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Exploring Nature
Exploring Nature

Exploring Nature: Whoopers

Sunday, March 26, 2023

There are 15 species of cranes throughout the world, inhabiting every continent except South America and Antarctica. Among the rarest of these is the majestic whooping crane, Grus americana.

Standing about five feet, this is the tallest of all North American birds. And it came very close to going extinct.

Back in the 1930s, whoopers were gong downhill in a hurry. They were shot by hunters and the marshes they thrived on were being drained for crops. Then, in 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the executive order creating the new federal Aransas Migratory Waterfowl Refuge in deep south Texas.

Now known as the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, this vast refuge was initially home to just 15 whooping cranes, all that were left of this noble species.

Things rocked along until 1954, when scientists learned where the whoopers went to breed after they left Texas each spring.

Turns out their nesting ground was at Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories.

The cranes had an annual migration trek of some 2,400 miles between northern Canada and the Texas coast.

A captive breeding program and strict protection at the refuge helped increase crane numbers to about 200 birds by the year 2000. Today, around 400 birds are at the refuge.

I made a call to the refuge and Nancy Barnes, a volunteer at the visitors center, told me the cranes have not yet left for their flight north. “There are plenty still here,” she said.

And that is mighty good news. The cranes usually arrive in late October and depart for Canada in April.

If you want to see whooping cranes up close and personal, take a boat tour from the Rockport-Fulton area. The boats get close to shore and you can easily see the whooping cranes wading around.

It’s a wonderful experience.

Graphic from Metro Creative

San Marcos Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666