Below is a long report on Whooping Cranes that I copied from the OKbirds 

It is very long but very interesting and well worth reading.  It outlines 
bird numbers [increasing] as well as threats [threats to the flock including 
water and land development in Texas, wind farm construction in the migration 
corridor, and tar sands waste ponds in Canada ].

A Wilber-Farrell
Stevensville, MT [formerly Cherokee OK]

ps.  even though I have moved away from the whooping crane migration 
corridor, I will continue to forward the reports I receive.

Forwarded with permission from Tom Stehn, FWS.


November, 2007 - September, 2008

by Tom Stehn

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service

 Whooping Crane Coordinator

(361) 286-3559, Ext. 221

[log in to unmask]


The Aransas-Wood Buffalo whooping crane flock reached a record population of 
266 at Aransas in December, 2007.  No mortality was documented during the 
2007-08 winter.  During the spring 2008 migration, the Cooperative Whooping 
Crane Tracking Project documented 39 confirmed sightings of whooping cranes 
in the U.S. Central Flyway.  An excellent production year in Canada in 2008 
totaling 41 fledged chicks from a record 66 nests should equate into a 
substantial population increase in the Aransas-Wood Buffalo flock in the 
2008-09 winter.  However, threats to the flock including water and land 
development in Texas, wind farm construction in the migration corridor, and 
tar sands waste ponds in Canada all increased in 2008.

The captive flocks had a good production season.  Twenty-two chicks are 
expected to be reintroduced into the eastern migratory population in the 
fall of 2008 bringing that flock to 91 total birds.  Two chicks of high 
genetic value have been added to the captive flock.  Production in 2008 
lifted the total population of wild (n=387) and captive (n=152) whooping 
cranes to 539.

Production in the wild from reintroduced flocks in 2008 was a disappointing 
"zero".  In Florida, 5 chicks hatched from a total of 3 first nests and 2 
re-nests, but none of the chicks survived past 25 days of age.  In 
Wisconsin, all 11 nesting pairs abandoned their nests just prior to expected 

The Whooping Crane Recovery Team met in September, 2008 in Wisconsin.  The 
team decided that the probability of success was too low for the Florida 
non-migratory flock to justify any further releases of captive-reared 
juveniles.  The Team recommended continuing steps to proceed with 
reintroduction of non-migratory whooping cranes into their historic range in 
Louisiana if studies can demonstrate that this would not increase the risk 
of infectious bursal disease to the Aransas-Wood Buffalo flock.  The 
Recovery Team also recommended doing field tests with GPS satellite 
transmitters on migratory cranes in preparation for radioing birds in the 
Aransas-Wood Buffalo population.  This project has been proposed by the 
Platte River Recovery Implementation Program to focus on whooping crane use 
of habitat and causes of mortality in the migration corridor.


   Summary of the Spring 2008 Migration in the Central Flyway

          written by Martha Tacha, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS),

          Grand Island, Nebraska

With the help of numerous cooperators up and down the Central Flyway, the 
Cooperative Whooping Crane Tracking Project documented 39 confirmed 
sightings of whooping cranes in the U.S. Central Flyway during the spring 
2008 migration (Table 1).  No mortality was documented during the 2008-09 
winter, and an estimated record 266 whooping cranes moved north to the 
breeding grounds at Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada.

The first push of the migration occurred during the last week of March and 
first week of April.  Whooping cranes were first observed leaving Aransas 
National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) on March 25 by Tom Stehn and all but 34 had 
left Aransas by April 10.  One of the record 266 whooping cranes in the 
population remained at Aransas NWR until at least May 15, but was not 
re-sighted and presumably migrated sometime thereafter.

The first migrants confirmed north of Aransas were observed in central 
Kansas the morning of March 28; three groups totaling 12 cranes were 
observed at and southwest of Quivira NWR.  Between March 30 and April 2, six 
groups totaling 24 cranes were confirmed in south central and central 
Nebraska.  On April 14, another strong front pushed these and other 
migrating whooping cranes north.  The initial or final observation of nearly 
half of the sightings in the flyway (19, or 49 percent) occurred during the 
5 days from April 13 to April 17, inclusive.  The last sighting in the U.S. 
Central Flyway north of Aransas occurred on May 8, when a single crane left 
Medicine Lake NWR in northeastern Montana.

