An estimated 543 whooping cranes wintered in Texas in winter 2021-2022

Press Release
Media Contacts Aubry Buzek
Whooping Cranes
Whooping Cranes at Aransas NWR. Photo by Kevin Sims ©2015. Click photo to view full size.

Population estimate shows continued signs of winter range expansion for the endangered bird

Last winter, an estimated 543 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 (Service) survey the birds by air and analyze population trends.

Record year

“It is exciting to see another record year as whooping cranes continue to increase in number and expand their winter range,” said Wade Harrell, the Service’s Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator. “Next year, we will be adding the South San Jose Island and Heron Flats Secondary Survey areas to our Primary Survey area given we detected enough whooping crane groups there to meet our protocol for inclusion. Conserving additional winter habitat for the species will be a key component of future recovery efforts.” 

31 Juveniles

Whooping Cranes
Whooping Crane Parent and colt. Lamar, Texas Photo by Chuck Hardin

Preliminary data analysis of aerial surveys of the Aransas-Wood Buffalo whooping crane population conducted last winter indicated 543 whooping cranes, including 31 juveniles, in the primary survey area (approximately 160,125 acres) centered on Aransas National Wildlife Refuge near Austwell, Texas. This is an increase with the last survey from winter 2019-2020 estimating 506 whooping cranes, indicating the population has grown over the last two years.

An additional 38 birds were recorded outside the primary survey area during the survey, which is also a record high. This marks the fifth year that the population has topped the 500 mark, although a survey was not conducted during winter 2020-2021 due to COVID-19 concerns.

Harrell said biologists plan to conduct the next survey in January 2023.

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.

Need more info?

More information about the survey and whooping cranes can be found on the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge website or by calling the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Contact Station at: 361-349-1181.

***** 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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2022 Whooping Crane Spring Migration Underway

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.

Canadian reports

Any sightings of Whooping Cranes in Canada:
Whooping Crane Hotline is 306-975-5595. That will get you to Wildlife Biologist John Conkin. Leave a detailed message for a callback.

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)

Texas

Texas Whooper Watch also has a project in I-Naturalist that is now fully functional. You can find it here. You can report sightings directly in I-Naturalist via your Smart Phone. This allows you to easily provide photo verification and your location.

If you are not a smart phone app user, you can still report via email: whoopingcranes@tpwd.state.tx.us or phone: (512-389-999). Please note that our primary interest is in reports from outside the core wintering range.

Do not disturb and why reporting is important

Should you see a whooping crane during migration, please do not get close or disturb it. Keep your distance and make a note of date, time, location, and what the whooping crane is doing. If the whooping crane is wearing bands or a transmitter, please note the color(s) and what leg(s) the bands are on.

You may wonder why the wild life agencies are asking for these sightings to be reported. The reports are very helpful in gathering data and information on when and where the whooping cranes stopover, what type of habitat they are choosing, and how many there are.

With just over 500 wild whooping cranes migrating along the Central Flyway, odds are low of seeing a wild whooping crane. However, FOTWW hopes that someone reading this article will be one of the lucky few. If you are, please report your sighting so that these agencies and other conservation groups, including FOTWW can continue helping these magnificent cranes.

 

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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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Whooping Cranes Are Making Their Way to the Texas Coast

Whooping cranes at Aransas National WIldlife Refuge. Photo courtesy of Kevin Sims.
Whooping cranes at Aransas National WIldlife Refuge. Photo courtesy of Kevin Sims ©2014.

Nov. 4, 2021
AUSTIN — With the first sightings of iconic, endangered whooping cranes along the Texas coast being reported, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) is reminding Texans to be on the lookout for these impressive birds as they move through the state.

Whooping cranes are the tallest, rarest birds in North America. Currently, there is a population of around 506 individuals. Thanks to coordinated conservation efforts, whooping cranes are slowly returning from the brink of extinction.

Whooping cranes make a 2,500-mile journey from their Canadian breeding grounds in northern Alberta’s Wood Buffalo National Park to the coastal marshes of Texas each year. The migration south to Texas can take up to 50 days.

During their migration, whooping cranes seek out wetlands and agricultural fields where they can roost and feed. The birds often pass large urban centers like Dallas-Fort Worth, Waco and Austin. Though whooping cranes rarely stay in one place for more than a day during migration, it is important that they not be disturbed or harassed at these stopovers. As a federally protected species, it is illegal to disturb or harass these birds.

