Rare whooping cranes are providing positive testimony on the importance of protecting and restoring Nebraska habitat. Ducks Unlimited continues to get reports of whooping cranes choosing to rest and refuel on property conserved in some way by DU. In the past week, DU has received additional reports of whooper sightings on land Ducks Unlimited restored and/or protected with easements.
In March, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) temporarily closed the Wilkinson Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Platte County to the public. It has since been reopened. DU was a partner on a Wilkinson WMA habitat project many years ago.
The NGPC previously closed a portion of the WMA to protect three endangered whooping cranes. The cranes are highly wary of humans and NGPC didn't want them disturbed for fear of the birds being injured by nearby powerlines. Powerline collisions are a major cause of whooping crane death.
"The presence of the cranes at this site and others is a confirmation of the great habitat provided over the years in this critical migration state by DU and its partners," said John Denton, DU manager of conservation for Nebraska and Kansas.
The cranes were on the WMA March 25 to April 5. The signs marking the closed area have been removed.
Whooping cranes are an endangered species; their wild population totals only about 300 individuals. The entire population migrates through Nebraska each spring and fall between wintering sites along the Texas coast and breeding areas in northern Alberta. Most whooping crane sightings are from central Nebraska. The occurrence of birds at Wilkinson WMA is unusual.
Whooping cranes are protected by both the federal Endangered Species Act and the Nebraska Nongame and Endangered Species Conservation Act.
You can see a video of the cranes on Wilkinson WMA and read the NGPC press release on the event.