Wood Buffalo National Park (WBNP) officials reported today that 32 whooping crane chicks were observed during this year’s Whooping Crane Fledging Survey. Wood Buffalo personnel took to the skies during August 9-12, 2014 and completed their annual survey. During the 4 days the team counted 32 fledged young whooping cranes.
Figure 1. Two adults and one fledgling whooping crane on WBNP. Photo by Jane Peterson / ©Parks Canada /Wood Buffalo National Park
WBNP officials reported that a total of 202 whoopers were counted, including the fledgling and nesting pairs. Fledglings are birds that have reached an age where they can fly. The 32 fledglings were found in 30 family groups: 28 families with one chick and two families with two chicks. In addition to the family groups, the surveyors observed 6 groups of three whooping cranes, 43 groups of two, and 6 individual cranes.
Data from the survey are used to document the breeding success of the whooping crane population. WBNP’s preliminary analysis shows that the number of young fledged per nest is 0.39, which is lower than the 20-year average of 0.48, but is similar to last year’s rate, and within the normal range of variation. During the 2013 survey, 28 chicks were produced from 74 nests for a breeding success rate of .38 fledged young per nest. There were no nests with two fledglings last year.
Knowing annual breeding success allows Parks Canada, the Canadian Wildlife Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other conservation partners to effectively manage issues related to the whooping cranes recovery. By counting the number of fledgling chicks, officials gain important insights into the health of the world’s last remaining natural nesting flock of whoopers which contributes greatly to the ongoing stewardship of these magnificent birds.
A record number of 164 whooping cranes had been counted incubating their eggs in 82 nests during the annual survey in June 2014. This number surpasses a previous record of 76 nests in spring 2011. These endangered birds all nest in and around WBNP, Canada. The whooper fledgling count is one of two annual surveys that are part of the world-class restoration plan that has made the whooping crane an international success story and symbol of species recovery and conservation. The mission of the survey was to determine how many chicks had hatched and survived to become fledglings since the nest counts were made in June.
Fledglings whooping cranes must be strong fliers so they can fairly soon complete their 2,500 mile migration with their parents to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, their winter home on the Texas coast. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, during March and April 2014 an estimated 300 whooping cranes migrated to Canada from their winter habitat on Aransas Refuge. The birds arrived on Wood Buffalo during April 2014 and began their nesting activities soon thereafter. The nesting whoopers cannot waste time because they must build their nest, lay and incubate their eggs and raise their young within 5 or 6 months. The juveniles must grow fast to be prepared for the 2,500 mile migration back to Aransas Refuge by November. Their Wood Buffalo nesting grounds freeze over early.
Figure 2. Scanning the wetlands below for whooping cranes. Photo of Sharon Irwin, Resource Management Officers at WBNP. (Sharon was the Survey Lead/Data Recorder for the Survey.) Photo by Jane Peterson / ©Parks Canada /Wood Buffalo National Park
WBNP Staff spent 4 days flying over the Whooping Crane Nesting Area in an attempt to locate the whoopers (Figure 2). Nesting pairs normally use the same territory each year to build their nest and raise their chicks. In late-May, nesting locations are collected during the annual Nest Survey. Surveyors use a laptop computer running mobile mapping software to record the nest locations. Knowing where the cranes nest helps make locating the adults and juveniles a bit more successful. Both the Nest Survey and the Fledging Survey are part of the world-class restoration plan that has made the whooping crane an international success story and symbol of species recovery and conservation. By counting the number of fledging chicks, Parks Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and others gain important insights into the health of the world’s last remaining natural nesting flock that contribute greatly to our ongoing stewardship of these magnificent birds.
Figure 3. The Wood Buffalo nesting area used by whooping cranes. Photo: John McKinnon / ©Parks Canada /Wood Buffalo National Park
Adult cranes (Figure 4) are easier to spot because of their white plumage. Juveniles with their brown-orange plumage are more difficult to locate especially in colorful vegetation. Those involved in the aerial surveys must be careful observers and stay alert to spot all the nesting whooping cranes and their chicks in the vast wetlands of Wood Buffalo National Park.
Figure 4. Two adult whooping cranes spotted during aerial survey on Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada. Photo: John McKinnon / ©Parks Canada /Wood Buffalo National Park
The two mature whooping cranes in figure 4 are easier for experienced biologists to spot from the aircraft due to their white plumage. In contrast, the juvenile whooper in figure 5 is more difficult to spot from the air plane due to the color of vegetation and the bottom of the pond.