Generally, observed groups of whooping cranes hustled through the migration: 
27 groups (69 percent) were observed during a single day only.  However, 7 
groups were observed for 6 consecutive days or more.  One group stopped for 
16 days and 2 groups rested for 15 days each (these 3 groups in the 
rainwater basins in Nebraska), and stopovers of 12 days (Montana), 8 days 
(south central Nebraska), 7 days (southern Nebraska), and 6 days (South 
Dakota) were also observed.

The size of migrating groups varied, as expected.  Group sizes (followed by 
observation frequency) were as follows:  13 cranes (1), 11 cranes (1), 8 
cranes (1), 6 cranes (3), 5 cranes (2), 4 cranes (7), 3 cranes (11), 2 
cranes (8), and a single crane (5).  Juveniles were identified in 10 
instances, including one set of twins, but juveniles are easy to overlook in 
the spring, particularly when seen at a distance.

Three whooping cranes from the reintroduced eastern migratory population of 
whooping cranes (Wisconsin-Florida flock) wandered into North Dakota and 
were observed near Woodworth in Stutsman County on June 5 and 6.  These 
three were next re-sighted in late summer in east central Minnesota. 
Another group of four young birds from the reintroduced flock has been 
observed for some time in western Minnesota, about 15 miles from the South 
Dakota border.  All of these young cranes are expected to wander back east 
and migrate to Florida in the fall.

The success of the Cooperative Whooping Crane Tracking Project is due to the 
efforts of the many volunteers and observers in the field who report 
sightings, and the State and Federal key contacts who gather and transmit 
the information to the Project Coordinator.  The cooperation and diligence 
of those associated with the project is truly appreciated.

Table 1.  Number and dates of confirmed sightings of whooping cranes in the 
U.S. Central Flyway during spring migration (i.e., north of Aransas NWR), 

     Number of  Observations
     Earliest Date Observed
     Latest Date Obs





      South Dakota

      North Dakota


         Total or Cumulative

Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada

Aerial surveys, 2008

Three summer surveys of the nesting area were carried out in 2008.  In May, 
Brian Johns and Kathy St. Laurent of the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) 
located a record 66 nests.  In June, the USFWS Partanavia with Pilot Jim 
Bredy and Biologists Brian Johns and Tom Stehn (USFWS) documented the 
hatching of 64 chicks, including 12 sets of twins.  This compared with 65 
nests and 84 chicks including 28 sets of twins in 2007.  Fifty-two of the 66 
nests (79%) produced one or more chicks compared with 86% success in 2007. 
Thus, the chick production in 2008 resulted from both high productivity and 
a large number of nests.  Fourteen nests were unsuccessful.  In addition, 6 
known adult pairs failed to nest but were sighted present on their 
territories.  Thus, there were a minimum of 72 breeding pairs in the 
population.  This number matched the 72 adult pairs identified present at 
Aransas during the 2007-08 winter.

Habitat conditions in Wood Buffalo in June were better than expected with 
water levels considered to be good.  The weather during the June production 
surveys was exceptionally warm with no cold, wet weather.  The moderate 
weather conditions favored the survival of the young chicks early on.  One 
of the highlights of the June surveys was finding one whooping crane pair 
with twin chicks and then spotting two wolves 1.5 km distant from the 
cranes.  The crane family was re-checked 5 days later and both chicks were 
still alive with no sign of the wolves.

Surveys carried out in August by CWS located 41 chicks.  This total included 
2 sets of twins, down from the 12 sets that had been present in June.  This 
high level of production is expected to raise the size of the Aransas-Wood 
Buffalo population to a record 280+ in the 2008-09 winter from its record 
266 the previous winter.  An increase of the population is anticipated since 
it is in the growth portion of the 10-year population cycle that has 
occurred during the middle of every decade.


The following based on information supplied by Ernie Kuyt is from the May 
2008 issue of "Grus americana", a newsletter of the Whooping Crane 
Conservation Association:

Threats to whooping cranes are also present "north of the border".  The 
Alberta government recently decided that Environmental Assessments (EAs) 
would no longer be necessary for large power lines.  Getting more 
electricity to the citizens has become so urgent that EAs were determined to 
cost too much, take too long, and were largely "unnecessary".  Another 
threat in Canada was brought to light recently when 500 ducks entered toxic 
tailing ponds in the oil sands area north of Fort McMurray, Alberta.  Only 5 
ducks had any hope for recovery from exposure to the oily chemicals.  There 
are 50 square kilometers of these toxic ponds, and they lie within the 
migration path of the whooping crane.  Propane cannons are routinely used to 
haze birds from this area.  A whooping crane family group that apparently 
became oiled in fall, 2006 could have gotten into these tar sands waste 

Platte River, Nebraska

The Platte River Recovery Implementation Program agreed upon by federal 
agencies and 4 states was signed by President Bush in May, 2008.   More than 
10 years in negotiation, the measure benefits endangered species yet allows 
continued water use and development along the Platte.

