Thursday, May 14, 2015

Whooping Crane

One reason to visit Rockport, Texas. is that the town is close to where the world’s wild Whooping Cranes winter. This crane is one of the rarest birds in North America. Over 250 birds compose the wild flock (USFWS). The best way to see the birds is to take a boat tour from Rockport, as Erika and I did in 2010. But boat trips cost money, and a visit to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge will likely meet with success. In recent years, we have discovered Goose Island State Park, just across the bridge north of Rockport. The photo above was taken last March in Goose Island, near the The Big Tree.

The Texas cranes are vulnerable to pollution, competition with people for water, and natural disasters such as hurricanes. By releasing captive birds, biologists have attempted to establish secondary flocks of Whooping Cranes. Programs along the Rocky Mountains and in Florida have be abandoned. Birds raised and Wisconsin and taught to migrate to Florida suffer repeated nest failures. A new release, to reestablish a nonmigratory Louisiana population, began in 2010.

The birds in my photograph appear to be a family group of two adults and one young. Whooping Cranes care for their young for up to a year, and young birds learn their migration routes by following their parents. Usually only one hatchling survives their two-egg clutches. Taking single eggs for propagation programs, therefore, does not affect the wild population. Wild birds may live to be 25 years old; captive birds can live over 40 years. They do not mate until they are three or four years old (in the wild) or as old as eleven in captivity (Urbanek and Lewis 2015).

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