Past changes to Whooping Crane habitats and hunting pressure pushed these migratory birds to the brink of extinction. Today, researchers are working to preserve and expand their habitats so the population can continue to grow.
In 1941, there were only 15 wild, migratory Whooping Cranes in North America known to science. That compares to a population that was once believed to be close to 20,000. Hunting and loss of habitat are the culprits behind this devastating decline in population. By 2011, as a result of conservation efforts in the U.S. and Canada, the population had increased from 15 to roughly 279, with the current population thought to be ~300 individuals. Despite their relative comeback, Whooping Cranes and their coastal habitats remain threatened by a wide range of natural and human-induced influences including climate change (e.g., drought and sea-level rise), variable freshwater inflows, and urban expansion. This research will help to determine how these different environmental drivers work to impact the overall quality of coastal habitats for the Whooping Crane and the availability of blue crabs and wolfberries – their primary food resources.
To understand the plight of the Whooping Crane and to help protect them, you will assist researchers in exploring the complex coastal saltmarsh ecosystems along the Texas Gulf Coast to study how variable hydrology and other environmental changes affect this endangered species. You will closely monitor the birds – recording their locations, behavior, access to food, defense of coastal territories, and the frequency with which they leave their territory (potentially to find fresh drinking water). You’ll share the marsh with the cranes, listening to their famous whooping calls as you collect water, soil, and plant samples and conduct abundance surveys of their favorite food resources in coastal wetlands.