The year 2008 marks the 30th anniversary of the Platte River Habitat 
Whooping Crane Trust, Inc.  This non-profit conservation outfit originated 
as a result of court litigation over a proposed water reservoir on the 
Platte River located in Wyoming.  It mission is to protect habitat for 
cranes and other migratory birds along the Big Bend Region of the Platte 
River Valley.  The Trust has made a big difference not only in protecting 
habitat for the whooping crane, but also improving the environment in south 
central Nebraska.  It currently manages nearly 10,000 acres along the 
Platte. The Trust also does research to make sure management activities are 

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas

2007-08 Winter

Whooping Crane Coordinator Tom Stehn stationed at the Aransas NWR wrote up 
his findings from the 2007-08 winter.

Abstract:  The number and distribution of whooping cranes were studied on 
the wintering grounds at Aransas during the 2007-08 winter.  The peak 
population equaled 227 white-plumaged birds and 39 juveniles totaling 266 
cranes.  This was 29 birds higher than the 237 cranes present the previous 
winter.  Mortality between spring and fall, 2007 was estimated at 9 cranes. 
No mortality was documented at Aransas during the 2007-08 winter.

The peak population of 266 consisted of 144 adults, 83 subadults, and 39 
juveniles.  At most, 21 cranes were color-marked, representing 7.9% of the 
population.  The estimate of 72 pairs occupying territories was 5 more than 
the previous winter.  Territories and/or use areas were located on the 
Aransas NWR (20), Lamar Peninsula (3), San Jose Island (16), Matagorda 
Island (25), and Welder Flats (8).  Cranes generally were found on the 
refuge (74), Lamar (8), San Jose Island (71), Matagorda Island (85), and 
Welder Flats (27).  One juvenile whooping crane that was separated from its 
parents was sighted in November in West Texas.  Record highs were set in the 
2007-08 winter for most cranes on Lamar (13), San Jose (77), Matagorda (87), 
and tied the record on Welder Flats (31).  Matagorda Island that held 34.2% 
of the flock has in recent years surpassed the refuge for supporting the 
most cranes.

Quality food resources were considered to be very good throughout the fall 
and winter.  The cranes fed heavily on wolfberry, blue crabs and fiddler 
crabs while at Aransas.  Wolfberries were available for the cranes in 
November and December.  Blue crabs declined in mid-winter, but a few were 
always present.  Cranes used open bay habitats to some extent during winter 
low tide periods foraging on clams and/or invertebrates such as mud shrimp 
or bloodworms.  Some upland use was observed on prescribed burns.  Bay and 
marsh salinities were low the first half of the crane season but increased 
to around 20 parts per thousand by spring.  Moderate use of fresh water 
sources was observed

Aransas NWR project leader Charlie Holbrook retired in June, 2008 after 8 
years at the refuge.  Many accomplishments occurred during his time at 
Aransas.  The new manager starting in October is Dan Alonso.

Land Development

Whooping cranes use wetlands and adjacent upland habitats off of Aransas and 
Matagorda Island NWRs.  Some of these areas are included in designated 
Critical Habitat; others are not.  Real estate development pressures are 
rapidly increasing along these formerly isolated shores.  It will bring many 
new residents to a formerly sparsely populated portion of the Texas coast. 
Six waterfront developments are planned between Seadrift and Port O'Connor 
which are considerably larger than either of those towns.  The population of 
Seadrift is expected to double in the next decade.  Additional developments 
are occurring on the Lamar Peninsula directly west of Aransas NWR.  These 
developments will limit the area the whooping crane flock needs for 
expansion if the flock continues to grow.  Permanent protection of this 
habitat is essential in the near term in order for the species to reach 
long-term recovery goals.

