The Texas Coastal Bend has long been a region that whooping cranes migrated to for the winter. This Coastal Bend includes the deep curved area located along the Gulf. One of its largest cities includes Corpus Christi, and other areas include Laguna Madre, North Padre Island, and Mustang Island. In the last few years, a record number of cranes have touched down along the Texas coast, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
A Look at the Whooping Crane
Whooping cranes are the tallest birds in North America. They can be described as a white bird with a crimson cap, long and dark pointed bill, and the famous whooping sound it makes. Whooping cranes are often confused with other large white birds like pelicans and wood storks. They can also be differentiated by their black wing tips which have about 10 feathers. This bird is an endangered crane species with a record of around only 153 pairs living in captivity today. Unfortunately, the whooping crane has gone through a large decline in population due to habitat loss and over-hunting.
The two largest migration patterns amongst these cranes include the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas and the breeding grounds at Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada. Whooping cranes tend to go to wetlands, river bottoms, and agricultural lands as they migrate. Predators may include black bears, wolverines, gray wolves, red foxes, and ravens.
Options for Bird Watchers
Serious and casual birders alike have a couple of options when it comes to viewing these magnificent birds. According to USFWS, their winter range covers about 35 miles of the Texas coast. Within that area, do-it-yourself birders will find both the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and Matagorda Island National WMA/State Park.
The Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is a 114,657 acre protected area located on the southwest side of the San Antonio Bay. Established in 1937, this American wildlife conservation helps migratory birds and other wildlife to help conserve and protect the lands and birds. The Matagorda Island National WMA/State Park is a smaller refuge with 56,688 acres off an offshore barrier island and bayside marshes. The island is 38 miles long and supports migratory boards and 19 state or federally listed species that are in danger.
Aransas NWR is the better option to birdwatch, but some cranes tend to make their way over to Matagorda Island WMA. However, Aransas NWR not only boasts a better population of the big birds, but it is also accessible by car. Matagorda Island WMA is accessible by boat only, either through the private or state-operated ferry.
Go With a Guide
For those interested in going with a pro, the Rockport area has several private tour boat operations to fill the bill. Rockport is a city on the coast of Texas that's home to Rockport Beach, fishing piers, and various birdlife. Whether you go on your own or with a tour group, remember that you are viewing an endangered species. Stay a respectable distance away and try not to do anything that will put the bird in distress or alter their habitat.