This post contains referral or affiliate links to products I use, love & recommend. Read my disclosure here.
Every winter, the endangered whooping cranes migrate to the warm waters of the Texas Gulf Coast. Their arrival is celebrated in Port Aransas with the 4-day Whooping Crane Festival in late February. It’s an exciting time for nature-lover’s to catch a glimpse of the beautiful cranes.
The annual festival include variety of activities all over the city, including boat tours to view the arrival of the graceful whooping cranes, interactive birding workshops to identify local birds, birding and nature bus tours, nature photography workshops, a painting and wine tasting class, and a free nature-related trade show.
The festival is a great way to enjoy the outdoors in the cooler temperatures of winter at the Gulf coast. But be sure to have your camera ready!
Why is there festival dedicated to whooping cranes?
According to the Whooping Crane Festival, Whooping Cranes are the rarest of cranes and one of the most endangered birds in the world. The festival celebrates the annual return of these beautiful cranes to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge for the winter. The Coastal Bend of Texas is the only place to see this naturally-occurring population of Whooping Cranes.
Festival-goers will have a wide variety of tours, workshops and field trips to enjoy throughout the weekend. You’re able to meet with representatives from conservation organizations and shop at the nature-related vendor booths at the birding trade show.
Amateurs, pros, and families are all welcome to attend and learn more about the many birds and local wildlife that frequent Mustang Island. And who knows? You may even see the one of the local alligators that hangs out in the Nature Preserve.
Who is the Whooping Crane Festival for?
The festival is open to avid birdwatchers, nature photographers, local and visiting families, and anyone who loves nature and the outdoors in general.
Festival activities include:
- Birding and nature tours by boat or van
- Guest speakers
- Birding and nature-related trade show
- Sunset birding, wine and dolphin cruises
- Photography field trips and workshops (even for beginners!)
- Bird identification workshops
- Guided tours of the animal rehabilitation keep
- Birding field trip to Fennessey Ranch
- Birding field trip to King Ranch
- Port Aransas student art exhibits
There are so many birds to identify and photograph in the Port Aransas Nature Preserve during the 4-day festival, but keep an eye out for one of my favorites: the Roseate Spoonbill. Their rosy pink color is an amazing sight to see!
What other birds are spotted during winter in Port Aransas?
Mustang Island is a natural home to hundreds of native and migrating species that can be spotted from the Nature Preserve, the wetlands lookouts, the rock jetties, the marinas and in the dunes. To identify Gulf coast birds throughout the year, consider grabbing one of these 3 guides: Birds of the Gulf Coast, Gulf Coast Seashore Life (folding pocket guide), or A Field Guide to the SE Coast & Gulf of Mexico: Coastal Habitats, Seabirds, Marine Mammals, Fish & Other Wildlife.
Here are some other birds that you may see on the island.
- American Oystercatcher
- American White Pelican
- Black Skimmer
- Black-bellied Whistling Duck
- Black-necked Stilt
- Cinnamon Teal
- Crested Caracara
- Green-winged Teal
- Gull-billed Tern
- Horned Lark
- Marsh Wren
- Neotropic Cormorant
- Peregrine Falcon
- Reddish Egret
- Roseate Spoonbill
- Royal Tern
- Ruddy Duck
- Ruddy Turnstone
- Sandwich Tern
- Swamp Sparrow
- White-tailed Hawk
Restaurants and shops around the city will typically be offering shopping and dining specials for visitors during the Whooping Crane Festival, so be sure to take in some local seafood while you’re here, shop for bird-related gifts and souvenirs, and grab a spot in the painting class to create your own whooping crane on canvas.
Recommended Gear for Bird Photography
A few interesting facts about Whooping Cranes
Whooping cranes can mate for life and live to be 25 years old.
Whooping cranes build “floating nests” that sit in shallow water six to ten inches deep and perform elaborate courtship dances and calls.
Chicks are a cinnamon brown color and grow up to one inch per day during their first summer.
Adult cranes are almost entirely white with the only non-white markings being their black wingtips and black facial markings, and a bare patch of red skin on top of their heads and black legs and feet.
Wingspans can be seven to eight feet with their weight averaging 15 pounds which makes them adaptable to flying long distances. Now that’s impressive!
[source: The Whooping Crane Festival]
Recommended Bird Photography Books
- Mastering Bird Photography: The Art, Craft and Technique of Photographing Birds and Their Behavior, $31
- Bird Photography: A Beginner’s Guide to Mastering the Art of Capturing Stunning Images of Birds, $19
- Finding Birds on the Great Texas Coastal Trail, $20
Take a look at the video from the 2017 Whooping Crane Festival in Port Aransas…
If you’re in Port Aransas during the month of February, make plans to enjoy this educational festival to learn more efforts to protect these beautiful and rare cranes. Proceeds from the Whooping Crane Festival in Port Aransas benefit the conservation of whooping cranes through the International Crane Foundation.