Roving Reporter | "Whooping Cranes: Wonderful Winter Texans" | 3 Photos and Text by Jeanette Larson

As part of its Stewards of Nature lecture series, the History Center for Aransas County hosted Dr. Elizabeth Smith, a conservation biologist with the International Crane Foundation. Dr. Smith is based in Rockport and works with the whooping cranes in our area.

Her presentation began with an overview of cranes, including a photo of rock art featuring a crane. She shared that cranes are found throughout the world and are important in many cultures. The sandhill crane, also found in our area, is one of the oldest bird species, with fossils dating back 2.5 million years. While sandhill cranes are the most abundant of the cranes, the whooping crane is the most endangered.
Photo from Creative Commons
Smith discussed reasons the whooping cranes population had diminished to less than 16 birds in 1941. She also talked about the efforts, largely successful, to increase the population. Today there are more than 150 mated pairs that winter in Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Efforts to further increase the population are dependent on habitat and available territories. Each pair of birds needs about 150-250 acres and they protect their territory from other whooping cranes. Currently, according to Smith, more than half of the territories are off the ANWR. In order to reach the goal of 1000 birds, which would change their status from endangered to threatened, the whooping cranes need 125,000 acres of protected habitat. Currently they are living on about 91,000 acres, but only 27,000 is protected land. Loss of wetlands, which the birds need for feeding, is another major issue that Smith's organization is working on.

Our colony is the only natural colony of whooping cranes in the world. They spend summers in Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada and migrate to Rockport for the winter. Usually they start to arrive mid-October but milder weather in the North may delay migration. Most are here by December and stay until April. 

Jeanette Larson is a retired librarian and author. She and her husband, retired architect and artist Jim Larson, moved to Rockport several years ago for the birds, the beach, and the coastal community.

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