Crane Stopover Study To Aid Species Recovery

In March, Friends of the Wild Whoopers reported on the need to learn more about resting/feeding sites along the whooping crane migratory route. (See Whooping Crane Tracking Study) In order to learn more about the Aransas-Wood Buffalo whooping crane population needs during migration, the Whooping Crane Tracking Partnership began banding and tracking them in 2009. Banding of the whooping cranes has been completed and preliminary findings are currently being compiled. Many key areas have already been identified where the whooping cranes stop over during their 2,500 mile migration. Other useful insights “into this here-to-fore little-know world of whooping crane stopover habitat” are being studied.”

In their latest Newsletter, the Crane Trust offers us some more insight and details about the Whooping Crane Tracking Partnership’s study.


Article from Crane Trust Spring 2014 Newsletter

Whooping cranes require suitable stopover sites to complete their spring/fall migration. Without them, the 5,000-mile journey would not be possible. Photo by John Conklin, Canadian Wildlife Service.

Suitable habitat for whooping cranes to stop, rest and feed during their spring/fall migration is critical for the Aransas-Wood Buffalo population to complete its 2,500-mile journey each way. These stopover sites are the focus of a comprehensive ground-based study to improve our understanding of the specific habitats and locations selected by whooping cranes during their migration—and are vital for the species recovery. Above Photo: Whooping cranes require suitable stopover sites to complete their spring/fall migration. Without them, the 5,000-mile journey would not be possible. Photo by John Conklin, Canadian Wildlife Service. 


Initiated in 2012 by the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program and researchers from the Crane Trust and the US Geological Survey, the ground-based study was in full swing for the 2014 spring migration. To date, more than 250 stopover sites have been visited and characterized by researchers between northern Texas and North Dakota. The result to date is the most exhaustive aggregation of data ever collected on whooping crane stopover sites and their utilization by migrating cranes.  Above Photo: Maximum depth was one of over a dozen water-related measurements taken at sites where water was present. Distance to water, bank slope, land cover of nearest shoreline, and wetland classification were among the others.


Individual stopover sites were located using GPS tracking data from the Whooping Crane Tracking Partnership’s telemetry study and were visited by one of three regional research teams. Each team spent roughly one day in the field for every two days in the office contacting landowners and collecting/inputting time-sensitive measurements. Key measurements and their application included 360° on-location photography, GIS mapping of habitat types and land covers, food types and availability, land cover and management practices, endangering and visually obstructive features, water characteristics (if present), and other variables.  Above Photo: The Crane Trust’s Ryan Joe creates GIS map of stopover site using field data collected this spring. The finished product will depict key features and habitats, providing a valuable reference for visual analysis.


The precise arrival and departure times of the whooping crane(s) and their movements within each stopover site area were also recorded. Sites were visited after whooping cranes had departed, so as to not disturb migrating birds and to record observations and measurements as close to the bird’s departure as possible.  Above Photo: Habitat variations and similarities were observed throughout the migration corridor. The above photo was indicative of a stopover site in the Nebraska-central region.  

While complete study results aren’t expected until 2015, preliminary findings are already providing useful insights into this here-to-fore little-known world of whooping crane stopover habitat. When complete, the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, the Crane Trust and other conservation organizations/agencies will be able to use this comprehensive data to better inform (and improve) habitat management practices and conservation strategies to aid the species recovery.

                    ***** FOTWW’s mission is to protect the Aransas/Wood Buffalo population
of wild whooping cranes and their habitat
. *****

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