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WHOOPING CRANE POPULATION REACHES RECORD HIGH
Southwest Region, November 24, 2004
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A record number of endangered whooping cranes have already migrated for the winter to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and the surrounding area along the mid-coast region in Texas. The latest census flight on November 24 tallied 213 whooping cranes; 181 adults and 32 young who completed their first migration. ?Stragglers? can continue to arrive into December, with peak counts for the winter usually not made until mid-December.

External Affairs prepared a news release about the increased numbers and used the opportunitiy to remind Sandhill crane hunters to take special care when hunting to avoid harming the whooping cranes. The following text is from the news release.

?This is the highest number of endangered whooping cranes wintering in Texas in the last 100 years,? said Tom Stehn, Whooping Crane Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. ?We beat last year's record by 19. The next highest record was 194 whoopers in the fall of 2003.?

The increase in numbers is due to very good nest production last summer. The Canadian Wildlife Service reported a total of 54 nesting pairs that fledged 40 chicks on their nesting grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada. Whooping cranes migrate to Canada to breed and nest. They and their young migrate to the southern portions of the United States for the winter months. The young cranes were old enough to fly by mid-August increasing their ability to escape from predators and thus, their chances forsurvival.

People can view a family group of whooping cranes (two adults and one juvenile) from a safe distance from the observation tower at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Austwell, Texas. The cranes stand more than five feet tall and have a wingspan wider than most cars.

Two other male cranes would have boosted the numbers but were shot while migrating through Kansas on early November. One died within the week. The other is recuperating from shotgun wounds at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland, a federal facility involved in the recovery of the whooping crane. It had received extensive treatment at Kansas State University from Dr. James W. Carpenter, head of zoological medicine at Kansas State. The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks volunteered to fly the bird to Patuxent. Biologists do not expect the surviving whooper to be released into the wild but could become part of the breeding program. ?He could end up making an important genetic contribution through the whooping crane breeding program,? said Carpenter. The bird has resumed eating some natural foods, but has an elevated white blood cell count and is still recovering.

?The loss of one endangered bird should remind all hunters to be very sure of their targets,? said Stehn. ?Whooping cranes are similar to sandhill cranes and could be mistaken for one by inexperienced hunters. Sandhill crane season lasts into December in parts of Texas so I encourage hunters to take extra care.?

The current total North American population of wild and captive whooping cranes is 468. 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 four 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 194 cranes last winter," said Stehn. ?Getting a record high count the day before Thanksgiving is certainly something to be thankful for.? 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.

Contact Info: Martin Valdez, 505-248-6599, martin_valdez@fws.gov



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