According to the Associated Press, the devastating drought in Texas this past year is threatening the survival of an endangered species. Only about 300 whooping cranes remain in the wild and use Texas as their wintering grounds. But the drought has made food and water scarce and so far scientists have discovered at least one crane that has died, eliciting alarm since it abnormal to see dead birds this early in the season.
The lack of food is even more problematic on the way back to nest in Canada since the cranes do not eat on the journey. With this concern over the survival of this species, here are some facts about the whooping crane, its population decline, and conservation efforts:
* The National Wildlife Federation reported that whooping cranes are approximately 5 feet tall, making them the tallest bird in North America, weigh about 15 pounds and have a 7.5-foot wingspan.
* The bird has an omnivore diet, eating everything from plants to insects to frogs, and lives 22 to 24 years in the wild, according to National Geographic.
* Before coming into contact with humans, the whooping crane population stood between 15,000 and 20,000 but drastically declined to about 1,400 in 1860 and then a historic low of 15 birds in 1941.
* Hunting and egg collection greatly contributed to their decline but today the biggest threat to the remaining population is the loss of wetlands.
* The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service noted that the small population that winters in Texas' Aransas-Wood Buffalo National park is the only self-sustaining wild population.
* As of July 2010, the wild population stood at 383 and the captive population contained 152 birds, spread out over several zoos and research centers.
* The species was listed as endangered in the U.S. in June of 1970 and today only three populations exist, including one in Florida, the only self-sustaining migratory population in Texas, and the small captive-bred population in Wisconsin, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
* Whooping cranes are recognized by the rust-colored patches on their heads and the birds also mate for life, raising their chicks together and sharing nest duties.
* The species is also known for its courtship displays that include loud calling, leaping into the air, and flapping their wings.
* One whooping crane conservation effort, known as Operation Migration, began in 2001 with the goal of raising the birds in refuges and transferring them to the wild and one of their historical migration patterns between Florid and Wisconsin using a human-operated plane, reported Reuters.
* So far the program has established 90 whooping cranes on this eastern route with the cranes slowly starting to reproduce in the wild.
Rachel Bogart provides an in-depth look at current environmental issues and local Chicago news stories. As a college student from the Chicago suburbs pursuing two science degrees, she applies her knowledge and passion to both topics to garner further public awareness.