The Pryor Times

October 30, 2012

Rare endangered birds traveling through Oklahoma


Oklahoma Department of Wildlife

— In the last two weeks a very rare bird was spotted at Lake Overholser in Oklahoma City - an unusual location for the endangered whooping crane. Standing at nearly five feet tall, the whooping crane is the tallest bird in North America and can be seen passing through the state until mid-November. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation is asking state residents to report sightings of this rare bird.

"Just over 300 whooping cranes are en route from their nesting grounds in Canada to their wintering location along the central Texas coast," said Mark Howery, wildlife diversity biologist for the Wildlife Department.

Howery advises Oklahomans to keep watch for the cranes around shallow wetlands, marshes, river bottoms and partially-flooded pastures and grain fields in the western half of the state.

"Whooping cranes typically migrate during the day in groups of one to six birds," Howery said. "They can be identified by their large size, bold white plumage, black tips on their feathers, red and black markings on their heads, and their long legs that extend beyond their tail feathers while in flight and long, stretched neck during flight."

Despite their distinct appearance, they are often confused with the white pelican (short legs with a large band of black feathers along the trailing edge of each wing - not just the tip), snow goose (short legs not visible beyond tail feathers, usually flies in large flocks of 30 or more birds), and great egret (no black feathers on its wings, holds its neck in an S-shape when in flight). Also, during low light or backlit conditions, whooping cranes and sandhill cranes will both appear dark and can look similar.

"Sighting reports from the public are very beneficial for the Wildlife Department, and we greatly appreciate them," said Howery. "They help us monitor the time of migration and those areas of the state that may be more or less important to the migrating population."

The Department received just over a dozen reports last year from Woodward, Alfalfa, Blaine, Caddo, Canadian, Stephens, Jefferson and Tillman counties. Most sightings were seen near reservoirs and rivers.

To report a whooping crane sighting in Oklahoma, contact Howery by email at mhowery@zoo.odwc.state.ok.us or by phone (405) 424-2728. The Department requests information such as the date, time, approximate location, number of birds and habitat they were using at the time of the sighting.