To try to conserve key lands currently used by whooping cranes as well as 
set aside lands expected to be used in the future, conservationists 
undertook some actions to try to counter the rapid development.  The Texas 
Nature Conservancy (TNC) in partnership with other agencies is working hard 
to protect key areas with conservation easements placed on key buffer areas 
as a means for people and wildlife to coexist.  Two areas slated for 
protection using Section 6 grants are located in the crane area at Welder 
Flats.  Matching funds will come partially from one development currently 
under construction in the crane area near Port O'Connor.  The TNC applied 
for a 1.5 million dollar grant from the Coastal Impacts Assistance Program 
to protect 5,000 acres of crane habitat in the next 3 years primarily 
through purchase of conservation easements.  This grant application was not 
funded in 2008.  However, it made the cut of worthwhile projects for which 
there just weren't sufficient funds available, and was re-applied for in 
2009.  In the meantime, 5 developments are either under construction or in 
the planning stages in areas where crane use has been documented.  I 
strongly recommend that a Habitat Conservation Plan be prepared for future 
developments occurring in the current and anticipated future crane range.

In September 2008, Tom Stehn and Felipe Prieto presented a paper at the 11th 
North American Crane Workshop on the change in territories and range of 
wintering whooping cranes at Aransas between 1950 and 2006.  Based on 
estimates of minimum territory sizes, they calculated that the current range 
and nearby adjacent areas of unoccupied habitat will support approximately 
511 cranes.  If the cranes expand outwards into new areas as far as 69 miles 
from Aransas NWR, they estimated there is enough salt marsh habitat on the 
central Texas coast to support 1,004 whooping cranes.  Although this meets 
the criteria set for down-listing the species to "threatened" status, there 
is insufficient habitat to fully recover the species.  Therefore, with marsh 
habitat a key limiting factor for whooping crane recovery, it is imperative 
that as much of the marsh as possible be protected from development.

Freshwater Inflows

Two major processes have continued throughout the past year.  The 
state-appointed Environmental Flows Advisory Group met and held hearings to 
provide future recommendations to ensure rivers have sufficient flows and 
the bays have sufficient inflows to remain productive.  The second planning 
process that got underway is the Edwards Aquifer Recovery Implementation 
Program (EARIP) mandated by the Texas Legislature to determine the 
sustainable levels of pumping from the aquifer and drought management 
strategies.  The Edwards Aquifer now serves 1.7 million people in South 
Central Texas, providing San Antonio with 95% of the city's water.  The 
population is expected to double by mid-century, increasing the demand for 
water.  The EARIP will develop a plan to balance the needs of aquifer 
stakeholders in San Antonio and surrounding areas with the requirements of 
the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  Although the Edwards Aquifer is a long 
way from the coast and the EARIP is focused on endangered invertebrate 
species in several key springs fed by the aquifer, spring flow can be a 
major component of inflows (up to 80%) into whooping crane critical habitat, 
especially in times of drought.  Sufficient inflows are essential to support 
abundant blue crab populations, the primary food of whooping cranes during 

Wind Energy Development and Power Lines

The development of wind farms is occurring at a rapid pace in the Central 
Flyway.  Multiple wind farms have already been built, and it is important to 
analyze the potential impact of literally tens of thousands of wind turbines 
being placed in the whooping crane migration corridor in the coming years. 
For example, one notably large project on the border of the Dakotas called 
Titan is proposing to place 4,000 wind turbines over 200 square miles within 
the whooping crane migration corridor.

With an investment of over $9 billion, the wind industry installed 5,244 
megawatts of power in 2007, expanding the nation's total wind power 
generating capacity by 45% in a single calendar year.  These new 
installations are expected to power the equivalent of 1.5 million American 
households.  This was the 3rd consecutive year of record-setting growth, 
establishing wind energy as one of the largest sources of new electricity 
for the country.  The U.S. wind power fleet now numbers 16,818 megawatts 
across 34 states, about 1% of national usage, powering over 4.5 million 
homes.  Texas has the most installed wind generating capacity of any state.

Projected growth of the wind industry is hard to visualize.  Texas 
billionaire T. Boone Pickens has gotten heavily involved in wind energy 
development.  His vision for wind farms is part of his wider vision for 
replacing natural gas with wind and solar for power generation, and using 
the natural gas instead to power vehicles.  A newspaper article written 
April 18, 2008 provided the following description;

"To picture Pickens' energy strategy, imagine a compass. Stretching from 
north to south from Saskatchewan to Texas* would be thousands of wind 
turbines, which could take advantage of some of the best U.S. wind 
production conditions.  On the east-west axis from Texas to California would 
be large arrays of solar generation, which could send electricity into 
growing Southern California cities like Los Angeles.  The end result would 
be to free up more clean-burning natural gas - primarily a power-generation 
fuel now - to power automobiles."

