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Whooping Crane Population Reaches Record High

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Old Friday 12th December 2003, 19:02   #1
Steve Gross
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Whooping Crane Population Reaches Record High

This information was just released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:


The tallest bird in North America has something special to "whoop" about.
The Aransas National Wildlife Refuge today announced the highest numbers of
endangered whooping cranes are wintering in Texas in approximately the last
100 years. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Whooping Crane Coordinator Tom
Stehn completed a census flight on December 10th and tallied 189 whooping
cranes. The current population exceeds by one the previous high of 188
whoopers present in the fall of 1999.

The increase in numbers is due to very good nest production last summer. A
record 61 nesting pairs fledged 27 chicks on their nesting grounds in Wood
Buffalo National Park, Canada, as reported by the Canadian Wildlife
Service. The young cranes were old enough to fly by mid-August increasing
their ability to escape from predators and their survival. The record
population of 189 includes 24 young cranes that have completed their first
migration to Texas.

Although the whooping crane population remains endangered, the comeback of
the species sets a standard for conservation efforts in North America. The
population in Texas reached a low of only 15 birds in 1941, before efforts
were taken to protect the species and its habitat. The population has been
growing at 4 percent annually and reached 100 birds in 1987. "We were
hoping for 200 whooping cranes in the year 2000, but the population went
into a decline for a couple years before rebounding back to 185 cranes last
winter, " said Mr. Stehn.

The whooping crane population continues to face many threats, including
collisions with power lines in migration, limited genetic variability in
the birds themselves, loss of crane migration habitat, and winter habitat
threatened with loss of productivity due to reduced fresh water inflows and
chemical spills.

The only natural wild population of whooping cranes nest in the Northwest
Territories of Canada in summer and migrate 2,400 miles to winter at the
Aransas and Matagorda Island National Wildlife Refuges and surrounding
areas. Their winter range stretches out over 35 miles of the Texas coast
about 45 miles north of Corpus Christi, Texas. Wintering whooping cranes
use salt marsh habitat foraging primarily for blue crabs. Unlike most
other bird species, whooping cranes are territorial in both summer and
winter and will defend and chase all other whooping cranes out of their
estimated 350-acre territories.

Although whooping crane migration starts in mid-September and is usually
completed by mid-December, it is still possible that a few additional
cranes will turn up to be counted on the weekly census flights conducted by
the Service. It takes up to 8 hours of flying to cover the 55,600 acres of
marsh over a 35-mile stretch of the Texas coast to find all the cranes.
These flights determine the size of the total population, locate crane
territories, and any mortalities that may occur. "Finding every whooping
crane every week is quite a challenge. We have thousands of other white
birds in the marsh including pelicans and egrets that makes aerial spotting
of cranes more difficult. Also, the cranes can move during a census flight
and either not be counted or else be counted twice." said Mr. Stehn.

If a disease outbreak should occur affecting the Texas flock, a contingency
plan to reintroduce two additional flocks into the wild is in place. Since
1993, captive bred whooping cranes have been released annually in central
Florida. Today, that non-migratory flock numbers approximately 75
birds. During the past two years these cranes demonstrated their maturity
by nesting and producing chicks on their own.

A migratory flock was established using an ultra light aircraft to teach
the whooping cranes a migration route between Wisconsin and Florida. This
migratory flock now numbers 36, with the cranes flying solo after being led
on their initial trip across the eastern U.S. behind the ultralight. On
December 8th, sixteen whooping crane juveniles completed their migration
from Wisconsin led by ultra light aircraft. The team of pilots and
biologists assigned this task make up the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership.

The current total North American population of wild and captive whooping
cranes is 426.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency
responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and
plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American
people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge
System, which encompasses nearly 540 national wildlife refuges, thousands
of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69
national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological
services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws,
administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations,
restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife
habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their
conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that
distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and
hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

Forwarded by Steve Gross, Houston, TX
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Old Friday 12th December 2003, 19:19   #2
Steve G
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Good to hear this. Lets hope the numbers continue to pick up.
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Old Friday 12th December 2003, 20:37   #3
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This is terrific news, on all fronts. After seeing my first Whooper in November, I find myself more interested in ever in their welfare.

I find the size of their territories interesting. Perhaps this explains why the Whooper seen among thousands of Sandhills seemed so stand-offish. He tried to have nothing to do with the Sandhills, which of course became more and more difficult as thousands more poured in for the evening.

Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.
--Langston Hughes
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Old Saturday 13th December 2003, 04:49   #4
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Yes, they aren't as gregarious as the Sandhills and need their space. The pairs will defend territories on the wintering grounds too. You hardly ever see them in groups of more than 3, unless you get some subadults (or unless they're following a small aircraft).
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