Whooper Watch – Fall Migration

For Immediate Release
November 8, 2012

Contact: Mary Harner, 308-384-4633 / Greg Wright, 308-520-4166

Whooper Watch™ Activated For Fall Migration of Endangered Whooping Cranes

Wood River, Nebraska—The Crane Trust has activated its Whooper Watch™ program this fall to enlist public support in sighting the endangered whooping crane as it migrates back through Nebraska to its wintering grounds on the Texas Gulf Coast.

The whooping crane stands nearly five feet tall, making it the tallest bird in North America. With fewer than 300 whooping cranes in the last wild migratory flock, the whooping crane is also one of the rarest birds in the world, explains Dr. Mary Harner, Director of Science at the Crane Trust.

“The Whooper Watch™ program is really a unique opportunity for the public to get involved and help us document locations visited by these magnificent birds during their migration,” says Harner. “Because there are so few whooping cranes to be seen, the more eyes we have watching for them the better our chances of spotting and marking their stopover locations.”

In the fall, the birds leave their breeding grounds in northern Canada and migrate south through central Nebraska to the Gulf Coast of Texas for winter. “It’s an extraordinary 2,500-mile journey for a bird that weighs 14-17 pounds and has a wingspan of nearly eight feet,” adds Harner. “And in the spring, they’ll follow the same route back to Canada and repeat the cycle.”

It’s a demanding trip that requires the whooping crane, which typically travels in small family groups, to make short stopovers along the way to rest and feed, sometimes only for a day or two. The stopovers are short, but they’re critical for the species’ survival.

The Whooper Watch™ program uses a toll free number for people to call when a whooping crane has been sighted. Information is gathered on the call, which launches a team of scientists to confirm the sighting and later document specific features of the stopover location. The program is strictly for spotting and recording locations of whooping cranes and is used to augment other observational records maintained by conservation organizations.

The whooping crane is protected under the Endangered Species Act. All sightings and locations are confidential and are not released to the public, so as not to risk disturbing the birds. It is vital, Harner stresses, that watchers NOT disturb or influence the birds in any way. If a whooping crane is spotted, the Crane Trust stresses these important cautions:

1) Never approach a whooping crane
2) Stay in the vehicle or established viewing area while observing the bird(s)
3) Observe from a distance of at least 2,000 feet (approximately 0.4 miles)
4) Avoid flushing the birds or causing them to alter their normal behavior

To learn more about the Whooper Watch™ program and how you can participate, go to NebraskaNature.org or call 308-382-1820.

The Crane Trust is a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection and maintenance of critical habitat for whooping cranes, sandhill cranes and other migratory birds along the Platte River through science, habitat management, community outreach and education.

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