· Endangered whooping cranes are migrating from Canada to Texas for the winter.
· Approximately 500 whooping cranes remain in the wild.
· Birders from around the world travel to the Texas coast every winter for a chance to see this rare bird and hundreds of other winter migrants.
· The bipartisan Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would bring the resources needed to save this species, along with other at-risk fish and wildlife.
· The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act would also create thousands of jobs in Texas’ nature-based economy.
A Rare Attraction
As endangered whooping cranes arrive to their winter home along the Texas coast, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) is reminding Texans to be on the lookout for these impressive birds as they move through the state
Whooping cranes are the tallest, rarest birds in North America. Thanks to coordinated conservation efforts, whooping cranes are slowly returning from the brink of extinction.
The Texas Coastal Bend is the only place in the United States where people can see the world’s last naturally occurring population of Whooping Cranes. The region celebrates the whoopers with the annual Whooping Crane Festival. Texas is a global hotspot for birding; whooping crane tourism alone brings in millions of dollars to the local economy each year.
The public can help track whooping cranes by reporting sightings to TPWD’s Whooper Watch, a citizen-science based reporting system to track whooping crane migration and wintering locations throughout Texas.
Texas Rest Stops
Whooping cranes make a 2,500-mile journey from their Canadian breeding grounds in northern Alberta’s Wood Buffalo National Park to the coastal marshes of Texas each year. The migration south to Texas can take up to 50 days.
During their migration, whooping cranes seek out wetlands and agricultural fields where they can roost and feed. The birds often pass large urban centers like Dallas-Fort Worth, Waco and Austin. Though whooping cranes rarely stay in one place for more than a day during migration, it is important that they not be disturbed so keep plenty of distance between you and the birds.
Wade Harrell, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Whooping Crane Coordinator at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), says the first sighting of the season was on Oct 29, 2021, when a family group consisting of two adults and a juvenile arrived at the Aransas NWR while another individual arrived near Port O’ Connor on the same day.
Harrell says typically most of the tagged Whooping Cranes he studies are on the move in November as they head for their wintering grounds. The majority of the birds arrive on the Texas Coast in December.
Once whooping cranes arrive on their wintering grounds, many stay in the same general area. Younger birds, however, often haven’t paired yet and may wander using areas quite distant from the Aransas NWR.
Distinguishing Whoopers from Look-Alikes
With sandhill crane and waterfowl hunting seasons and whooper migration in full swing, TPWD urges hunters to be extra vigilant. Whooping cranes are sometimes found in mixed flocks with sandhill cranes, which are gray and slightly smaller. With their all-white body plumage and black wingtips, whooping cranes may also resemble snow geese, which are much smaller and have faster wing beats. A video detailing the differences between snow geese and whooping cranes can be found on the TPWD YouTube Channel.
There are several other non-game species that are similar in appearance such as wood storks, American white pelicans, great egrets and others, but a close look will reveal obvious differences. More information on look-alike species is available online.
How you can Help
Biologists remain optimistic that continued research and restoration work will ultimately lead to improved numbers of whooping cranes and that the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA), if passed, could help in a big way.
RAWA would invest $50 million per year in Texas to help fish and wildlife, including whooping crane conservation efforts, and create thousands of jobs in our nature-based economy. Funding would come from existing revenues with no new taxes.
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