Like clockwork the whooping cranes appear in the marshlands of the coastal bend every year. Were it not for the hard work and perseverance of several conservation groups, the cranes may have disappeared from the face of the earth. Today, the crane population continues to grow and the work continues along with them.

More than 170 acres of undeveloped whooping crane habitat is now under conservation protection in Lamar Peninsula, north of Rockport, in a property purchase coordinated by Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program, Whooping Crane Conservation Association and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, according to a news release issued Friday. The groups partnered to purchase the privately-owned 178 acres in the Holiday Beach area. Sale of the property closed last week. The endangered species spend the winter in the area, and have been seen on this property. "The acquisition of this property is important to Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program because it is occupied whooping crane habitat," Jake Herring, the group's property manager, said in the release.

Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program received the funds for the purchase through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Endangered Species Recovery Land Acquisition Grant Program, administered by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Matching funds were provided by the Whooping Crane Conservation Association. The Nature Conservancy also assisted in the property purchase.

Lorne Scott, Whooping Crane Conservation Association president, said the wintering habitat in Texas is more confined and threatened than the Canadian breeding grounds. "The wintering habitat is so scarce and so unavailable, anything that does come up and has potential, we try to secure it," he said to the Victoria Advocate.

The whooping crane has become a symbol of wildlife conservation in North America, Scott said in the release.

The whooping crane remains listed as an endangered species. Hunting and habitat loss reduced the wild whooping crane population from tens of thousands to a mere 16 birds in 1941. Conservation, management, and protection have helped the population rebound to more than 500 birds today.

The whooping cranes that winter in Texas travel 2,500 miles from their breeding grounds in northern Canada in mid-October and stay through spring. They travel in family pairs or in small flocks and, once here, feed on blue crabs and wolf berries. Recent drought and reduced freshwater inflows have resulted in reduced food supply. This now-protected habitat will provide additional feeding grounds for these birds, according to the release.