Birds are altering the phenology of critical life history events, including migration, in response to the effects of global climate change. Whooping Cranes (Grus americana) are one of the most critically endangered birds in the world. Their remnant population, referred to as the Aransas-Wood Buffalo Population, numbers between 300–400 individuals and migrates between the U.S. Gulf of Mexico coast and north-central Canada twice each year. Previous analyses suggested Whooping Crane migration was temporally constant in spring and fall. New analyses of observations spanning 1942–2016 show Whooping Crane migration is now occurring earlier in spring by approximately 22 days and later in fall by approximately 21 days. Spring temperatures have also increased in the migration corridor during the same period; however, there is no apparent temperature pattern during the fall. In spring, earlier migrating Whooping Cranes stopped over for longer periods of time compared to late-migrating cranes. This result may be partially explained by single Whooping Cranes migrating with earlier migrating Sandhill Cranes (Antigone canadensis). These results have important conservation implications as the timing of Whooping Crane migration and availability of the habitat and foraging resources, including those associated with agriculture, on which this species relies will be increasingly affected by climate change.
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Vol. 40 • No. 3