Whooping Cranes on Lamar Peninsula

by Felipe Chavez-Ramirez and Lijin Zeng, Gulf Coast Bird Observatory

This past winter we spent some time at the Lamar Peninsula trying to understand the ecology of whooping cranes in that area. Whooping Cranes have history in this area since the first ones were observed in this region in the 1970’s. First it was a pair of Whooping Cranes in the 1970’s that has slowly increased to almost 20 different cranes the past winter.

Whooping Cranes on Lamar Penisula. Photo courtesy of Kevin Sims.
Whooping cranes.  Photo courtesy of Kevin Sims.

Lamar Peninsula is a relatively small peninsula between Copano Bay and St. Charles Bay. Aransas National Wildlife Refuge where the original population of Whooping Cranes has been expanding is located just across St. Charles Bay. Most of the Lamar Peninsula is privately owned with small acreages owned by the State of Texas and Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. The Lamar Peninsula has become somewhat famous among Whooping Crane enthusiast as it is one of the most easily accessible places where one is very likely to observe wild Whooping Cranes outside the protected areas. People who want to see Whooping Cranes but have no time to do a boat tour or visit Aransas National Wildlife Refuge can drive here quickly and have a high probability of encountering Whooping Cranes at the Lamar pasture. A now famous pasture in the area where Whooping Cranes can be observed feeding or loafing alongside the cattle grazing there. Sometimes more than a dozen Whooping Cranes can be present at the same time. The Whooping Cranes also take advantage of several wildlife feeders present in the Lamar Peninsula.

It was because of the easy access, Whooping Crane and public interactions, artificial food sources and an increasing number of Whooping Cranes in Lamar that we consider this an ideal place to investigate how Whooping Cranes are adjusting to spend the winter in areas outside protected areas. The past winter we spend time understanding the distribution and movement patterns of Whooping Cranes in the Lamar Peninsula. In addition to the public connections and artificial feeder availability we had also observed that in many occasions Whooping Cranes on Lamar were spending the night together at a communal roost. This is rather rare behavior, as it is not commonly observed in other areas where cranes spend the winter. On Aransas and Matagorda Island where we have observed them Whooping Cranes spend the night in their territories generally as a pair (male and female) or family (pair plus young). So the landscape is different and so it appears is the behavior of the Whooping Cranes. We spend some time trying to find roosting site of cranes in Lamar and trying to understand their movement patterns during the day. In addition, we are trying to understand the interactions that different crane pairs and families are having with each other. One other aspect that we hope to be able to evaluate is to understand how the availability of artificial feeders impacts movement patterns and interactions among the different cranes present in the area. We spend many hours recording Whooping Crane at feeders both as pairs or families and when there were a larger number of them present at the same time. From the many hours of videos we hope to document the foraging behavior of cranes in the presence and absence of Whooping Cranes other than their family members. We also hope to understand how Whooping Cranes may be influenced by the presence of different human activities in the surrounding areas. Lamar is popular place for fishing and waterfowl hunting so there are many opportunities for potential interactions of human activities and crane activities. We hope to be able to continue the work we have initiated in areas outside the refuge in future winters, however we are somewhat limited by funding availability as neither state or federal agencies have been willing to provide funding to support more research and understanding of Whooping Cranes on private lands. We want to acknowledge support from the Muhamad Bin Zayed Foundation for support for last winters field work. We want to thank the many private landowners and inhabitants and visitors of the Lamar Peninsula for all their support and interest in our project.

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