Update from the Whooping Cranes' Winter Headquarters
I am so glad the whooping cranes have apparently left on schedule for their summer home in the Northwest Territories of Canada. An aerial count I did on April 17 found only 21 whooping cranes still at Aransas. These all appeared to be non-breeding birds that just aren't in as much of a rush to get north as the breeding pairs. I estimated that up to 119 whooping cranes have migrated since the previous flight on April 4. Migration conditions have been very good throughout that period. This is basically "on schedule." I'll give the cranes another 10 days before I fly again on April 27 to see if any are still here on the Texas Coast.
One of the birds remaining at Aransas is a juvenile. This bird had been part of a single-parent family all winter, one of the adults having died after nesting last summer. This juvenile was acting extremely nervous, taking flight for a short distance as our airplane approached. Normally the cranes don't pay much attention to the airplane since our disturbance as we fly past is such a quick event, but without Mom or Pop around, the juvenile's behavior changes dramatically when it is on its own. It has to be much more alert to survive. But this bird will be fine and knows the migration route. I fully expect it to return to Wood Buffalo National Park this summer, and may make the entire migration by itself.
Here is an answer to my question last week: What characteristics of a place where the cranes will spend the night do you think are desired in order for them to feel safe?
Cranes want to spend the night, or roost, in shallow water normally between1 and 1 1/2 feet deep. That way, they will hear any predator approaching as it splashes through the water and be able to fly away in time. This roost pond, marsh or shallow river has to have an open view and can't have vegetation taller than the cranes. Thus, wooded areas are not usable. It also should be away from roads or buildings where cranes could be disturbed by humans. The roost area either should contain aquatic foods for the cranes, or be located nearby to agricultural fields where the cranes can eat waste grains. When they find a good roosting area, the cranes stand (sometimes on one leg) throughout the night, often sleeping with their head tucked under their wing. I don't think I would make a very good crane since I'd have trouble sleeping while standing up.
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