, December 12, 2007 (ENS) - For the fifth year in a row, a recordbreaking number of whooping cranes have completed their winter migration to the Coastal Bend area of Texas, according to state wildlife scientists.
So far, 257 whoopers have reached Texas, breaking the previous count of 237 birds that were present last winter, and experts predict a few more are still on the way.
"I estimate that more than 97 percent of the flock has completed the migration so far. We know of four birds that are still in migration, so that raises the estimated flock size to 261," said National Whooping Crane Coordinator Tom Stehn.
At nearly five feet tall, whooping cranes are the tallest birds in North America. They have a wingspan that measures 7.5 feet across.
An endangered whooping crane at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo courtesy TPWD)
Whooping cranes breed in the wetlands of Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Canada and spend the winter on the Texas coast at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge near Rockport.
Whooping cranes begin their fall migration south to Texas in mid-September and begin the spring migration north to Canada in late March or early April.
In addition to increasing their numbers, whoopers have also expanded their range, says the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, TPWD.
The Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is the primary wintering home for the cranes, but this year a record 82 cranes were documented on Matagorda Island, and a record 13 cranes were seen on the Lamar Peninsula.
The 31 cranes at Welder Flats tie the previous record high there.
Whoopers also have settled on private lands such as San Jose Island and the Lamar Peninsula, and private landowners are playing a role by providing flock activity updates and observations to state wildlife scientists.
"We've passed the highest number we've seen since counts began in 1937 said Lee Ann Johnson Linam, TPWD wildlife biologist. "The good news is that for the last several years we've set a new record each year, so we're on the right track."
Whooping cranes have been on the endangered species list since 1970, when only 56 birds survived in the wild in a flock that winters in Texas and nests in Canada during the summers.
That flock grew to 100 birds by 1986 and passed the 200 bird mark in 2004.
These cranes can live up to 24 years in the wild. Whooping cranes mate for life, but will accept a new mate if one dies.
Protected in Canada, the United States and Mexico, whooping cranes are one of the rarest bird species in North America.
The greatest threats to whooping cranes are power lines, illegal hunting, and habitat loss. Because the Gulf International Waterway goes through their habitat area, the cranes are vulnerable to chemical spills and petroleum contamination.
Texas continues to play a key role in the survival and recovery of this endangered species, says the TPWD, and today the flock that winters in Texas continues to be the only self-sustaining wild population in the world.
Although most whoopers have completed the migration, conservationists are still asking the public to report any sightings of whooping cranes to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department at 800-792-1112, ext. 4644 or 512-847-9480.
Sightings may also be reported by e-mail at: email@example.com.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.
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