                   * Note that Texas to Saskatchewan is the exact route of 

                      whooping crane migration corridor.  Many of the best 

                      development sites are located in that corridor.

The majority of the wind farms do not require federal permits and thus there 
is no nexus for the companies to consult with USFWS.  However, the projects 
must avoid "take" of endangered species under Section 10 of the ESA.  Wind 
farms have the potential to directly kill whooping cranes either from the 
turbines themselves or associated construction of power lines.  If whooping 
cranes completely avoid wind farm areas, wind energy development could 
result in the removal of hundreds of square miles of migration stopover 
habitat from use by the cranes.  The National Academy of Science Report in 
2004 on Platte River endangered species report stated unequivocally the 
threat to whooping cranes if migration habitat is lost.

I'm concerned that potential impacts to whooping cranes need to be fully 
evaluated.  USFWS biologists throughout the whooping crane migration 
corridor initiated conference calls to develop a unified approach to wind 
energy development issues and met in December, 2007 in Lakewood, Colorado. 
The meeting included both representatives of Endangered Species and Refuges 
since wind development companies are requesting placing turbines on federal 
grassland easements in the Dakotas which in some instances USFWS has 
allowed.  From this meeting and follow-up conference calls, it was decided 
to recommend that the industry prepare a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) for 
wind energy development for the entire U.S. whooping crane migration 
corridor.  An HCP is a document that assigns a level of "take" of an 
endangered species from development actions that occur on private lands 
where there is no federal nexus.  It legalizes those actions if measures 
described in the HCP are carried out.  Points that involved lots of 
discussion included whether or not to include in the HCP all endangered 
species as well as migratory bird issues.  A decision was reached to focus 
primarily on whooping cranes.  A whooping crane / wind energy development 
summit meeting was held in July, 2008 in Denver to discuss all aspects of 
writing an HCP.  Two USFWS Regional Directors attended along with key wind 
development and utility companies working in the Central Flyway. 
Discussions are continuing to try to get this HCP process underway.

I made a presentation in September, 2007 to the Avian Power Line Interaction 
Committee (APLIC) expressing concerns about increased construction of power 
lines, especially as wind power is developed.  APLIC is very interested in 
continuing to pursue conservation measures needed for whooping cranes and 
have formed a whooping crane issue subcommittee.  Whooping crane collisions 
with power lines are believed to be the number one source of mortality for 
fledged whooping cranes.  Continued construction of power lines including 
those associated with proposed wind farms in the migration corridor 
threatens the recovery of the whooping crane.

Early on in my meeting with wind companies, I talked of two possible 
scenarios for offsetting anticipated impacts of wind farms.  These were;

1.     To mark all new power lines as well as an equivalent distance of 
existing power lines to offset the threat of whooping cranes colliding with 
a wind turbine or power lines built to support wind development.  Existing 
lines need to be marked so that there is no net increase in the threat of 
collision since marking lines is only 50-80% effective in reducing avian 
collisions.  Existing lines targeted would hopefully be in the migration 
corridor located within 2 miles of a suitable crane wetland or known 
stopover site.

2.     To set aside whooping crane migration stopover habitat in perpetuity 
to counter potential loss of habitat from wind energy development, and

The Nebraska USFWS Endangered Species office in Grand Island, Nebraska using 
GIS prepared maps with updated information on the location of the whooping 
crane migration corridor.  This is a very important tool for analyzing the 
risk to the species for specific wind farms. The data showed that 75% of all 
documented whooping crane stopovers occur in a migration corridor roughly 80 
miles wide.  This work complemented work done by Dr. Karine Gil de Weir at 
the Platte River Habitat Whooping Crane Trust.

One wind farm proposed at Wessington Springs in South Dakota entered formal 
consultation under the ESA, the first case of its kind involving whooping 
cranes.  The federal nexus existed because of the involvement of the Western 
Area Power Administration (WAPA).  An Environmental Assessment was prepared 
and USFWS wrote a draft biological opinion.  No incidental take was granted 
in the biological opinion, but take of habitat was covered.  A second 
project entering federal review involves 27 miles of transmission line in 
eastern Montana.


