Whooping Crane record broken in Texas
Texas is the winter home of the only self-sustaining wild population of Whooping Cranes Grus americana in the world and this winter record numbers have completed their migration and returned to the southern state.
Whooping Cranes have been on the endangered species list since 1970, when only 56 birds survived in the wild in the world. These birds nested in Canada and migrated south to spend the winter in Texas.
Since then, habitat conservation and protection of the birds has enabled the wild population to increase and in 2007 there were a total of 73 pairs which produced 80 chicks, of which 40 survived to the autumn migration.
So far 257 Whooping Cranes have reached the Coastal Bend area of Texas, breaking the previous count of 237 in winter 2006/07. National Whooping Crane Coordinator, Tom Stehn, said: “I estimate that more than 97 per cent of the flock has completed the migration so far. We know of four birds that are still in migration, so that raises the estimated flock size to 261.”
As well as increasing their numbers, the cranes have also expanded their range. On the central Gulf coast of Texas, the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is the primary wintering home for the cranes, but this year a record-high of 82 cranes were documented on Matagorda Island, a record 13 on the Lamar Peninsula and the 31 cranes at Welder Flats tie the previous record high there.
Projects to reintroduce these cranes to other parts of North America have met with mixed success. An easterly migrating flock has been established using ultralight aircraft to fly the birds from their Wisconsin breeding area to a wintering ground in Florida. This population was set up in case disease –or natural disaster- hit the Canadian breeding population. Unfortunately in early 2007 all of the youngest birds were killed by tornadoes.
Whooping Crane is North America’s tallest bird, standing 1.5 metres (5 feet) tall with a wingspan of 2.3 metres (7.5 feet).
This news is brought to you by the BirdLife Species Champions and the British Birdwatching Fair - official sponsor of the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme