[mou] whooping crane continental update

Robert_Russell at fws.gov Robert_Russell at fws.gov
Thu Oct 2 10:38:37 CDT 2008

This update comes from Tom Stehn, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist
at Aransas NWR, Texas.

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 hatching.

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.

A species of black fly not found in Alberta is suspected to be a cause for
at least some (all?) of the Wisconsin nest abandonments.  Steps will be
taken to deal with this problem next spring.  Bob Russell, USFWS
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