LAMAR, Texas – The whooping crane population has set another record with 270 of the endangered birds wintering on the Texas Coastal Bend.
The birds in the world's only wild flock spend each winter in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas before returning to Canada and the Wood Buffalo National Park.
Tom Stehn, whooping crane coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the flock size is up four from last year. The worldwide population, which includes both wild and captive birds, stood at more than 500 in September. The low for the species was 15 in 1941.
Stehn said one pair of cranes brought two chicks to Texas this year, which is unusual. While two are typically hatched, normally only one will be raised successfully.
Stehn said in a story for today's Corpus Christi Caller-Times that the birds face some serious threats to their food and water supplies this year.
He said there are shortages of blue crab, which in a good year make up 80 percent to 90 percent of the cranes' diet. Drought in the region is partly responsible for the decline in crabs. The drought also has hurt the crop of wolfberries, another main source of food for the birds.
Other food sources such as clams, mud shrimp and blood worms don't provide the sustenance cranes need, which means the birds likely will be skinny when they fly home after winter in time for mating season.
"If it's really bad, we will see two things," Stehn said. "A few will die due to rough times, but probably more significant is that nesting might be affected."