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Texas Whooping Crane Population Stable

Whooping cranes are the tallest birds in North America and one of the most endangered. About 500 of them call the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge near Corpus Christi home during the winter months. Courtesy photo

The Coastal Bend is a seasonal refuge for one of the rarest birds in North America. Every autumn, the last remaining wild flock of whooping cranes travels nearly 3,000 miles from Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada to spend winter at and around the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge near Corpus Christi. According to biologists, the population of these endangered Winter Texans has been holding steady.

Upon arrival in South Texas, the birds are analyzed, counted, and studied by biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The latest reports show the whooping crane population has remained above the 500 mark for the past three years. That’s quite a comeback from 1941, when only 16 birds remained.

Considered among the tallest birds in North America, whooping cranes in the wild statistically live 30 years. Adults typically mature to a reproductive age of 4-5 years old and produce two eggs, often rearing a single chick.

In a report released May 27, 2020, by the Fish and Wildlife Service, preliminary data analyzed in 2019 from the primary area of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, which is about 153,950 acres, revealed 506 whooping cranes, comprised of 192 pairs and 39 juveniles, in the wild. Compared to the previous winter's estimate of 504 whooping cranes, the population remained stable with no detectable growth this year. In addition, 29 more birds were recorded outside the primary survey area. In fact, a fair of whooping cranes have called Port Aransas home for the past two years.

According to the Canadian Wildlife Service, 24 whooping crane chicks came of age at the breeding grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park in the summer of 2018 and 37 in the summer of 2019. Due to low fledge rates, recruitment and population rates have stagnated since the winter of 2017-18.

Scientists will do the survey again in January 2021 using tracking devices in a joint collaboration between the U.S. and Canadian governments.

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