The numbers are in. This August, 24 whooping crane fledglings were counted in and around Wood Buffalo National Park.
Rhona Kindopp, manager of resource conservation with Parks Canada in Fort Smith, said while two dozen fledglings is a low number, “it’s still within the natural range of variation that we would expect from this species.”
Kindopp continued: “In some migratory bird species, productivity is influenced greatly by weather. This spring, in early June, we saw a significant increase in the amount of rain that we received locally.”
Kindopp stressed the weather may be just one contributing factor. “Another factor could have been local predation cycles. In other words, there may have been a greater number of predators in the area than in previous years,” she said.
Parks Canada conducts two aerial surveys of the endangered species each year – once in May, when they count the number of breeding pairs with eggs, and once in August, when they count the fledglings who are almost ready to fly to Texas for the winter months.
This spring, 87 nests with eggs were counted (up from the 86 originally reported in May following further examination of the data).
Kindopp said Parks sees the outlook for whooping cranes to be positive. In August 2017, staff observed a record 63 fledglings after counting 98 nests with eggs in the spring. She said whooping cranes typically lay two eggs.
Parks Canada is part of an international conservation partnership along with the Canadian Wildlife Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Over December and January of each year, the US Fish and Wildlife Service conducts its own population estimate in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge following the birds’ 3500-km migration south.
Over the 2017-18 year, the service counted 505 birds; in 2016-17, the population was approximately 470.
This is up from fewer than just 14 cranes in 1938, according to Kindopp.