This is part of an article in today's Washingtonpost.com article on the
current status of the Whooping Crane in the US which almost become extinct
in the late 30's.
Victor Harbor, SA
AUSTWELL, Tex. -- One of the most beloved groups of winter Texans is back,
in the largest number in a century and with a record 45 youngsters in tow,
including an even rarer seven pairs of twins.
They flew 2,400 miles from Canada's Northwest Territories and can be seen
munching on blue crabs and bright red-orange wolfberries among the marshes
of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
The whooping crane, the tallest bird in North America, whose numbers
dwindled to fewer than 20 in 1941, is not only back from the brink of
extinction but also thriving -- a comeback story, federal wildlife officials
say, that illustrates how a coordinated conservation effort can save a
This year, the nation's only natural wild population of whooping cranes
reached a milestone. Stehn's mid-December census of the migratory crane
flock at the wildlife refuge, where he is based, numbered 237. Combined with
the number of birds in captivity in three special flocks raised for
reintroduction to the wild and those in zoos, the crane population now
numbers 518. This is the first time in more than a century that whooping
cranes have numbered more than 500.
Recovery efforts date to 1938, a year after the federal government
established the Aransas Wildlife Refuge along the south Texas Gulf Coast.
The salt marsh was known to be the winter home of several species of
migratory birds, including the majestic whooping crane, with its long
sinuous neck, height of five feet and wingspan of seven feet.
The cranes numbered just over 20 in the first census, in 1938. By 1941, the
migratory flock was down to 15, largely because of shooting, the conversion
of grasslands to agriculture and the draining of wetlands.
"This species was virtually four nesting females away from extinction, and
that's why this is so significant," Stehn said. "It was just such a close
call, such an incredibly close call."
Extremely good nest production this summer in Wood Buffalo National Park is
credited with producing this winter's record flock at the Aransas refuge.
Stuart Macmillan, a biologist at Wood Buffalo, cited favorable breeding
conditions such as adequate water levels in ponds where cranes build their
nests, an ample food supply and fewer natural predators.
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