Whooping cranes begin northern migration

AUSTWELL - Aransas National Wildlife Refuge specialists will soon conduct an aerial count to determine if all whooping cranes left their wintering grounds.

"Essentially, we are thinking that most of the birds are gone," specialist Vicki Muller said. "There may be just a handful left here. Otherwise, they're well on their way."

The endangered cranes begin a 2,500-mile migration to their nesting grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park, in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan.

Many of the birds are making their way through North Dakota, according to the Associated Press.

Muller said the flock count remains 263. In 2009, 23 whooping cranes died. It was the deadliest winter on record for the birds. The flock enjoyed a gain of 16 birds this year.

That bodes well in the long-term for the species, Muller said.

"To end up with a net gain of 16 birds is very positive," she said. "We're hopeful that it will start an upward cycle again."