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Endangered Cranes to Move through Oklahoma

One of the rarest birds in North America will soon be making its way through the Sooner State and biologists are asking for your help in tracking the migration path.

“Whooping cranes are a federally endangered bird, with slightly more than 500 birds in the entire wild flock,” said Matt Fullerton, endangered species biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “A majority of those birds will pass through Oklahoma on their return flight from Canada to South Texas.”

Oklahoma’s Wildlife Department compiles sightings from wildlife enthusiasts each year to help the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service track the endangered birds as they pass through our state.

“Sightings can be shared online and off,” Fullerton said.

The online report form, found at wildlifedepartment.com, collects the date and specific location of the sighting, as well as the number of birds seen and any applicable band information (color or number sequence). Offline reports can be made to Fullerton at (580) 571-5820 or Mark Howery, wildlife diversity biologist for the Wildlife Department, at (405) 990-7259.

Most whooping cranes are reported in Oklahoma from mid-October through November. Sightings often come from western Oklahoma, typically east of Guymon and west of Interstate 35.

A 2,500-Mile Journey

Biologists have long been chronicling the endangered bird’s annual path to and from the northern Canadian breeding grounds, but last year a six month old whooping crane logged the 2,500 mile flight wearing a satellite-based telemetry unit. The young bird, accompanied by its parents, made the complete journey from Canada’s Northwest Territories to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas in 53 days. The family group made 10 stopovers, or “pit stops,” in areas with high quality wetlands and prairies, underscoring the importance of international habitat conservation efforts.