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The only remaining naturally occurring Whooping Crane population spends the winter on the Gulf Coast, primarily in Texas' Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Free use photo

Exploring Nature: Whooping Cranes

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The whooping cranes have returned to Texas.

I recently phoned the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and listened to a recorded message about the refuge being open basically from daylight to dark and mentioning that the cranes have returned. Later, I called and reached a nice lady who confirmed the birds are back.

These big birds – about five feet tall – spend spring and summer in Canada and then fly down to the lower Texas coast for the winter. They are a testament to how hard work can save a species.

Back in 1941, the number of whooping cranes had dropped to only 15 in the entire world. Thankfully, the creation of a special refuge and a program to breed birds in captivity resulted in a crucial upswing in numbers. Today, about 500 cranes visit the Texas refuge.

I asked the lady at the refuge if the cranes are in good shape and she said they are hale and hearty. What do they eat? Mostly blue crabs, but also lots of wolfberries.

Wolfberries grow on boxthorn bushes, and I hope the crop is plentiful this year. I wish all the whoopers bon appetite and welcome them back to Texas.

If you’d like to see the birds up close and personal, you can take a whooping crane boat tour out of Rockport-Fulton. I was on a boat with “Captain Tommy” at the helm, and he was very knowledgeable about the birds.

For information on the refuge, call 361-349-1181.