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Officials fear drought, food scarcity could lead to mass die-off for Texas whooping crane population

whooping crane searches for food at the 

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge near Rockport, Texas.

DALLAS — Wildlife officials fear the world's only remaining natural flock of endangered whooping cranes could be at risk of another winter die-off.

The flock suffered a record 23 deaths last year at its drought-stricken winter nesting grounds in southern Texas.

Wildlife managers say a scarcity of food in the area could spell disaster for North America's tallest birds this winter too. The rains came too late last winter to produce a healthy population of blue crabs upon which the cranes thrive, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fears a resulting significant die-off among the flock this year.

Officials say only 263 birds remain in the flock, which migrates without human help from Canada every year. One chick has died this season and another has disappeared.

-- Associated Press

Photo: A whooping crane searches for food at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge near Rockport, Texas, in 2006. Credit: Ron Heflin / Associated Press

 
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