The Pryor Times

Agriculture

November 17, 2013

Endangered birds pass through Oklahoma

PRYOR, OK — Pryor Times

For the first time since records have been kept, whooping cranes were confirmed in Oklahoma City last fall. A single bird stopped at Lake Overholser in mid-October; and then, just before Thanksgiving, a pair stopped overnight at Lake Hefner. The Wildlife Department asks citizens to report any whooping crane sightings again this year.

“The Oklahoma City-area sightings were unusual,” said Mark Howery, wildlife diversity biologist for the Wildlife Department. “This may have occurred because of the ongoing drought in western Oklahoma. With fewer sources of open water in western Oklahoma, some of the birds appeared to shift their migration path farther east than usual.”

Another uncommon occurrence last year was that of a landowner who photographed six adult whooping cranes on one of her ponds. One of the birds had red and white leg bands. The bands allowed biologists to determine that this bird had been banded in 1988 - indicating that it was at least 25 years old.

Each spring and fall, the nearly five-foot tall birds make a journey between their nesting grounds in northern Canada and the Gulf Coast of Texas, passing through western Oklahoma.

Whooping cranes have never been common in historic times. However, 200 years ago they were more widespread and 10,000 or more cranes were thought to occupy the central portion of North America. Their decline was due largely to the loss of wetland habitat in both the nesting and wintering ranges and unregulated market hunting in the 1800s prior to modern wildlife conservation laws.

“Today, there are just over 300 cranes in the wild,” said Howery. “The Canadian Wildlife Service monitors whooping crane nesting success each summer and develops an overall population estimate. During the winter months, biologists at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas coast conduct monthly aerial flights to monitor the birds.”

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation is part of a team of state wildlife agencies that monitors the cranes during their long migrations. These efforts help identify the birds’ important stopover habitats as well as potential migration hazards.

By 1941, the whooping crane population had been reduced to a mere 15 to 20 birds. Conservation measures such as the protection of the cranes’ breeding and wintering habitat have helped bring about a slow, yet steady, increase in the population.

“The public can aid the monitoring effort by reporting any whooping cranes that they observe,” said Howery. “Whooping cranes typically migrate through Oklahoma during the day light hours from mid-Oct. through mid-Nov. Most cranes travel in small groups of two to eight birds and usually are seen around wetlands, shallow lakes and rivers. Sometimes they are observed in grain fields with sandhill cranes.”

Should you see a whooping crane, please take note of the number of birds, the time, the date, the location and the habitat in the area. If given the opportunity, we ask that you also try to take a photo. Report your sighting to Mark Howery by phone at

(405) 990-7259 or by email at mhowery@zoo.odwc.state.ok.us.

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