Doug Leier: A call out to keep an eye out for whooping cranes

West Fargo ~

whooping cranes
Every year, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service put out a call for people to report sightings of whooping crane, like this pair spotted near Linton, N.D., on Thursday, March 29, 2018. N.D. Game and Fish Department photo

The extended winter or late spring has delayed some migrations, and even though two whooping cranes were verified in North Dakota on March 29, it will probably still be later April before all these birds have worked their way through the state. Whenever that occurs, it’s likely that I will have gone another year without seeing one of these endangered birds alive in the wild.

As a biologist, I practice what I preach and don’t intentionally go out looking for whooping cranes as they make their way from Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas to Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada. That’s a distance of about 2,500 miles each way.

Every year, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service put out a call for people to report sightings of these striking white birds, as a fair number of the 300 or so birds in the Aransas-Wood Buffalo population end up on the ground in North Dakota.

Biologists receive several dozen reports a year, and in spring, the first reports typically come in the first week of April, which probably won’t be the case this year.

Within two or three weeks in spring, the birds all move through North Dakota, but in fall the migration isn’t as urgent and reports can come in from late September stretching into late November, depending on weather.

Over the next few weeks as that spring migration occurs, some lucky people will get a chance to report sightings so the birds can be tracked.

These magnificent birds are regarded as unmistakable. I’ve seen them displayed in museums and they stand about five feet tall and have a wingspan of about seven feet from tip to tip.

They are bright white with black wing tips, which are visible only when the wings are outspread. In flight, they extend their long necks straight forward, while their long, slender legs extend out behind the tail. Whooping cranes typically migrate singly, or in groups of two to three birds and may be associated with sandhill cranes.

Other white birds, such as snow geese, swans and egrets, are often mistaken for whooping cranes.

The most common misidentification is pelicans, because their wingspan is similar and they tuck their pouch in flight, leaving a silhouette similar to a crane when viewed from below.

Anyone sighting whoopers should not disturb them, but record the date, time, location and the birds’ activity. Observers also should look closely for and report colored bands which may occur on one or both legs. Whooping cranes have been marked with colored leg bands to help determine their identity.

Whooping crane sightings should be reported to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offices at Lostwood, (701) 848-2466, or Long Lake, (701) 387-4397, national wildlife refuges; the state Game and Fish Department in Bismarck, (701) 328-6300, or to local game wardens across the state.

Reports help biologists locate important whooping crane habitat areas, monitor marked birds, determine survival and population numbers and identify times and migration routes.

To read original article, click here.


Indian Reservations have quality Whooping Crane “Stopover habitats”

Indian Reservations have quality Whooping Crane “Stopover habitats”
by Pam Bates, Friends of the Wild Whoopers

Indian Reservations
Figure 1. Two adults and one juvenile Whooping Cranes stop to rest and feed during their 2,500 mile migration between their Canadian nesting site and Aransas Refuge winter habitat on Texas coast.

Indian Reservations in the Great Plains Region have an abundance of quality Whooping Crane “stopover habitats” according to Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW). Stopover habitats are ponds (stock dams) or other wetlands where the Whoopers stop to rest and feed for one or two nights during their two 2,500 mile migrations each year. Stopover habitats along their migration corridor are equally essential to the survival of Whooping Cranes as are their Canadian nesting sites and Aransas Refuge wintering habitats on the Texas coast.

FOTWW’s mission continues

FOTWW is continuing its mission to identify, protect, enhance and develop existing or potential “stopover habitats” for the endangered wild cranes. Our wildlife biologist Chester McConnell, with the assistance of reservation biologists, recently completed a survey of tribal trust lands in the Great Plains Region. Seven Indian reservations involving 3.8 million acres of trust lands were visited. During the surveys McConnell instructs reservation biologist on habitat management practices necessary to make ponds/wetlands acceptable to Whooping Cranes.

Stopover ponds/wetlands on Indian Reservations

McConnell and reservation biologists identified over 1,700 potential stopover ponds/wetlands on Indian reservations in North Dakota and South Dakota within the Whooping Crane migration corridor. The biologists estimated that 75 percent of the 1,700 ponds would provide good “stopover habitat”. That equates to about 1,275 ponds.

Indian Reservations
Figure 2. Numerous wildlife species use the same habitats as wild Whooping Cranes.

FOTWW’s biologist explained that if needed some of the remaining 25 percent of ponds could be managed to become acceptable stopover areas with low cost management improvements. FOTWW believes, however, that there are currently enough stopover ponds within the 3.8 million acres of trust lands if their current management condition is maintained.

Continued need to secure stopover ponds

Importantly, there is a continued need for more secure stopover ponds throughout the remainder of the Whooping Crane migration corridor. FOTWW recently completed another survey of these habitats on U.S. military bases in five states. Approximately 100 quality ponds were identified with 65 percent needing minor management. Importantly, more ponds on some military bases could become stopover sites if the need becomes apparent.

Whooping Cranes migrate between northern Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park nesting grounds and their Aransas National Wildlife Refuge wintering area on the Texas coast two times each year. During each of the 2,500 mile migrations the cranes stopover on wetlands/ponds/lakes and streams about 10 to 15 times. There they remain for a day or two to rest and feed. Regrettably, many “stopover habitats” are being destroyed or degraded on private property due to a variety of intensified developments.

Stopover sites important for survival of the whooping cranes

Insuring that sufficient areas are available with suitable conditions as stopover sites is important for survival of the species. Proactive approaches by land owners and managers can help reduce potential mortality that occurs during migration.

FOTWW is concentrating on the wild Whooping Crane migration corridor because we believe this important part of the total management effort deserves much more attention.

***** 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.

Whooping Crane “Stopover Ponds/Wetlands” Plans

By Chester McConnell, Friends of the Wild Whoopers

Landowners and other land managers often contact Friends of the Wild Whoopers wanting to know how they can help endangered wild Whooping Cranes. Normally we discuss needs by phone or email. To simplify the process we have developed a brochure to provide information concerning one major and growing need.

This need is to properly manage existing ponds/wetlands or develop new ponds/wetlands so that they will attract Whooping Cranes. These amazing birds migrate 2,500 miles two times each year between their Canadian nesting grounds and their winter habitats on the Texas coast. During these long migrations they must stop to rest about 10 to 15 times.

While there are about a dozen prime stopover sites on wildlife refuges, migrating Whoopers mostly stopover on small ponds/wetlands on private farms just to rest overnight. Over the years thousands of stopover areas have been destroyed due to changes in land use. As the Whooper population continues to increase there is an increasing need for more stopover sites on private lands. The focus for these ponds/wetlands is in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

If you own land would you share a small amount with Whooping Cranes? And if you are not a landowner, possibly you could partner with one to help prepare a stopover pond. Ponds can be about any size from one-third acre and larger. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has cost share funding and technical support that will provide dollars to landowners needing assistance. It is also important to know that ponds developed or managed for Whooping Cranes also provide habitats for many other kinds of fish and wildlife.

Whooping Crane “Stopover Ponds/Wetlands” Plans

Interested persons are invited to check out our new “Stopover Ponds/Wetland” brochure. It lists features needed in stopover ponds, and provides diagrams to assist you with planning.

Whooping Crane “Stopover Ponds/Wetlands” Plans
Whooping Crane “Stopover Ponds/Wetlands” Plans

If you would like to download a printable PDF version of the Stopover Pond/Wetlands Plans, click here. logo

***** 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.