For the Love of Whoopers

I first got introduced to Whooping Cranes while reading Tom Robbins (my all time favorite author) book: Even Cowgirls get the Blues. I got hooked when I read that they wintered in Port Aransas, TX, the same small island town where my parents had a condo.

The story of the whooping crane plays out like a Hollywood script: it starts with tragedy, continues with struggles toward redemption, and ends with renewed hope and dreams for the future.

It all started in the 1800’s and early 1900s, as habitat loss and hunting drastically reduced the whooping crane population. Before human interference, there were believed to be 15,000 to 20,000 whooping cranes, which fell to roughly 1,400 in 1860 and then plummeted to an all-time low of 15 birds in 1941. All signs pointed towards the end of the whooping crane.

The 15 surviving whooping cranes all belonged to one flock that migrated between Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada and the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. Conservationists worked with local, federal, and international governments to protect the flock and encourage breeding. Their efforts paid off slowly as the numbers reached 57 by 1970 and 214 by 2005.

Today, all 500 or so of the world’s wild whooping cranes belong to one of four flocks. The largest flock is also the only natural migratory flock. It spends winters in Texas and breeds in Canada as mentioned above. The non-natural migratory flock winters at the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Florida and breeds in the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin. The non-migratory flock was formed in Florida as a reintroduction program. They live near Kissimmee in Florida year-round. About 70 birds live in the wild in Louisiana. But only six — this year’s chicks and one hatched last year — were born there. The rest were raised in captivity.

I have taken a handful of trips to the Aransas National Wildlife refuge. I was blessed the last 2 times with a good camera, and got to see some Whoopers up close. Here are a few of my favorite shots.

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