The Recovery Strategy for the Whooping Crane in Canada was posted in its 
final version on the SARA Public Registry on November 20, 2007.  It can be 
downloaded at:


The Crane Conservation Act was re-introduced in both the House and the 
Senate in Washington and passed by the House in early June, 2008.  This 
legislation is aimed at helping species of cranes world-wide, and would 
allow 20% of appropriated funds to go towards crane species in North 


Work by Drs. Clint Moore and Sarah Converse of the Patuxent Wildlife 
Research Center was completed on an adaptive management study of the Florida 
non-migratory population.  The model that was developed considered the 
future of releases into the flock under various release scenarios, taking 
into consideration expected performance of the flock, costs, public 
relations, learning opportunities, and other aspects.  Three meetings were 
held in Florida involving key state and federal wildlife personnel to fine 
tune the model.  The analysis was presented in September, 2008 to the 
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FLFWCC) and the Recovery 
Team.  The Recovery Team met in September, 2008 in Wisconsin.  Although the 
Team recognized the difficulties of reintroducing avian species, optimistic 
assumptions in the Patuxent study provided no more than a 41% chance of 
achieving a self-sustaining population, and most values were around 20% or 
less.  The Team felt that 24 whooping crane chicks per year were not 
available for continued releases in Florida.  Releasing fewer than 24 birds 
annually lowered the probability for success even further.  The Team felt 
that the water regimes produced by periodic droughts in Florida make it 
extremely unlikely that reproduction in wild-hatched Florida whooping cranes 
will ever achieve production rates adequate for success.  In addition, crane 
habitat in Florida is faced with tremendous pressure from developers and is 
expected to decline in the coming decades.  Therefore, the Team concluded 
that the probability of successful establishment of a self-sustaining 
population was too low to justify continuing the reintroduction.  The Team 
recommended that no further releases of captive-reared whooping cranes be 
made into the Florida non-migratory population.  The Team did recommend that 
the FLFWCC continue to study the remaining non-migratory whooping cranes to 
maximize learning.

The following information is from the April-June, 2008 quarterly report 
written by Whooping Crane Project Leader Marty Folk of the Florida Fish and 
Wildlife Conservation Commission:

The 2008 spring nesting season occurred in the ongoing drought conditions 
that hindered success.  There were 5 nests (2 were re-nests) by 3 pairs, 
with 3 nests hatching 5 chicks; none of the chicks lived past 25 days. Four 
of 5 nest locations were in lakes because marsh water levels were too low 
for nesting.

During the spring quarter 2008, seven birds went missing.  In addition, 3 
mortalities were documented.  The mortality and movements of birds were 
likely associated with drought and the lack of water in marshes.  One of the 
mortalities was a wild-fledged bird, the fourth mortality from the 9 
wild-fledged birds produced in the 16-year life of the project. At the end 
of June 2008, 26 birds (8 pairs) were being monitored with the total 
population estimated at 30.


The eastern migratory whooping crane population currently includes 69 adult 
birds and 22 juveniles.  Most of the whooping cranes in the eastern 
migratory population  make the desired migration between Wisconsin and 
Florida.  A few birds continue to summer in Michigan, and a few wander into 
Minnesota and Iowa.  In early June, 2008, 3 birds wandered into North Dakota 
before returning to Minnesota.

Five whooping crane breeding facilities (Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, 
International Crane Foundation, Calgary Zoo, San Antonio Zoo, and Species 
Survival Center {SSC} in New Orleans) either provided eggs or hatched and 
raised chicks in 2008.  Eggs were shipped across international borders and 
between facilities to meet production targets for the ultralight (UL) and 
direct autumn release (DAR) reintroduction programs.  Twenty-two chicks were 
raised for the release programs in central Wisconsin (15 UL, 7 DAR).  This 
compares with fall 2007 when 27 birds were re-introduced into the eastern 
migratory population (17 UL and 10 DAR).  Chicks were hatched and trained at 
Patuxent prior to shipment to Necedah NWR for the UL project.  The Windway 
Capital Corporation flight team transported the chicks to Wisconsin. 
Additional eggs were hatched and chicks reared for several weeks at ICF 
before being transported to Necedah NWR for the DAR project.

