Endangered whooping cranes have begun their annual 2,400-mile fall migration from Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Canada to southern Texas.
As the rare birds approach the Lone Star State, a citizen science initiative is inviting Texas residents and visitors to report whooper sightings, according to a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) news release.
Texas Whooper Watch is a volunteer monitoring program that is a part of TPWD’s Texas Nature Trackers program. The program was developed to help the agency learn more about Whooping Cranes and their winter habitats in Texas.
Since beginning their slow recovery from a low of 16 birds in 1942, whoopers have wintered on the Texas coast on and near Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
Recently though, several groups of whooping cranes expanded their wintering areas to include other coastal areas and some inland sites in Central Texas.
This year, some of the whooping cranes from an experimental flock in Louisiana spent most of the summer months in Texas, and the Whooper Watch volunteers were able to provide valuable information about these birds to TPWD, Louisiana Game and Fish, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
This year biologists expect Whooping Cranes to start arriving in Texas in late October or early November.
Texas Whooper Watch will also help improve the accuracy of surveys on the wintering grounds, as the growth of the flock has made traditional census methods more difficult.
Whoopers usually follow a migratory path through North and Central Texas that includes cities such as Wichita Falls, Fort Worth, Waco, Austin, and Victoria.
During migration they often pause overnight to use wetlands for roosting and agricultural fields for feeding, but seldom remain more than one night. The typical sighting (71 percent of all observations) is fewer than three birds, but they may be seen roosting and feeding with large flocks of the smaller sandhill crane.
Whoopers are the tallest birds in North America, standing nearly five feet. The cranes are solid white in color except for black wing-tips that are visible only in flight. They fly with necks and legs outstretched.
Citizens can help by reporting sightings of whooping cranes and by preventing disturbance of cranes when they remain overnight at roosting and feeding locations.
Sightings can be reported to firstname.lastname@example.org or 512-389-TXWW (8999). Observers are asked especially to note whether the cranes have colored leg bands on their legs. Volunteers interested in attending training sessions to become “Whooper Watchers” in order to collect more detailed data may also contact the TPWD email@example.com or 512-389-TXWW (8999).
Aransas National Wildlife Refuge
Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is one of over 545 national wildlife refuges spanning the United States and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Aransas NWR was originally established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937 as a “refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife…”
The Refuge is world renowned for hosting the largest wild flock of endangered whooping cranes each winter.
The 16 mile auto tour loop is open.
Phone: (361) 286-3559
It’s now in its second year; it’s no longer a juvenile. But this one particular whooping crane doesn’t know where Aransas is. Its parents never showed it.