Standing nearly five feet tall with snow-white feathers, black-tipped wings and red-and-black head markings, the majestic whooping crane is North America’s tallest bird. At one time, their habitat ranged across the Midwest, but by the mid-1960s a combination of factors, including hunting and habitat loss, had led to the decimation of the whooping crane. For nearly 30 years, The Nature Conservancy has worked to support the reemergence of this unique species, and recently, we partnered with landowners to score a major victory along the Texas Gulf Coast.
The Conservancy purchased a conservation easement on 2,162 acres of Falcon Point Ranch, in Calhoun County. While the only naturally migrating flock of whooping cranes nest in Canada, each winter the flock makes the 2,400-mile trip south to spend the season on the Texas Gulf Coast. Falcon Point—which is encompassed within the Welder Flats, near San Antonio Bay—lies within a popular area for wintering whoopers, and is owned by John Welder.
“A great deal of credit is due to the Welder family and other like-minded landowners for keeping whooping crane habitat intact over generations,” said Mark Dumesnil, the Conservancy’s Upper Gulf Coast program manager. “The commitment to conservation of the landowners along the coast may very well be the difference for [the future of] whooping cranes.”
The plight of the whooping crane has been well documented; it was designated as a federally endangered species in 1967, after wild populations plummeted from a high of 1,500 to just 20. Conservation measures have helped in the species’ recovery, but nonetheless, fewer than 400 birds remain nationwide. Since 1986, the Conservancy has acquired land to help expand the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and establish the Matagorda Island National Wildlife Refuge, projects that have helped conserve some of the last remaining habitat in the world suitable for the wintering whooping crane.