Tallest, rarest birds in North America spotted on Texas coast

Whooping cranes have been seen along Texas coast

FILE - A captive-bred whooping crane and its wild-hatched chick forage through a crawfish pond in Jefferson Davis Parish, La., on June 11, 2018. A record eight whooping crane chicks have taken wing in Louisiana after hatching in the wild. Its not just a record for fledglings of the world's rarest crane in Louisiana, but for any flock of the endangered birds reintroduced to the wild, the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries said Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File) (Gerald Herbert, Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

PORT ARANSAS, Texas – Whooping cranes are the tallest and rarest birds in North America and they’re returning to Texas for their annual migration.

Whooping cranes make an annual 2,500-mile migration from Alberta’s Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada to the coastal marshes of Texas.

The migration south to Texas can take up to 50 days.

The birds were spotted for the first time this fall on Oct. 21 on Matagorda Island. Texas Parks and Wildlife officials said most of the birds are expected to arrive in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge area in December.

Once whooping cranes arrive at their wintering grounds, many stay in the same general area, according to a press release. Younger birds, however, often haven’t paired with a mate yet and sometimes wander off their usual flight path to areas that are quite distant from the Aransas NWR area.

There is currently an estimated population of around 543 birds — that’s 37 more than the estimated population for whooping cranes in 2021.

It is illegal to disturb the federally protected whooping cranes, and while they tend to seek out wetlands and agricultural fields, they also pass through large urban centers like Dallas-Fort Worth, Waco and Austin on their way to the Texas coast.

These birds are slowly making a comeback from the brink of extinction, thanks in part to the San Antonio Zoo. The efforts of the San Antonio Zoo to bring back the whooping crane from extinction were featured in “Escape from Extinction,” - a conservation documentary narrated by Academy Award Winner Helen Mirren.

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.

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About the Author:

Mary Claire Patton has been a journalist with KSAT 12 since 2015. She has reported on several high-profile stories during her career at KSAT and specializes in trending news and things to do around Texas and San Antonio.