Wood Buffalo National Park Whooping Crane Conservation Update

September 2021 Whooping Crane Conservation UPDATE

Whooping Crane Conservation
Wood Buffalo National Park

This summer has been another exciting and engaging one for Wood Buffalo National Park and all partners involved in whooping crane research and monitoring. Even with COVID-19 realities and mitigations across boundaries, conservation collaboration continues unimpeded. Innovation and adaptation have been the story of successful efforts to date.

What the Crane Spring Monitoring looked like

Each year, Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) and Parks Canada staff conduct aerial surveys over the extensive wetlands that the cranes nest in and call home for the summer. These surveys occur at the end of May for the purpose of locating nests and then again in late July to count the number of chicks fledged. COVID 19 prevented surveys from taking place at all in 2020 and in 2021 CWS was still unable to join Parks staff on the survey, but Park staff conducted surveys in both May and August and the results are positive.

Enter Citizen Science

As Whooping Crane nesting areas expand to regions outside of Wood Buffalo National Park and begin to cover a wider area, new techniques in monitoring are needed. This past summer, CWS, the Calgary Zoo and Parks Canada launched a new crowdsourcing project to test the viability of using satellite photos to find Whooping Crane nesting sites. This was trialed in 2020 and launched on a wider scale pilot in 2021. Working through Zooniverse (the world’s largest citizen science platform!) we launched a virtual volunteering project with people from around the world helping detect several new nesting locations that were not previously known to biologists.

By the numbers:

• 2095 citizen scientists
• 59,038 images
• 102 nests identified, including 4 new nests

50 Crane Chicks Seen During Survey Flights

Whooping Crane Conservation
Whooping crane nesting area at Wood Buffalo National Park. Photo by Jane Peterson / ©Parks Canada /Wood Buffalo National Park. Click on photo to enlarge.

Parks Canada was back in the air again this August, searching for chicks and cranes amongst the extensive wetlands of the park. During this time, staff return to observe the nesting sites again and to count the number of chicks that can be seen. During helicopter surveys, at least 50 chicks were seen from the air. But the process of counting chicks amongst the thick wetlands of Wood Buffalo is far from perfect, and actual survival rate may be higher. At this time of year, the chicks are nearing the strength and ability to fly on their own. By the end of August or early September, they will be ready to begin the long flight down to Aransas!

The results:

This Whooping Crane population, the only self-sustaining one in North America, has seen a steady increase in recent years and now has as many as 500 individuals flying from Wood Buffalo to Aransas, Texas every year. 2021 was a terrific summer and marks the first time since conservation actions to conserve Whooping Cranes began that over 100 nests in total were counted, with at least 50% of the crane nests yielding surviving Whooping Crane chicks seen during survey flights. Parks Canada and the Canadian Wildlife Service are excited to continue seeing the species recover in the months and years ahead.

  • We still need help!

    Work on the crowdsourcing of thousands of satellite photos is still underway and help is still needed to continue sifting through these images on Zooniverse. Virtual volunteers can still sign up to take part, so be sure to visit and signup: Help Us Look for Whooping Cranes.

    Want to learn more about Whooping Cranes? Visit the Wood Buffalo National Park website!

     

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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
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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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friendsofthewildwhoopers.org

***** 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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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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