Don’t mistake on of these birds for a sandhill crane.
Endangered whooping cranes have begun their annual 2,400-mile fall migration from Canada to Texas.
As the rare birds approach the Lone State, a citizen science initiative is inviting Texas residents and visitors to report whooper sightings.
Texas Whooper Watch (http://tpwd.texas.gov/whoopingcranes/) is a volunteer monitoring program that is a part of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Texas Nature Trackers program. The program was developed to help the agency learn more about Whooping Cranes and their winter habitats in Texas.
Since beginning their slow recovery from a low of 16 birds in the 1940s, whoopers have wintered on the Texas coast on and near Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Recently though, several groups of whooping cranes expanded their wintering areas to include other coastal areas and some inland sites in Central Texas. This year, some of the whooping cranes from an experimental flock in Louisiana spent most of the summer months in Texas, and the Whooper Watch volunteers were able to provide valuable information to TPWD, Louisiana Game and Fish and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service about these birds.
This year biologists expect Whooping Cranes to start arriving in Texas in late October or early November. Texas Whooper Watch will also help improve the accuracy of surveys on the wintering grounds, as the growth of the flock has made traditional census methods more difficult.
Whoopers usually follow a migratory path through North and Central Texas that includes cities such as Wichita Falls, Fort Worth, Waco, Austin, and Victoria. During migration they often pause overnight to use wetlands for roosting and agricultural fields for feeding, but seldom remain more than one night. The typical sighting (71 percent of all observations) is fewer than three birds, but they may be seen roosting and feeding with large flocks of the smaller sandhill crane. Whoopers are the tallest birds in North America, standing nearly five feet. The cranes are solid white in color except for black wing-tips that are visible only in flight. They fly with necks and legs outstretched.