The following report is forwarded with permission from Tom Stehn, USFWS biologist and US Whooping Crane Coordinator.
CONGRATULATIONS to everyone involved in and concerned about this wonderful recovery effort! Each time the next delicate milestone is reached, it really crystalizes just how effective everyone's role is in helping the whooping crane rebuild its population. From biologists to educators to the sneaker net -- every role is important!
As spring migration gets underway, please be sure and report all whooping crane migrational sightings. Tom's email address is in his signature block below.
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An aerial whooping crane census of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas was conducted on 19 April by contract pilot Gary Ritchey of Air Logistic Solutions, San Antonio, Texas with observer Tom Stehn.
The census found 7 adults and 0 chicks = 7 total.
Recap of cranes found: (7)
adults + young
Refuge 3 + 0
San Jose 3 + 0
Matagorda 1 + 0
Welder Flats -___
Total 7 + 0 = 7
All but 7 of the 237 whooping cranes (3%) have started the migration from Aransas. An estimated 65 birds started migration since the last flight on April 10th. Sightings in the migration corridor indicate the whooping cranes are currently spread out across North America with some having reached southern Canada. All the juveniles have departed Aransas, including the “twin” juveniles that had stayed behind when their parents had migrated. The cranes remaining at Aransas are all believed to be subadults, or non-breeders. These birds, since they won’t pair up and nest in 2007, do not feel the same urgency to pack their bags and leave the food-rich marshes of Aransas and face the long, hazardous trip north.
Three of the birds at Aransas may be the 3 cranes that failed to migrate north in 2006 and spent all summer at Aransas. One of the three suffered a severe injury as a juvenile in April, 2004 when it was presumably either bitten by a poisonous snake or was hit in the head with the talons of a raptor. The bird nearly died with extreme swelling of the neck and head observed. The bird did not eat for up to 10 days and spent lots of time sitting down in the marsh, something cranes rarely ever do. The crane got better and seems fine now, but somehow it seems to have had the urge to migrate knocked out of it. The bird I think is a male. I wonder what will happen when it gets a mate and the mate is in the habit of migrating. Who will the win the discussion about should we stay or should we head north for the summer?
The total flock size was revised down by one bird yesterday to 236. A dead whooping crane was found in a farm field on April 18th in North Dakota, about 20 miles south of Mandan. The cause of death was unknown, but it appears the bird had a broken neck. The bird will be shipped to wildlife health experts to see if they can figure out what happened. The bird had a red band on one leg. When photos of the band were sent to me, I identified the bird as r-Y, a male crane hatched in 1983 that was 23 years old.
A news release about the incident is pasted below.
U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE
To: News Editor/News Director/Webmaster
From: Ken Torkelson, USFWS (701-355-8528) April 19, 2007
DEAD WHOOPING CRANE FOUND IN MORTON COUNTY
Federal and state wildlife biologists have found no evidence of human involvement in the death of a whooping crane whose remains were found yesterday in a field near Almont, N.D.
A farmer plowing his field found the remains of the rare bird. A preliminary inspection revealed the whooper may have suffered a broken neck. Investigators for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the N.D. Game and Fish Department said there appeared to be no evidence of foul play. They believe the bird had been dead for at least one day before it was found, but that it appeared to have been in good health. The carcass is being sent to the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis. for analysis.
An identification band attached to the dead whooper shows that it hatched and was banded in 1983, making it a very old bird. Biologists say most whooping cranes do not live much beyond 20 years in the wild.
Tom Stehn, the whooping crane coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, is familiar with the bird found near Almont. He called it a productive male. “It first nested in 1986 and brought its first chick to Aransas in 1987. In 21 years of nesting, it successfully brought seven chicks to Aransas. It was still a very productive male, having brought six chicks to Aransas out of the last 10 years.”
The dead bird and its mate both were equipped with radio collars in the early 1980s, recalled Stehn. “We called them the ‘radio pair.’ Not only did they produce seven offspring, but they provided us with a lot of valuable information about whooping crane movements.”
Stehn recalled another memory of the whooper found near Almont. “It was involved in the fastest whooper migration across the United States ever recorded,” he related. In the fall of 1983, this bird and its parents were in a flock of six whooping cranes that landed near Pierre, S.D. on Nov. 8. They were found on the Texas coast just three days later. Stehn explained, “They were pushed by strong tailwinds and a low pressure system on their way south and must have flown pretty much non-stop except maybe for some brief stops. The bad weather connected with the low pressure system kept the tracking crew from staying with them, and basically the trackers caught up to the birds in Texas.”
There are 236 whooping cranes in the wild. Each spring, they migrate from their wintering grounds on the Gulf Coast of Texas to their breeding grounds at Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories of Canada. That trip takes most of them through North Dakota, and state residents typically report several sightings each spring, and again in the fall on their return.
Stehn said North Dakota residents could see whoopers anytime for the next month or more. “Most of the flock has left Aransas, and we just had our first sighting in Canada,” he noted. “There were 21 or 22 birds seen in Nebraska last weekend, and North Dakota should be just a day or two away for those birds.”
Anyone seeing a whooping crane is asked to contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at (701)387-4397 or the N.D. Game and Fish Department at (701)328-6300.
America’s tallest birds, adult whooping cranes are about five feet tall, with a wingspan of seven feet. They are white with black wingtips and red markings on their head. Whoopers frequently accompany the smaller sandhill cranes, especially during migration. They feed on crabs, crayfish, frogs and other small aquatic life, as well as plants.
The whooping crane population dropped to an estimated 21 birds in the 1940s, and they were listed as “endangered” in 1970.
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.
For more information about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, go to www.fws.gov
Media Contact: For more information, contact Ken Torkelson at 701-355-8528.
Whooping Crane Coordinator
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
P.O. Box 100
Austwell, TX 77950
(361) 286-3559 Ext. 221
fax (361) 286-3722
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Where applicable, CWS stands for Canadian Wildlife Service; USFWS is US Fish and Wildlife Service. Crane monitoring involves cooperative efforts and support by both countries, plus many volunteers and non-profit organizations along the way.
Anyone wanting to contact Tom about the report or the whooping crane projects can reach him via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Other information, including archived copies of these reports, can be found at the Texas Whooping Crane web site at https://ccbirding.com/
Patty Waits Beasley
Corpus Christi, TX