The nesting season for the wild migratory whooping cranes in Wisconsin was a 
disappointment.  All 11 nests built in central Wisconsin were abandoned just 
prior to expected hatching.  Four of 6 eggs rescued from the nests 
successfully hatched at Patuxent.  Nesting failure is currently the project's 
foremost concern.  Project Biologist Dr. Richard Urbanek has postulated that 
the cranes are all abandoning the nests due to a huge hatch of black flies 
correlated with warm, spring weather late in the incubation period.  He 
noticed hundreds of black flies on the abandoned eggs, photographed one 
crane with numerous flies on it, and noted one crane pair leaving their nest 
and running into thick brushy vegetation presumably to find relief from the 
biting flies.  Efforts in 2009 will focus on getting additional evidence for 
this theory and attempting to control the black fly hatch.

Two substantial changes in the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) are 
planned for fall, 2008.  Operation Migration has laid out a new migration 
route west of the Appalachians to try to avoid the rough mountain weather 
and reduce the number of days they are unable to fly.  Also, plans have been 
formulated to split the flock upon arriving in Florida between St. Marks and 
Chassahowitzka NWRs.  The main reason for this split is to avoid one 
disasterous event happening to the all the birds at once as happened in 
February 2007 with the loss of 17 cranes from a lightning strike at 

WCEP special advisor John Christian is among 16 national recipients of the 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's 2007 National Recovery Champion awards. The 
Recovery Champion award recognizes outstanding contributions of USFWS 
employees and their partners toward efforts aimed at recovering threatened 
and endangered species in the United States.  USFWS Director Dale Hall was 
quoted in a press release: "These Recovery Champions are extraordinary 
conservationists dedicated to protecting and restoring our nation's wildlife 
and ensuring that future generations of Americans enjoy the natural 
treasures we experience today".  Mr. Christian was recognized for eight 
years of coordination with a variety of public and private landowners to 
re-establish the endangered whooping crane as a breeding species in eastern 
North America.  In his former role as chair person of WCEP, he organized a 
group of ultra-light pilots, species experts, conservationists, and federal, 
state and private biologists who work together to breed, raise and "flight 
train" whooping cranes.  Christian's dedication has led to the current 
population of 91 wild migrant whooping cranes in the eastern U.S.  He 
currently serves as the Midwest Region's assistant regional director for 
migratory birds and state programs.

WCEP held meetings in February and September, 2008 to plan operations for 
the reintroduction.  With so many partners involved in the eastern 
reintroduction, including agencies and non-profits, the semiannual meetings 
are important to handle the many issues that arise.  The Recovery Team 
endorsed continued UL and DAR releases in 2009, but urged WCEP to focus on 
determining the reason for nest abandonment.


At their meeting held in September 2008, the Recovery Team recommended that 
multiple partners carry out actions working towards a potential future 
release of non-migratory whooping cranes in Louisiana.  Recommended actions 

        Continue ongoing habitat studies led by Dr. Sammy King in an effort 
to evaluate potential release sites.

        In consultation with the Whooping Crane Health Advisory Team, 
initiate studies to evaluate the presence/absence of infectious bursal 
disease (IBD) in the migration corridor of the AWBP.  Study results must 
demonstrate that the AWBP would not be threatened by IBD by the 
reintroduction of whooping cranes into Louisiana before the Team will 
support a reintroduction.

        Evaluate the regulatory actions needed to reintroduce nonmigratory 
whooping cranes into Louisiana.

        Fully coordinate and partner with the Louisiana Department of 
Wildlife and Fisheries on all actions as appropriate.

Due to uncertainties with the lack of production in the Wisconsin whooping 
crane population, it is not possible to say when a reintroduction might take 
place in Louisiana.  The Recovery Team hopes that in the next 1-2 years, 
these questions in Wisconsin can be resolved and that the population of 
whooping cranes in the eastern U.S. will be close to the target of 125 birds 
and be reproducing.  At that time, assuming the IBD study provides the 
reassurances needed and that regulatory actions have been completed, it is 
suggested that a small initial experimental reintroduction could be carried 
out in Louisiana.  This reintroduction could possibly use cranes that are 
genetically surplus to the eastern migratory population and would test the 
habitat before a larger reintroduction would be recommended.


The whooping crane breeding facilities had a good production season in 2008 
but overall fell slightly below our high expectations.  Twenty-two chicks 
were raised for the release programs in central Wisconsin (15 ultralight, 7 
direct autumn release), and 2 chicks of high genetic value were held back to 
become captive breeders.

