N.D. Game and Fish asks public to report whooping crane sightings as migrating birds pass through the state
As they do every fall about this time, staff from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department are asking people to be on the lookout for whooping cranes, which are in the midst of their fall migrations. Sightings will increase as the birds make their way into and through North Dakota over the next several weeks, and anyone seeing the endangered birds should report sightings so the cranes can be tracked.
The whooping cranes that make their way through North Dakota each fall are part of a population of about 500 birds that migrate from nesting grounds at Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada to wintering grounds at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, a distance of about 2,500 miles.
Whoopers stand about 5 feet tall and have a wingspan of about 7 feet from tip to tip. They are bright white with black wing tips, which are visible only when the wings are outspread. In flight they extend their long necks straight forward, while their long, slender legs extend out behind the tail. Whooping cranes typically migrate singly, or in groups of two or three birds, and may be associated with sandhill cranes.
Other white birds such as snow geese, swans and egrets often are mistaken for whooping cranes. The most common misidentification is pelicans, because their wingspan is similar, and they tuck their pouch in flight, leaving a silhouette similar to a crane when viewed from below.
Anyone sighting whoopers should not disturb them, but record the date, time, location and the birds' activity. Observers also should look closely for and report colored bands that may occur on one or both legs. Whooping cranes have been marked with colored leg bands to help determine their identity.
Report whooping crane sightings to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offices at Lostwood, (701) 848-2466 or Audubon, (701) 442-5474 national wildlife refuges; the North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Bismarck, (701) 328-6300 or to local game wardens across the state. Reports help biologists locate important whooping crane habitat areas, monitor marked birds, determine survival and population numbers, and identify times and migration routes.