PORT ARANSAS, Texas – Whooping cranes, the tallest and rarest birds in North America, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife officials, have been spotted along the Texas coast.
There are currently 506 known whooping cranes and thanks to coordinated conservation efforts, including efforts by the San Antonio Zoo, these birds are slowly making a comeback from the brink of extinction.
TPWD officials said whooping cranes make a 2,500-mile journey from their breeding grounds near Alberta’s Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada to the coastal marshes of Texas every year, with the migration lasting up to 50 days.
It is illegal to disturb the federally protected whooping cranes that tend to pass through large urban centers like Dallas-Fort Worth, Waco and Austin on their way to the Texas coast.
“For the most part, all of the banded birds have moved out of Canada, but some are still as far north as the Dakotas and still in migration," said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Whooping Crane Coordinator Wade Harrell. "Typically, we don’t have all the birds on the Texas Coast until December, so November is often our big month for migration sightings here in Texas.”
The whooping cranes usually head towards the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge along the Gulf Coast. According to Harrell, the drought much of Texas is experiencing makes the birds' migration harder.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials are encouraging landowners to consider providing freshwater on their properties to help aid the birds during their migration and wintering period.
TWPD officials are also asking hunters to be extra vigilant as sandhill crane and waterfowl hunting seasons open. Whooping cranes are sometimes found in mixed flocks with sandhill cranes, which are gray and slightly smaller.
The public can help track whooping cranes by reporting sightings to TPWD’s Whooper Watch - a citizen-science based reporting system that tracks whooping crane migration and wintering locations throughout Texas.