Migration and winter ecology of the Aransas-Wood Buffalo population of whooping cranes

The Aransas-Wood Buffalo population of whooping cranes migrates each year between wintering grounds on the Gulf Coast of Texas through the Great Plains to breeding grounds in northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories lying mostly within Wood Buffalo National Park.  The landscape of the Great Plains is undergoing unparalleled change due to oil and wind-energy development and ongoing changes in agriculture.  Man-induced change poses potential threats to the population and studies underway seek to fill several major gaps in knowledge needed to make informed decisions on the population’s needs.  Currently, minimal data exists for guidance as new sites are selected for wind farms, mining, and oil extraction operations, and for understanding the effects of other man-induced changes to the landscape within the migration corridors, wintering, and breeding grounds.  Detailed information on habitat use and migratory habits of the population will provide decision makers with insight that can be used to help minimize potential threats. Furthermore, whooping cranes spend nearly six months in coastal salt marshes along the Gulf Coast of Texas.  This region is home to nearly all of the wild population of whooping cranes during winter; thus, recovery of this species relies upon continued suitability of these areas.  Threats to wintering areas include reduced freshwater inflows to the marsh, human development, and sea-level rise.

This project represents an essential step in reducing uncertainty and ensuring development of efficient and effective conservation and recovery plans.   Use of satellite telemetry is providing precise locations of tagged cranes several times each day throughout the year providing detailed data on habitat use, movements, factors influencing annual recruitment of young, and causes of mortality when deaths occur.  Data gathered as part of this study will provide results that chart a course for whooping crane recovery and management decades in the future.  Project partners include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Canadian Wildlife Service, Crane Trust, Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, International Crane Foundation, Gulf Coast Bird Observatory, and Parks Canada.

 

Principal Investigator(s):

Aaron T Pearse

Project Status:

In Progress

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