Whooping Cranes – Rowe Sanctuary

by Pam Bates, Friends of the Wild Whoopers

Now that summer is here and all is right in the world of wild Whooping Cranes, we can sit back and reflect back on this phenomenon called spring migration.

Spring time along the Central Flyway

Every year, the Central Flyway becomes alive with hundreds of thousands of Sandhill Cranes making their northern journey to their nesting grounds. During the migration, most will make a stopover at Rowe Sanctuary and if you’re lucky, you may see one or two wild whooping cranes among them.

John Smeltzer spent his entire career in wildlife management in Colorado, is still a board member for the Colorado Wildlife Federation, and has been fortunate enough to see Whooping Cranes while visiting Rowe Sanctuary during the spring migration. John says that he has “followed the recovery efforts of the whooping cranes from the days that the report was only 49 birds in the wild.”

Throughout his career in Wildlife Management, John says that he “only saw three birds in the wild around Larimer County in NE Colorado … and only single birds “hanging out” trying to figure the world out”.

Whooping Cranes – Rowe Sanctuary

John has been fortunate enough to have witness the Great Migration that occurs each spring at Rowe Sanctuary in Gibbons, Nebraska. He has graciously given FOTWW the opportunity to share his videos. We are posting John’s videos below, recorded from a blind at Rowe Sanctuary and we will let you enjoy the moments along with his own thoughts and words.

FOTWW thanks John Smeltzer for sharing these videos with us so that we can share them with you. We hope that you enjoy them. Sit back, relax, and turn up your volume.

Whooping Cranes - Rowe Sanctuary
Whooping Cranes – Rowe Sanctuary Photo by  John Smeltzer – Click on photo to enlarge.

Videos recorded at Rowe Sanctuary by John Smeltzer

John explained: “The morning was special. Two “white dots” in the emerging mass of sandhills waking up from their overnight at the Rowe Sanctuary. Finally there was enough light to tell that those two “white dots” were a pair of whoopers in the midst of thousands of sandhills. And then they started to dance for us. And after an appropriate amount of cacophony much of the group … including the two whoopers …. rose in the winds ….circled a handful of times to gain altitude and captured a north bound current of wind that pushed them north. I understand they were in Montana by nightfall.”

John added: “This video, shows the pair of Whooping Cranes rise amidst the chaos of the Sandhill rise …. and soar the area for a couple minutes.”

Finally John Smeltzer advised that: “The two Whooping Cranes landed a little closer to us after an initial morning “rise” and set about preening themselves while some Sandhill Cranes danced nearby.”


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***** FOTWW’s mission is to help preserve and protect the Aransas/Wood Buffalo
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Aransas National Wildlife Refuge: The Whooping Crane’s Vulnerable Winter Retreat

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge: The Whooping
Crane’s Vulnerable Winter Retreat

“Perhaps no North American species of bird has come closer to extinction and yet managed to survive into the twenty-first century than has the whooping crane.”

In his article, “Aransas National Wildlife Refuge: The Whooping Crane’s Vulnerable Winter Retreat“, published in the “Prairie Fire“, Paul A Johnsgard, foundation professor emeritus of biological sciences at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and author of over 50 books on natural history, writes in depth about the last remaining natural wild flock of whooping cranes’ determination and vulnerabilities to survive. Aransas National Wildlife Refuge has been the whooping cranes’ winter retreat since the beginning of time and throughout the years, just as the wild ones have had to endure setbacks, so has the refuge.

To read Paul A Johnsgard‘s article, “Aransas National Wildlife Refuge: The Whooping Crane’s Vulnerable Winter Retreat”, click here.


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Wetlands, Watersheds and Whooping Cranes

Wetlands, Watersheds and Whooping Cranes: Wetland Habitat Restoration in the Rainwater Basin of Nebraska

By , on April 3, 2014

The Whooping Crane (Grus americana) remains one of the most imperiled species in the United States. This Endangered species once ranged throughout the plains and prairies of central North America. It bred in central Canada and the north-central United States and wintered on the Gulf Coast, parts of the Atlantic coast, and as far south as northern and central Mexico. But by the early 1940s habitat loss and unregulated hunting caused the population to shrink to just over 20 birds in the world.

Whooping Cranes at Funk Lagoon Waterfowl Production Area in Nebraska. (The buildings in the background are the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Rainwater Basin Wetland Management District headquarters). Photo by Ronnie Sanchez.
Whooping Cranes at Funk Lagoon Waterfowl Production Area in Nebraska. (The buildings in the background are the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Rainwater Basin Wetland Management District headquarters). Photo by Ronnie Sanchez.

Fortunately, conservation efforts have led to a limited recovery. By 2011, there were an estimated 437 birds in the wild and more than 165 in captivity. Today, the largest and only naturally occurring flock breeds in Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada, on the border between Alberta and the Northwest Territories. These birds migrate through the central and western U.S. to their wintering grounds at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Gulf Coast.

Although we have made great strides in bringing Whooping Cranes back from the brink of extinction, the situation remains critical. Much of the conservation efforts have focused on the breeding and wintering grounds. Just as important are the areas where Whooping Cranes stop to rest and ‘refuel’ during migration. For the Wood Buffalo National Park breeding population, partners are working to ensure that they have quality habitat along their 2,500 mile journey (over 5,000 miles round-trip).

The Rainwater Basin region of Nebraska lies along this migratory corridor. This wetland complex contains many playa wetlands scattered throughout a 21-county area in the southern part of the state. These shallow, ephemeral ponds provide resting and feeding habitat during migration for millions of waterfowl, shorebirds, and other wetland species. Historically bison and wildfire kept the wetlands open, with plants growing only during dry summer months and droughts. With bison gone and wildfires controlled, we now need other ways to maintain habitat for the species that rely on these areas.

To read more, click here: aba blog

Visit the American Birding Association to learn more about that they do.


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Whooping cranes to benefit from USFWS water release

Kearney Hub

Releases expected to continue until May 10

Posted: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 1:15 pm

KEARNEY — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has started releasing into the Platte River water from its environmental account stored in Lake McConaughywhooping cranes
primarily to benefit endangered whooping cranes during their migration stopover in central Nebraska.

The releases started Saturday and are expected to continue until May 10. They should increase Overton-to-Grand Island flows to about 1,700 cubic feet per second.

That is the minimum flow in a dry year that USFWS officials believe is necessary to provide and maintain adequate roosting and feeding habitat for whooping cranes on the Platte River. Such flows are not unusual at this time of year and are well-below flood levels.

All the environmental account water should be past Grand Island by around May 24.Whooping cranes use the Central Flyway to migrate to Canada for the summer. It’s the same route used by hundreds of thousands of other migrating birds, including around 500,000 sandhill cranes. They all stop in the Central Platte Valley in March and April to feed in area fields and roost overnight in the river.

The environmental account was established in 1999 and is managed by the USFWS to benefit four federally listed threatened or endangered species — whooping cranes, least terns, piping plovers and pallid sturgeon.