Deaths of Endangered Whooping Cranes Under Investigation

deaths of endangered whooping cranes
Oklahoma Game Warden Jeremy Brothers approaches the injured whooping crane that later died due to its injuries.

Whooping Crane Deaths Under Investigation

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to investigate the deaths of endangered whooping cranes near Tom Steed Lake in Kiowa County.

One whooping crane was discovered by hunters who notified game wardens with ODWC. The whooping crane subsequently died while being transported to a veterinarian clinic. Additional evidence was recovered at the scene. The USFWS’s Wildlife Forensics Laboratory conducted a necropsy and verified the cause of death as a shotgun wound.

Further investigation of the original crane’s location uncovered evidence of three additional whooping cranes, bringing the total loss to four. All of the deaths are being investigated by ODWC and USFWS law enforcement officers.

“This is sickening to see such a wanton waste of wildlife, and our Game Wardens are very eager to visit with the individual or individuals who committed this crime,” said Wade Farrar, Assistant Chief of Law Enforcement with the Wildlife Department. “Somebody out there knows something that will help in this investigation, and I trust that they will do the right thing and come forward.”

Whooping cranes are an endangered species with a total population of approximately 500 birds in North America. Whooping cranes are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Endangered Species Act. A conviction for killing a whooping crane can carry up to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine per person under the Endangered Species Act, and up to six months in jail and a $15,000 fine under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Reward Offered for Information

Anyone with information regarding the deaths of these whooping cranes is asked to contact the Wildlife Department’s Operation Game Thief at (918) 331-5555 or the USFWS’ Office of Law Enforcement in Fort Worth, Texas, at (817) 334-5202. Callers with information may remain anonymous.

Operation Game Thief, the Oklahoma Game Warden Association, ODWC’s Wildlife Diversity Program and the USFWS are offering cash rewards for information leading to the conviction of the person or persons responsible for the death of these endangered cranes.

Whooping cranes travel through Oklahoma during migrations to and from their breeding grounds in Texas. Most whooping crane sightings in Oklahoma are reported from mid-October through November. Whooping crane sightings can be shared with the Wildlife Department online.

***** 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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2021 Whooping Crane fall migration underway

Migration Underway

whooping crane migration
Whooping cranes near Saskatchewan. Photo by Muhammad Zain Ul Abideen ©2021

Migration of the only natural wild population of whooping cranes is underway. The Whooping Crane migration from Wood Buffalo to Aransas NWR is about 2,500 miles in length and can take as many as 50 days to complete. The flock is expected to migrate through Saskatchewan, Nebraska, North Dakota and other states along the Central Flyway over the next several weeks. The Wildlife Fish and Game and Parks agencies along the flyway encourage the public to report any whooping crane sightings.

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. If you need help with identification, please click on our Whooper Identification page.

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.

whooping crane migration
Whooping cranes near Saskatchewan. Photo by Muhammad Zain Ul Abideen ©2021

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.

 

***** 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
friendsofthewildwhoopers.org
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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
friendsofthewildwhoopers.org
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