With sandhill crane and waterfowl hunting seasons opening and whooper migration in full swing, TPWD urges hunters to be extra vigilant. Whooping cranes are sometimes found in mixed flocks with sandhill cranes, which are gray and slightly smaller. With their all-white body plumage and black wingtips, whooping cranes may also resemble snow geese, which are much smaller and have faster wing beats. A video detailing the differences between snow geese and whooping cranes can be found on the TPWD YouTube Channel.

There are several other non-game species that are similar in appearance such as wood storks, American white pelicans, great egrets and others, but a close look will reveal obvious differences. More information on look-alike species is available online.

Wade Harrell, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Whooping Crane Coordinator at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), says the first of the season was a family group consisting of two adults and a juvenile on the Aransas NWR, along with another tracked bird that arrived in the Port O’ Connor-area, both on Oct. 29.

Harrell says typically most all of the tagged Whooping Cranes he studies are on the move in November as they head for their wintering grounds. The majority of the birds arrive on the Texas Coast in December.

Once whooping cranes arrive on their wintering grounds, many stay in the same general area. Younger birds, however, often haven’t paired yet and may wander a little off their usual flight path, using areas quite distant from the Aransas NWR area.

Harrell says due to the La Niña weather pattern forecast for this winter, the Southwest is in for a drier, warmer season. While this past summer was relatively wet and freshwater wetlands currently have water, a dry winter may require the use of freshwater wells on the Aransas NWR and surrounding areas to provide freshwater to the whooping cranes later in the winter. The USFWS is encouraging landowners to consider providing freshwater on their properties as well to aid the birds during their migration and wintering period.

The public can help track whooping cranes by reporting sightings to TPWD’s Whooper Watch, a citizen-science based reporting system to track whooping crane migration and wintering locations throughout Texas.  More information about Whooper Watch, including instructions for reporting sightings, can be found online and by downloading the iNaturalist mobile app. These observations help biologists identify new migration and wintering locations and their associated habitats.

Biologists remain optimistic that continued research and restoration work will ultimately lead to improved numbers of whooping cranes and say that new pending federal legislation, the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA), could help in a big way. RAWA would provide the funding needed to continue the important conservation work that is vital for whooping cranes and other species throughout Texas. Learn how to help through the Texas Wildlife Alliance’s online toolkit. Texas Wildlife Alliance is a grass roots coalition formed to support RAWA.

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Identifying, Protecting and Managing Stopover Habitats for Wild Whooping Cranes on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Lakes

Abstract

The Whooping Crane (Grus americana) is one of North America’s most endangered species. There is only one wild, self-sustaining migratory population of Whooping Cranes, the Aransas–Wood Buffalo population (AWBP). The birds of the AWBP migrate 4,000 km twice each year between their nesting grounds in northern Canada and their wintering grounds on the Texas Gulf Coast. During migration, AWBP Whooping Cranes must land at suitable ponds or wetlands to forage, rest or roost. The Whooping Crane Recovery Plan, developed by federal wildlife agencies in Canada and the USA, calls for the protection and management of Whooping Crane stopover locations within the migration corridor. Although major stopover areas have been protected, many other smaller sites remain to be identified. However, the Recovery Plan offers no specific entity to identify, protect and manage the latter. To address these deficiencies in information and activity, Friends of the Wild Whoopers partnered with the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) within the AWBP migration corridor to share information about Whooping Cranes and their habitat needs and identify potential stopover locations on USACE properties that could be protected and managed for cranes. This partnership identified 624 potential stopover sites on 34 USACE lakes, principally in North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, with commitments to manage the habitats as resources allow.

To read the entire paper, click here for full text version of it.

One of many stopover habitats evaluated

Stopover Habitats
Excellent “stopover roost site” for Whooping Cranes. Number “1” points out the glide path for Whooping Cranes landing on lakeshore. The site is clear of obstructions and provides a gradual slope into the shallow water. Horizontal visibility around the roost site is good. Number “2” points out the shallow water from 2 to 10 inches deep in roost area. Whoopers can feed on aquatic animal in the lake and forage on insects and grains in nearby fields.

***** 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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