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Whooping Crane Migration Update: February 29, 2000

Today's Report Includes:

Overview of the Season

Migration Route
Map by Claudia Fonkert
Macalester College

The whooping crane is an endangered species with a success story to tell. Its population hit an all time low in 1940 when there were only 22 cranes left in the wild. Since then numbers have been steadily building, year-by-year.

Each spring the entire flock of wild whooping cranes takes the annual 2,700 mile journey from the species' wintering grounds in Texas to its nesting grounds in northern Canada. The cranes usually arrive in late April or early May, just as ice and snow are melting from the marshes.

Tom Stehn, Refuge Biologist at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Austwell, Texas, will provide updates this spring as the cranes begin their journey. When the migration is underway, weekly weather reports and migration news will be shared once again this year by Wally Jobman. Wally is based at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office in Grand Island, NE. Finally, from the far north, each spring Canadian biologist Brian Johns, of the Canadian Wildlife Service, shares the excitement when the cranes arrive once again on their ancient nesting grounds. We hope you enjoy traveling with the whooping cranes this spring!
Latest News from the Wintering Grounds
Aransas National Wildlife Refuge
Austwell, Texas
February 29, 2000

Dear Journey North,
This year has been a struggle for the whooping cranes, with difficult habitat conditions both summer and winter. However, the flock has managed to INCREASE their numbers by TWO to reach 185, a record number.

Why Only Two More Whooping Cranes?
Below is a brief chronology of the whooping cranes' year. I begin on the nesting grounds--with the birth of last summer's young--and go through all phases of their lives leading up to the present. As you read about the many challenges the cranes face make a list, then see if you can answer this question:

Challenge Question #1
"Why are there only 2 more whooping cranes in the population this year? How many different reasons can you find that explain why the number is so low?"

(To respond to this question, please follow the instructions below.)

When the whooping cranes reached the nesting grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories of Canada, below-average snows during the winter had left the marsh with low water levels. Much-needed rainfall came the first week in June, but unfortunately right when the eggs were hatching. Some of the very small chicks did not survive in he wet, cold weather. Forty-eight nesting pairs did produce 48 chicks, including 10 pairs with twin young. However, none of the sets of twin young survived, and only 20 chicks were still alive in mid-August as they began flying lessons at about 10 weeks of age. Seventeen of these survived the hazards of the long, 2,500-mile migration and made it to Aransas by the end of the year. This compares with 18 chicks that reached Aransas last year.

Why the Texas Coast?
If you were a Whooper, you'd be where the winter is mild, where saltwater tidal marshes change to freshwater ponds as you move inland, where the waters are filled with the clams and crabs you love to feast on. You'd be at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Established in 1937 to protect the vanishing wildlife of coastal Texas, Aransas is home for many species of wildlife.

The freshwater ponds inland, created by rain and ranging in size from puddles to lakes, are a haven for alligators, turtles, frogs, snakes and birds such as pelicans, egrets, spoonbills, ducks, and geese. In the winter, the world's only wild flock of Whooping Cranes lives in the saltwater marshes. Aransas is heavenly habitat for thousands of migratory birds of more than 389 species.

Flying High With Tom Stehn
Because you can't see Whooping crane habitat from the refuge roads, each week Tom Stehn boards a plane for his weekly crane counting business. Thanks to Tom, we'll keep track of the cranes as they depart and you'll receive the crane countdowns in upcoming reports.

Here's a photo of Tom and his birds' eye view from a recent flight over crane country, as well as a map of this 54,829-acre refuge where Whoopers overwinter.

The Aransas Whoopers will soon be getting restless. But they're still standing around and waiting for longer days before they leave. Which brings us to...

Anatomy and Adaptation: Are Cranes' Knees Bending Backwards?

Challenge Question #2
"When standing, cranes look like they have knees that bend backwards, as shown in the photo on our WWW page. Can cranes really bend their knees backwards?

Challenge Question #3
"Anatomy is a clue to adaptation. Why might cranes' legs have this adaptation?"

(To respond to this question, please follow the instructions below.)

A Story That Sticks
Did you know that there were once only 15 surviving Whooping Cranes in the world? These magnificent endangered birds have slowly been making a comeback. How did a sticky little stamp play a part in spreading the word?

How to Respond to Today's Challenge Question:
Please answer ONLY ONE question in EACH e-mail message.

1. Address an e-mail message to: jn-challenge-crane@learner.org
2. Important: In the Subject Line of your message write: Challenge Question #1 (or #2 or #3).
3. In the body of EACH message, give your answer to ONE of the questions above.

The Next Crane Migration Update Will Be Posted on March 14, 2000.

Copyright 2000 Journey North. All Rights Reserved. Please send all questions, comments, and suggestions to our feedback form

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