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Back from brink of extinction, whooping cranes face a new threat - Their winter home in Texas could

Every winter, snow white whooping cranes wade in the shallow waters and tall marsh grasses of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

This area on the Texas Gulf Coast is critical habitat for these tall, regal birds, which were on the brink of extinction just a few decades ago. Today there are six hundred whooping cranes in the wild and most of them winter here.

But Richard Beilfuss, president of the International Crane Foundation, says changes to this coastal habitat pose new dangers for the birds.

Beilfuss: “They have two very serious threats related to climate change on their wintering ground.”

Whooping cranes in Texas now have two threats related to ClimateChange on their wintering ground.

For one thing, drought threatens the supply of fresh water for these marshes, where salt and fresh water mix. If the water gets too salty, it cannot support the crabs and mussels that the cranes depend on for food. And the even bigger threat comes from sea-level rise.

Beilfuss: “We will lose a lot to most of the current whooping crane habitat along the coast over time with most climate change sea level rise forecasts.”

Beilfuss says the birds might be able to shift to new diets, or move farther inland. But …

Beilfuss: “We don’t know, ultimately, if they’re going to be able to adapt if those habitat conditions are lost.”

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media.

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