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Whoopers hit more records

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Monday, July 2, 2007

FORT SMITH - The endangered whooping crane is again hitting record numbers in Wood Buffalo National Park.

Surveys this year have found record numbers of both nests and chicks.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

The number of whooping cranes in Wood Buffalo National Park is headed in the right direction. - Photo courtesy of Stuart Macmillan, Wood Buffalo National Park

In May, Brian Johns, a wildlife biologist with the Canadian Wildlife Service, counted 65 nests.

"The previous record was last year and it was 62 nests," Johns said from his office in Saskatoon.

From June 12-20, he was back in the park to count the number of hatchlings in the nests and discovered 84, which topped the record 76 set only last year.

"We've had a couple of good years back to back here," Johns said.

How many hatchlings will survive the summer to migrate south with the flock in the fall depends on habitat conditions, particularly water levels.

The lack of rain in the park this spring helped the hatchlings survive because they did not get wet and suffer from hypothermia.

However, Johns said, if it stays dry in the park, the nesting areas will dry out and become more easily accessible to predators.

Usually, about half of the nests will produce hatchlings and about half of them will survive.

"But we're expecting more than that this year," Johns said.

Stuart Macmillan, a biologist with the park, is pleased with the recent numbers.

"It's good news to see continued high production, and we look forward to continued growth in the population," Macmillan said.

A lot of the increase is due to favourable habitat conditions, but the whooping crane is at the high section of a 10-year population cycle.

Johns explained that, based on statistics gathered over the last half-century, the most population growth in the flock occurs in the middle of each decade.

Averaged out over that time, the flock is growing by about 4.5 per cent each year.

A count of the whole flock occurs each December on the whoopers' wintering grounds in Texas, where the birds are concentrated in a relatively small area compared to Wood Buffalo.

There have been record population totals for four years in a row.

This past December, 237 birds were counted. The three previous counts found 220 in 2005, 217 in 2004 and 194 in 2003.

"Things are looking good," Johns said.

The wildlife biologist will be back in the park in mid-August to count the number of hatchlings that survived the summer.