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Fall Whooping Crane Migration Begins Soon



     


For Immediate Release:  Sept. 28, 1988
Contact:
Tom Stehn  512-286-3559
     
Hans Stuart 505-248-6911
     
FALL WHOOPING CRANE MIGRATION BEGINS SOON; 
NUMBERS APPROACH RECORD HIGH LEVELS
     
One of nature's most spectacular and closely watched events, the migration of 
the endangered whooping crane, will unfold across America's heartland during the
next several weeks.  Almost 200 whooping cranes will trek across the Great 
Plains in October, migrating from Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada's 
Northwest Territories to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Gulf 
Coast.
     
The story of the whooper's recovery from a nadir of 15 birds in the winter of 
1941-42 has been celebrated across the world. Progress continues this year with 
near record numbers of cranes reported in the wild and in captivity. More than 
190 cranes in the Aransas-Wood Buffalo flock are expected to arrive in Texas 
this fall, including 24 chicks that survived through mid-August.
Biologists counted a record 49 pairs nesting at Wood Buffalo National Park in 
late May.  Last fall, 182 birds including 30 young, made the fall migration.
     
The only other whooping cranes in the world include four in a Rocky Mountain 
flock, 57 in a non-migratory flock being established in central Florida, and 133
in captivity for a total population of about 375.
     
The 2,500-mile journey will take the Aransas-Wood Buffalo cranes through Alberta
and Saskatchewan, Canada, and the Midwestern States of North and South Dakota, 
Montana, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.  Southward migration requires up
to 50 days including a 2-day flight from the breeding range to southern 
Saskatchewan grain fields where birds remain 1 to 5 weeks, followed by a rapid 
1-2 week trip across U.S. prairie states.
     
Migration by subadults begins in mid-September; family groups and paired adults 
usually start in early October.  Migration begins with northerly winds, good 
visibility, and increasing barometric pressure. The average date when the first 
whooping cranes pass through the Dakotas, Montana, Nebraska, and Kansas is 
October 10 to 15.  Migration through Oklahoma and Texas is about October 15 to 
20. The first whooping crane arrival at Aransas NWR occurs on average about 
October 16.
     
In the Rocky Mountains, three of four whoopers began their migration south from 
Yellowstone National Park this week to the Rio Grande Valley of central New 
Mexico, and are currently in southeastern Idaho.
     
Two of the cranes are the only remaining survivors of a foster parent experiment
where whooping crane eggs were placed in sandhill nests, with the adult sandhill
cranes teaching the whoopers to migrate. The other two were raised in captivity 
by researcher Kent Clegg last year and taught a migration route between his 
ranch in southeastern Idaho and the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.
     
"This experiment marked the first time whooping cranes had been taught to follow
an ultralight aircraft," said Tom Stehn, Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator for
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  "The experiment was a success because it 
showed that the birds could be taught to follow an ultralight and that they 
could quickly learn to survive with wild sandhill cranes.  The two birds that 
survived the winter migrated back north on their own, proving that they didn't 
have to be led back north."
     
Whooping cranes migrate during the day, making regular stops to feed and rest 
away from human activity. They travel as singles, pairs, family groups, or 
flocks of 4 to 5, sometimes joining with sandhill cranes for part of the 
migration.  The most common flight grouping is a V-formation at an altitude of 
1,800 to 4,500 feet above the ground.  Their energy-efficient flight results 
from sequences of spiraling upward in thermal updrafts followed by long, 
declining glides.  They may travel up to 440 miles in 9 to 10 hours under ideal 
conditions with a tail wind.  Average speed of travel is 250 miles in 7 to 8 
hours.
     
Wildlife officials ask anyone seeing a whooping crane this fall to report the 
time, place, and other details of the sighting to local wildlife officials. 
Adult whooping cranes are white with black wingtips and a red forehead.  In 
flight, the bird's long neck is held straight forward, and its long black legs 
extend beyond the tail.  The adult's wingspan may be more than 7 feet, and when 
standing, some males are as tall as 5 feet.  Juveniles have white and rusty 
brown body feathers and black wingtips.
     
Several birds may be misidentified as whooping cranes.  Sandhill cranes are 
primarily  gray (but sometimes appear whitish in bright sunlight) with dark gray
wing feathers. Sandhills are noticeable smaller than whooping cranes when they 
are seen standing together.  Snow geese are white with black wing tips but are 
much smaller than whooping cranes, with short legs that do not extend beyond 
their tail when flying.  Snow geese fly with rapid wing beats and typically 
occur in large flocks. White pelicans are large white birds with black on the 
wings, but do not have the long trailing legs in flight.  When seen at ground 
level, pelicans are usually swimming in water, whereas whooping cranes walk 
either in shallow marshes or agricultural fields.
     
The whooping crane is fully protected under the Endangered Species Act.  The 
public is cautioned not to shoot or disturb these birds, as they could be 
frightened into wires or other obstacles.  "Let's all do our part to assist 
these birds as they recover from the brink of extinction" said Tom Stehn, 
Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
     
Captive populations of whooping cranes include 98 adults and 35 chicks at three 
breeding centers, the Patuxent Wildllife Research Center in Maryland, the 
International Crane Foundation in Wisconsin, and the Calgary Zoo in Canada. 
Whoopers are on display at the San Antonio zoo.
     
Recovery efforts for the crane are coordinated by a Whooping Crane Recovery 
Team, consisting of 10 members appointed by directors of the Canadian Wildlife 
Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  At the team's last meeting in 
Calgary, the team recommended that future recovery efforts focus on building the
non-migratory flock in Florida and establishing a migratory flock of whooping 
cranes east and completely separate from the Aransas-Wood Buffalo flock. 
Suggested locations included marsh habitat in central Wisconsin and a wintering 
area at the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge on the southwestern coast of
Florida. 
     
An assessment of the best summering areas in Wisconsin is under way, with a 
recommendation on how best to proceed expected next year.  No additional 
releases of whooping cranes in the Rocky Mountains are planned at this time, 
according to Stehn.  However, if certain habitat criteria are met and mortality 
factors (e.g., powerlines and avian tuberculosis) identified by the Recovery 
Team addressed, and if State wildlife agencies support further reintroductions, 
then the Fish and Wildlife Service may consider adding to the Rocky Mountain 
population sometime in the future.
     
--FWS--
     
     
     


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