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Oct. 10, 2008
Texans Welcome the ‘Come-Back’ Cranes
Mention great Texas comeback stories and some people will think of Staubach and Pearson and the Hail Mary pass that gave the Cowboys a victory over Minnesota in the 1975 play-offs. Texas Tech fans will cite the Red Raiders’ record-breaking comeback win over the University of Minnesota in the 2006 Insight Bowl.
But this fall Texans everywhere have a chance to be a part of what may be the most remarkable comeback story of all time.
In 1944 there were only 21 whooping cranes left in the world, with 18 of those spending that winter on the Texas coast. This fall, wildlife officials are hoping that as many as 285 whoopers will winter in Texas, bringing the worldwide population, including captive and experimental populations, to around 540. The Texas population, which winters in the coastal wetlands of Calhoun and Aransas counties near Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, should show an increase this year over the 266 whoopers wintering in 2007-08, thanks to a record 66 whooping crane nests in Canada this summer.
Rarely has any species experienced such a dramatic recovery, according to Lee Ann Linam, biologist in Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Diversity Program.
"The outlook is often discouraging when any species reaches such a low population point, but whooping cranes had several things going for them," Linam says.
Linam notes that whooping cranes have a long life-span, up to 25 years, and, though they don’t produce many young, the parental care that the adults provide ensures a fairly high survival of young.
"These life history traits, combined with remote breeding grounds, protection from overharvest, and efforts by public and private landowners to conserve coastal wetlands in Texas have helped this magnificent bird to make a slow, but steady comeback," she says.
Texans can continue to play an important role in the return of the whooping crane. Starting in late October, whooping cranes will begin passing through Texas en route to their wintering grounds. The primary migratory path runs from north-central Texas southeast to the mid-coast region, often passing over areas such as Wichita Falls, Dallas-Fort Worth, Waco, Austin, Victoria, El Campo, Port Lavaca, and Rockport. Texans are asked to be on the lookout for whoopers and report their sightings.
Whooping cranes are the tallest birds in North America, standing over 4 feet tall. They are solid white in color except for black wing-tips that are visible only in flight and a small marking of black feathers and red skin on the head. They fly with necks and legs outstretched. During migration they often pause overnight to use wetlands for roosting and agricultural fields for feeding, but seldom remain more than one night.
They nearly always migrate in small groups of less than six birds, but they may be seen roosting and feeding with large flocks of the smaller and grayer sandhill crane.
Whooping cranes are protected by federal and state endangered species laws, and Texans can help safeguard this national treasure by helping to prevent harm or harassment to whooping cranes.
Anyone sighting a whooping crane is asked to report it to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department at 1-800-792-1112 x4644 or 1-512-847-9480. Sightings can also be reported via e-mail at email@example.com.
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