Whooping Cranes Quicken Flight to Aransas Winter Home

By Chester McConnell, Whooping Crane Conservation Association

Whooping crane numbers are increasing  rapidly on Aransas National Wildlife Refuge each day. While no official census will be made until later this month, refuge official report seeing growing numbers of the endangered birds. Dan Alonso, Refuge Manager told the Whooping Crane Conservation Association that “26 whooping cranes had been observed on the refuge along Shore Road”. More whoopers are likely on the refuge in areas where they are more difficult to spot.

Manager Alonso also advised that, “8 of the 20 radio marked whooping cranes have arrived on the refuge according to the U.S. Geological Survey monitoring team.” Radio equipment was placed on 20 whoopers to track their migration path from their nesting grounds on Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada to their winter habitat on Aransas Refuge, Texas. Biologists in Canada and the United States have studied whooping cranes for many years but still do not know all the bird’s secrets.  Due to increasing developments along the cranes migration route, biologists and development interests need to know more about whooping crane movements to help protect the birds.

“Aransas Refuge is still in the midst of a severe drought” according to Refuge Manager Alonso. “The refuge and entire state of Texas is in serious need of rain”, he said. Weather reports are predicting rain for parts of Texas within the next few days and hopefully Aransas will get a good soaking.

Alonso explained that, “a second growing problem is the red tide in waters off shore of the refuge.” He stated that while, “red tide is always an issue, the current red tide is one of the worst ever recorded. The situation is monitored regularly by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists.” He warned that “whooping cranes can die or become sickened by eating red tide infected mollusk.” He does not know if red tide has ever killed a whooping crane because dead cranes are often eaten by predators.
The last seriously bad red tide, similar to the current situation, was during 1995, according to manager Alonso.

We asked manager Alonso about the effect of crab trapping in the vicinity of Aransas Refuge. He explained that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had searched for traps near Aransas refuge and had located none within 300 feet of the refuge shore. He reiterated that the reason for apparent absence of traps is that the waters near the refuge are too shallow for crabbing.