I'm sure you all know that our friends in Texas are in the midst of the worst drought since 1918. The New York Times wrote this last week:
"Much of the state has not had a significant rainfall since August. Winter wheat crops have failed. Ponds have dried up. Ranchers are spending heavily on hay and feed pellets to get their cattle through the winter. Some wonder if they will have to slaughter their herds come summer."
The map above shows the severity of the drought on February 10, 2009, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. BROWN: exceptional. RED: extreme.ORANGE: severe. BEIGE: moderate. YELLOW: abnormally dry.
What you may not know is that the list of casualties includes more than cattle. The drought is also harming the endangered Whooping Crane.
According to Tom Stehn, Whooping Crane coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, approximately 11 cranes — 8 juveniles and 3 adults — have died at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge this winter.
Stehn says that two of the dead cranes have been picked up, and they were emaciated. The young birds are presumed to have died because they were not seen with their parents on a recent aerial census of the refuge. The loss of 11 birds represents 4.1 percent of the wintering population (270).
"The all-time worst winter on record was 1990, when 11 out of 146 Whooping Cranes (7.5%) died at Aransas," he adds. "The winter of 1993 showed a 4.9% loss at Aransas (7 out of 143). The current winter ranks the third worst in terms of mortality in the last 20 years, and we still have two months to go.”
The drought has dried up much of the marsh the cranes rely on. Consequently, it's difficult to find food, especially the nutritious blue crabs the cranes like to eat. Many birds have moved to uplands and man-made freshwater habitats in search of food and safe roosting areas. In addition, at least 20 cranes have been seen eating corn at supplemental feeders. — M.M.