Whooping Crane Whooping Crane
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Update from the Whooping Cranes' Winter Headquarters
Aransas National Wildlife Refuge
Austwell, Texas
March 15, 2001

Dear Journey North,

An aerial census of the Aransas NWR and surrounding areas made 15 March, 2001 estimated the number of whooping cranes present at 166 adults + 7 young = 173. It is estimated that possibly 3-7 cranes have started the migration. Here's a recap of cranes observed (171):


# Cranes Observed


50 + 2



San Jose

32 + 2


54 + 3




164 + 7 = 171

Note: The 57 cranes on Matagorda ties the all-time high.

Remarks: Weather was clear for most of the day, providing excellent census conditions. Seventeen more cranes were found compared to last week when viewing conditions were considered "fair." It is evident that sunshine is essential for obtaining a peak population count. Thus, my guesstimate last week that "as many as 10 whooping cranes may have started the migration" was erroneous. This week I'd estimate between 3-7 cranes may have migrated.

With 171 cranes sighted, and three believed to have wintered in West Texas, only two cranes of the 176 flock total were unaccounted for on today's flight. "Missing" cranes were the unbanded Middle Sundown Bay pair, not on their territory for the second straight week. It is possible this pair has migrated, or possibly has moved to another part of the wintering range. The crane duo of YbY-RwR with an unbanded new mate was also not located. They could have been the pair located north of Holiday Beach, but after three attempts to read bands, I concluded this was not the pair. However, I could have missed the band.

171 observed on census flight
2 overlooked (possibly Middle Sundown Bay or YbY-RwR pairs)
3 seen near Amarillo, Texas on February 27th
176 current population estimate

Nearly all territorial pairs were located, including all seven family groups that have survived the winter. The 1+1 widowed family was sighted near Twin Lakes on Matagorda Island. One pair missing was the Middle Sundown Bay pair. No cranes were found between Cavasso and Willow Creeks. The South Dunham Point pair was possibly back near their territory on Blackjack Point. Other empty areas included North Pump Canal, Shell Reef New, and Cedar Bayou, but the territorial status of these areas has been uncertain all winter. Adult female crane RwR-YbY was standing in Sundown Bay definitely in a trio. Two cranes were found on a small island off the NW end of Matagorda by the island with 3 fishing cabins on it at Ayres Dugout. This is the first time I had ever seen cranes on one of these islands off the shore of Matagorda.

The most notable habitat use observed was the use of vegetated salt marsh areas that were not flooded. The shift to this habitat occurs every March, but what the cranes are foraging for is unknown. Tides were higher than last week, with only 6 cranes found in open bay or open lake habitat compared to 40 cranes last week. No use of uplands, prescribed burns, or fresh water was observed.

Tom Stehn, Whooping Crane Coordinator
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Aransas NWR
P.O. Box 100
Austwell, TX 77950

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