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Endangered birds

Whoop for Whoopers: A great Texas comeback story

Austin Photo: News_kevin_TPWD_whooping crane_December 2012
Whooping Cranes at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge Photo by Earl Nottingham Courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Texas is one of the few places in the United States where you can see the endangered whooping crane. These 5-foot tall birds — North America’s tallest — fly all the way from Canada to winter on our coast.

Now some whoopers are choosing to stay in other parts of Texas and the Texas Parks and Wildlife wants your help in tracking this rare bird.

Birders from around the world flock to the Texas coast each winter to catch a glimpse of the endangered whooping crane. The birds migrate here from Canada, a flight that almost ended 50 years ago.

“When we first started keeping track of whooping cranes there were only 16 to 20 left in the wild," explains Lee Ann Linam with Texas Parks and Wildlife. "As conservation and protection efforts began in the 1940s and the 1950s, we just saw this very slow but steady recovery. Now we’re hoping to hit 300.”

As their numbers increase, it appears whooper behavior may be changing as well.

“Last year was an unusual winter," says Linam. "Some our whooping cranes made it to their traditional wintering grounds and other whooping cranes chose to stop over in different locations in the state. We actually had three families spend the winter in the Austin area.”

Biologists want to understand this change in behavior and are asking for the public’s help in gathering data.

“We started a new Citizen Science Project we’re calling Texas Whooper Watch. And we’re encouraging Texans to be on the lookout for whooping cranes in migration.”

The site has a simple reporting form, along with pictures to help you ensure what you’re seeing is really a whooping crane.

Whoopers are about five feet tall with black wingtips. They fly in small flocks of two to six and have a distinctive bugling call. If you are lucky enough to spot this rare bird, keep your distance.

“The disturbance that close observation can cause means that the whooping crane has less time to feed and be successful in producing a chick for the coming year," explains Linam.

Texas is one of the few places you can see whoopers. They arrive in late October and start the long flight back to Canada in the spring.  

"They are very majestic looking and also kind of bearing a lot of mystique just because of those pair bonds that they form for life and the courtship displays and the really haunting bugling calls. So they capture the public’s fascination and they really provide us with an inspiring kind of comeback story.”

To learn more about the Whooper Watch program, visit the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.

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The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department produces these multi-media reports as an educational resource.

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