Friday, March 5, 2010

Not a bad winter for the whoopers

After last winter's deadly season for the Whooping Cranes of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, in which 23 birds died from lack of sufficient food, there was concern that this winter might be equally problematic for the birds. Fortunately, it hasn't turned out that way.

The latest aerial survey counted 263 birds. That is down by only one from the highest count of the winter, 264 on January 8. The one bird that died was a juvenile.

Of the 263 birds present at the refuge, 242 are adults and 21 are juveniles. This compares to the 247 birds that survived last winter at the refuge and started the flight north in the spring.

The National Parks and Wildlife officials who monitor the birds say that food availability at the refuge is improving. The salinity levels of the bay have risen and more blue crabs, which are the big birds' favorite snack, are now present in the bay. This bodes well for the continued health of the flock through the remainder of the winter and for their strength to complete the migration flight to Canada in the spring.

Personally, I find this exciting news and very reassuring. I follow the recovery efforts of this endangered species pretty closely, and it is always good news when they can finish the winter with a higher total of birds than was present in the winter before. Inch by painful inch, they move back from the brink of extinction. It looks like this winter may actually move them back several inches.


The stately crane - long may it stalk the wetlands and marshes of Aransas Bay in winter.

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