The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation is asking everyone to watch for whooping cranes that will be migrating through the state for the next several weeks.
The migrating population, which is less than 270 birds, will pass through the central one-third of the state between now and the first week of November, according to Mark Howery, wildlife diversity biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
“The population size is remarkable, especially considering there were no more than 15 whooping cranes left in 1941,” Howery said.
Twice a year, whooping cranes face a long and potentially hazardous migration. In the fall, they travel from nesting grounds in Alberta, Canada, to wintering grounds along the Texas coast at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
“If you see a whooping crane, let us know,” Howery said. “Reports help us better understand the migration needs and behavior patterns of these birds.”
You can report sightings to the agency’s Wildlife Diversity Program at (405) 522-3087. Reports should include the date, location, number of birds seen, and what they were doing (i.e. – flying, feeding, loafing). That information will be shared with a federal tracking program led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Whooping cranes may be seen during the day foraging in small groups of two to six birds in open, marshy habitats like wet, agricultural fields or river bottoms. At night, they gather in communal roosts on mudflats and often roost alongside sandhill cranes.
Perhaps the most reliable place in Oklahoma to see a whooping crane is at Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge, which is designated critical whooping crane habitat. One other area that is reliable to view the bird is Hackberry Flat Wildlife Management Area in Tillman County.