Whooping Crane Status

To: "Birding_Aus _Server" <>
Subject: Whooping Crane Status
From: "Dean Cutten" <>
Date: Tue, 26 Dec 2006 05:32:50 -0600
This is part of an article in today's article on the current status of the Whooping Crane in the US which almost become extinct in the late 30's.

Dean Cutten
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 species.

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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