Patuxent and ICF successfully carried out programs for the reintroduction of 
birds into the eastern migratory population.  Both facilities also provide 
personnel for various field operations with that population throughout the 
year, and are great partners in helping out in all aspects of the 
reintroduction.  Patuxent hatched a total of 27 chicks, including eggs that 
came from Calgary (8), ICF (3), SSC (1) and Necedah NWR (4).  ICF is 
renovating whooping crane pens and building a new exhibit for their African 
crane species.

The Calgary Zoo had another very good production season and transported 9 
fertile eggs to Patuxent.  Their artificial insemination program for the 
third year in a row greatly increased flock fertility.  They had one adult 
captive crane escape through flight netting from the zoo for 6 weeks during 
the summer.  It wandered as far as 6 miles away.  After extensive baiting, 
it was re-captured in a net trap and the feisty bird was returned to 
captivity in time before it would get into trouble from winter weather.

The Audubon Freeport-McMoran Species Survival Center (SSC) in New Orleans 
finished work on the first phase of their new whooping crane facilities.  A 
dedication was held in April, 2008 that was well-attended.  Earlier in the 
winter, 5 whooping cranes had been shipped to the new facility from ICF (2), 
Calgary (2) and the San Antonio Zoo (1).  In July 2008, one crane dropout 
from the 2007 reintroduction program was shipped from Necedah NWR in central 
Wisconsin to SSC.  SSC also celebrated their second sandhill crane egg 
fertilized using frozen semen that is thawed and then used to inseminate. 
Last year was their first successful sandhill chick hatched using frozen 
semen.  They hope to use this technique on a whooping crane in 1-2 years. 
SSC also had one breeding pair produce eggs for the eastern reintroduction.

A workshop with whooping crane flock geneticist Dr. Ken Jones and the 
captive flock managers was held September 21, 2008 in Baraboo, Wisconsin.  A 
genetic analysis was done for both the captive flock and eastern migratory 
population.  The studbook was updated, pairing recommendations were made, 
and crane transfers between facilities were planned.  The captive flock 
continues to make excellent progress towards retaining genetic diversity.


  September 30, 2008

Wild Populations

     Adult Pairs

      Aransas/Wood Buffalo

      Rocky Mountains

      Florida non-migratory

      Wisconsin/Florida migratory

                   Subtotal in the Wild

A    The 266 cranes above is the estimated flock size in spring, 2008. 
Forty-one chicks fledged from a record 66 nests in 2008.  Chicks hatched in 
2008 are not added to the count until they reach Aransas in late fall.

B  This number reflects the 26 birds regularly monitored in Florida plus 4 
additional cranes believed to be alive in unknown locations.  No chicks 
fledged in the wild in 2008.

C    The 5 whooping crane breeding facilities (Patuxent Wildlife Research 
Center, International Crane Foundation, Calgary Zoo, San Antonio Zoo, and 
Species Survival Center in New Orleans) either provided eggs or hatched and 
raised chicks in 2008.  Four eggs came from abandoned wild nests in 
Wisconsin and successfully hatched at Patuxent.  Twenty-two chicks are 
currently being raised for the release programs in central Wisconsin (15 
ultralight, 7 direct autumn release).

Captive Populations

     Breeding Pairs

      Patuxent WRC, Maryland

      International Crane Foundation, WI

      Devonian Wildl. Cons.Cent./Calgary

      Species Survival Center, Louisiana

      Calgary Zoo, Alberta

      New Orleans Zoo, Louisiana

      San Antonio Zoo, Texas

      Homosassa Springs Wildl State Park

      Lowry Park Zoo, Tampa, Florida

      Jacksonville Zoo, Florida

      Milwaukee County Zoo, Wisconsin

                      Subtotal in Captivity

E   Two of these young are genetic holdbacks and will remain in captivity as 
future breeding stock.  The table does not reflect captive young that have 
entered reintroduction programs in 2008.

 TOTALS (Wild + Captive)      387 + 152= 539

> Attached is a whooping crane recovery update for the period November, 2007
> - September, 2008.
> Highlights are presented on Page 2. Whooping crane numbers in North
> America are on the last two pages (pp. 17-18).
> (See attached file: November 2007 to September 2008
> FINAL.doc)
> Tom Stehn, Whooping Crane Coordinator
> U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
> Aransas NWR
> P.O. Box 100
> Austwell, TX 77950
> (361) 286-3559 Ext. 221
> fax (361) 286-3722
> E:mail: [log in to unmask]

Bob Fisher
Independence, Missouri
[log in to unmask] 

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