Only 3 Whooping Cranes Came to Aransas Wildlife Reserve this Year
Whooping Cranes Endangered by Drought
If you have ever had the opportunity to see the whooping cranes at their normal wintering grounds in and around Aransas National Wildlife Refuge north of Rockport, you are aware that you viewed something special.
- Type: Bird
- Diet: Omnivore
- Average life span in the wild: 22 to 24 years
- Size: Body, 4.9 ft; wingspan, 7.5 ft
- Weight: 13.3 to 17.2 lbs
- Protection status: Endangered
The natural breeding ground of the whooping cranes is Wood Buffalo National Park, in Canada's Northwest Territories and Alberta. Here the cranes perform elaborate running, leaping, wing-flapping dances to choose mates. When summer ends, these migratory birds set out with their chicks for the Gulf Coast of Texas, where they winter at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
Texas Drought Interrupts Migration
The whoopers come to the Texas Gulf Coast to fatten up on crabs and berries before taking the long long flight back to Canada to nest. The 2011 drought in Texas has made estuaries and marshlands too salty for blue crabs to live and destroyed most of the wolf berries. To top it off, the red tide, a toxic algae that blooms in salty water, make it dangerous for whoopers to eat clams.
Texas suffered a severe drought in 2009. It is estimated that 23 whooping cranes died between November and March. They died of disease and starvation. So far this year, we lost one whooping crane. The problem is that the cranes mate for life; lose a spouse, lose a breeding pair.
Detour: Granger Lake
Six whooping cranes, two family groups, have established a winter home around Granger Lake northeast of Austin. While strange, other whoopers have set up home around Austin before. As the flock grows, there is less food and the cranes become more territorial. Hopefully, the 200 are spread out and eating and not dying of starvation on the flight path.
Fly Straight On Through
When they return to Canada, they fly straight on through. No stopping to eat while flying back north. If the whooping cranes do not get enough protein during the winter months in Texas, more of them could die on the 2,500-mile journey back to their summer nesting grounds,