The last, self-sustaining population of Whooping Cranes (Grus americana), the Aransas-Wood Buffalo population, has overwintered almost exclusively along the Gulf Coast of Texas, USA, in and around the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge during recent decades. In late autumn and winter 2011–2012, Whooping Cranes were observed several hundred kilometers from coastal wintering grounds, with at least 13 Whooping Cranes in central Texas, south-central Kansas, and central Nebraska from November 2011 to early March 2012. Notably, family groups of Whooping Cranes were observed around a Texas reservoir, Granger Lake, over a 3-month period. An extreme drought, coupled with record warm temperatures in the southern and central United States, may have interacted to influence behaviors and distributions of Whooping Cranes during winter 2011–2012. Such observations suggest that Whooping Cranes may be more opportunistic in use of wintering habitat and/or more likely to re-colonize inland historical sites than previously thought. Continued documentation of Whooping Cranes overwintering in areas other than the Texas coast and/or altering timing of migration will be important for protection and management of additional winter habitat as well as for informing population estimates for the Aransas-Wood Buffalo Population of Whooping Cranes.
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