Commission study shows whooping crane migration is changing

Nebraska Game and Parks

Endangered whooping cranes are migrating earlier in spring and later in fall, according to a newly published study by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln School of Natural Resources.

The study reveals that since 1942 spring migration of whooping cranes occurs as many as 22 days earlier in spring and about 21 days later in fall. “Our study confirms casual observations that the timing of whooping crane migration is changing,” Joel Jorgensen, the study’s lead author and Game and Parks’ nongame bird program manager, said. “The shift in timing appears to have accelerated since about 2000.”

The study analyzes data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Cooperative Whooping Crane Tracking Project and includes all confirmed whooping crane sightings in the Central Flyway.

Whooping cranes from the Aransas-Wood Buffalo population, which numbers about 400-500, migrate through Nebraska and the Central Flyway between wintering areas along the Gulf Coast of Texas and breeding sites in northeastern Alberta, Canada, each spring and fall. Changing migration patterns will present additional challenges and opportunities in the conservation of this critically endangered species.

Mary Bomberger Brown of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln School of Natural Resources is a co-author of the study.