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.

fall migration
friendsofthewildwhoopers.org
Share

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.

fall migration
friendsofthewildwhoopers.org
Share

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!

     

Share

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
friendsofthewildwhoopers.org
Share