KAVU VICTORIA

Whooping Cranes Part 2: Saving the Species

Mar 4, 2010 | KAVU Victoria by Stephanie Kusy | TAP In The News

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Some members of the community are working hard to make sure a rare bird does not fall into extinction.
In 1941 the whooping crane population numbered only 16 birds. Since then, conservation efforts have restored the world’s only naturally migrating flock to currently 263 birds that breed in Canada and winter in the Aransas Wildlife Refuge.

Employees at the refuge, though, said more research needs to be done. They are currently working with an organization to capture cranes and apply radio trasmitters to track their movements while migrating.

“That will help us answer many of our questions like where they are dying and to what,” said Dan Alonso, refuge manager. “Are there perhaps places in their migration route where they’re eating toxic grains or whatever? Or is there powers lines their running into?”

At the refuge workers are conducting prescribed burns to provide extra food for the opportunistic cranes.

“They’ll eat lizards, insects, snakes,” Alonso said. “They’ll eat those dead or live. It just opens up for ground cover to expose other food items.”

Prescribed burns became necessary after the blue crab started to disappear from the bay. The crabs constitute 85 percent of the crane’s diet. An organization known as The Aransas Project is blaming the loss of crabs and thus the crane’s malnutrition on the lack of fresh water.

“As a result of insufficient flow of fresh water into the bays from the Guadalupe River, all the bays that surround the wildlife refuge became salty,” said TAP regional director Ron Outen. “They became as salty or even more salty than the Gulf of Mexico. That drove away or killed all of the blue crabs.”

TAP’s mission is to advocate for better water management policies in the Guadalupe River so that the whooping cranes have enough water in the future to survive. They have provided an intent to sue against the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality alleging that TCEQ’s policies have resulted in the deaths of the cranes that died last winter.

“So we hold TCEQ as the party that’s capable of doing the things that need to be done to reconfigure the water management in such a way that some fresh water gets to the cranes in low water flow years,” said Outen.

TAP hopes the lawsuit will help change future water policies. In the meantime, the refuge will continue researching why these birds — who have been around for millions of years — are now are struggling to survive.

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