Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (Texas)

Whooping cranes, regal, scarlet-crowned, one of the world’s most beautiful and endangered birds, came back from the brink of extinction at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Gulf Coast, where they make winter homes. Tallest North American birds, standing five feet (1.5 m) tall with snowy black-tipped seven-foot (2-m) wingspans, their population was down to 15 in 1941. With discovery in 1954 of their nest site in Canada’s WOOD BUFFALO NATIONAL PARK (see p.447) and publicity and protection along their hazardous 2,600-mile (4,300-km) migration route, their numbers have gradually risen to around 190 birds in the Aransas/Wood Buffalo flock.

Hazards continue, including the ever-present possibility of a disastrous oil or chemical spill from barges plying waters just off marshes where the birds feed from October to May, as well as increasing demand by upstream users for freshwater vital to the bay ecosystem surrounding the refuge.

Much else is at stake as well at this 180-square-mile (466-km2) barrier island and coastal wetland 85 miles (142 km) from Corpus Christi, including more than 394 bird species—second-most of any U.S. National Wildlife Refuge. These include dazzling roseate spoonbills, scissor-tailed flycatchers, wood storks, pelicans, 10 heron and egret species, white-tailed hawks and 15 other raptors, avocets, long-billed curlews, waterfowl, bright painted and indigo buntings, 25 or so warbler species—sometimes in great numbers—and, among mammals, graceful white-tailed deer, mountain lions, peccaries, armadillos, alligators, coyotes, and bobcats.

For birders, Aransas is part of a spectrum of outstanding birding places along the Texas Gulf Coast, for which literature is available.