Whooping crane species' success tied to local flock

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

April 17, 2017 at 10:21 p.m.
Updated April 18, 2017 at 6 a.m.

Tim Grunewald

Tim Grunewald   CONTRIBUTED PHOTO for The Victoria Advocate

The best chance of getting the whooping crane reclassified from endangered to threatened lies with the Aransas-Wood Buffalo flock, said Tim Grunewald.

Grunewald is the director of North America Programs for the International Crane Foundation.

The foundation, headquartered in Wisconsin, is committed to ensuring the survival of 15 crane species. Of those 15, 11 are endangered. The whooping crane is the most endangered.

Grunewald spoke Monday night at the University of Houston-Victoria to kick off the San Antonio Bay Partnership's stakeholder meeting.

Monday, Grunewald went over the successes and failures of the four populations of whooping cranes that have been reintroduced to the wild.

In Florida, bobcats and alligators preyed on them.

At the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin, the cranes were being driven from their nests because black flies were swarming on the eggs they laid.

He said the most likely way the whooping crane could go from endangered to threatened would be if the Aransas-Wood Buffalo flock, the only wild flock of whooping cranes, grew to 1,000 cranes.

The number of cranes in that flock for 2016 isn't available yet, but there were in 2015, there were 329.

In the 1940s, there were fewer than 20 of the birds, which stand 5 feet tall and have a wingspan of 7 feet.

They migrate about 2,500 miles from Canada to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge for the winter.

Although the cranes are a symbol of survival, getting their number up to 1,000 could take until 2060. The Aransas-Wood Buffalo Flock grows annually at rate of about 4 percent. The birds, which mate for life, lay just two eggs per year, and usually only one survives.

One disaster, like the drought of 2008-2009, which killed 10 percent of the flock, could be a major setback, Grunewald said.

A flock of 1,000 whooping cranes also would require an additional 80,000 to 130,000 acres of protected land, so those who care about the iconic species should protect their habitat and the bay's freshwater inflows, he said.

Grunewald said their survival is up to the public.

"The sand literally is running through the hourglass, and I truly believe that this is the final stand for these birds. We are not going to get another chance. This is our only chance to save this species," Grunewald said.

The San Antonio Bay Partnership's stakeholder meeting continues at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the University of Houston-Victoria's Alcorn Auditorium, which is located in the West Building. It will feature presentations from professionals from Texas Tech University, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the San Antonio River Authority. They'll talk more about whooping cranes and how to be stewards of the land in general.

For more information, go to sabaypartnership.org.


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