|A whooping crane at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. Photo by Steve Hillebrand/USFWS|
We are celebrating the projects and programs our Nebraska Ecological Services Field Office is working on! One key habitat there is the central Platte River.
The shallowness of the central Platte River and flat valley around it makes it an incredibly important area for millions of migratory birds in the central flyway, including geese, ducks, songbirds and even threatened and endangered species such as piping plovers, interior least terns and whooping cranes.
Whooping cranes used to number in the tens of thousands across North America, but following English settlement and westward expansion, only an estimated 1,400 survived in 1860. Habitat loss and overexploitation caused the bird’s demise and the population hit an all-time low of just 15 birds in 1938. The 15 surviving whooping cranes all belonged to one flock, called the Aransas-Wood Buffalo population that migrated between Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada and the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. This flock, which still migrates through central Nebraska every spring and fall, frequently stops on the Platte River, and formed the basis for the ongoing recovery of this endangered species. Currently, this flock remains the only self-sustaining, wild, migratory population of whooping cranes, though conservation efforts have established experimental populations in other parts of the United States.
Today, biologists estimate that more than 300 whooping cranes are in the Aransas-Wood Buffalo population and habitat restoration and protection efforts continue to provide important stopover habitat needed during migration for recovery. In addition to the whooping crane tracking project, the Nebraska Field Office is working with public and private power companies to avoid and minimize impacts to whooping cranes from industrial and energy development.
It is no doubt that the whooping crane faces substantial challenges on its road to recovery. But we are committed to working with our partners to ensure that the central Platte River is a safe haven for these majestic birds and an area Nebraskans can be proud of.
Learn more: http://1.usa.gov/1KCrlT5