Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Whooping Cranes

Whooping Cranes are magnificent birds: tall, stately, magical. Yet for all their glory, they are not invincible. The environment has taken its toll on the Whooping Crane population in Texas this year. In October of 2008, 270 birds had arrived from Canada, a record number for the flock. Whooping Cranes are already severly endangered. 270 birds is all that exists in the wild population. 270, that's it! Period! As of March 16, 2009, only 249 were left. Six adults and 16 chicks had died this season. Why? A severe drought has dropped water levels, resulting in a loss of blue crab, the crab that makes up 85% of a Whooping Crane's diet.

Officials of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are afraid that the flock may not be able to successfully migrate back north to Canada's Wood Buffalo National Park for the Spring breeding season because they are so weak and malnourished.

Tom Stehn, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service whooping crane coordinator, wrote in his March 15 report that the conditions at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge are the worst he has ever observed, with some of the birds looking thin with disheveled plumage, signs of poor diet and progressive starvation. These birds are part of the only naturally occurring population of whooping cranes in the world. Most of the birds will begin the 2,500-mile trip in early April.

So I'm really worried. I've seen these birds before and they are gorgeous! Tall, Serene, elegant, stately. Those are the words that I would use to describe them. I had gone on a birding trip with a friend and we stayed at a cottage close to the Aransas refuge. As we hiked looking for birds, two huge white cranes flew right over our heads and landed not ten yards in front of us on the trail. We pulled up, flabberghasted! Wow! How many people get to see Whooping Cranes in their lifetime? They were as tall as myself, only a short few feet away, and our eyes were locked. It was a moment I'll never forget.

The world would be a sad place without the Whooping Crane to grace it.

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