David Blankinship has acquired many titles in his distinguished career. Researcher, biologist, ornithologist, game warden, conservationist, naturalist, preservationist, birder, bird bander, to name a few. Most of David’s career involved working with the Whooping Crane Recovery Project with National Audubon.
The Whooping Crane is one of the rarest North American birds. Once fairly widespread on the northern prairies, it was brought to the brink of extinction in the l940s. There were only 15 Whooping Cranes in Texas but strict protection on their wintering grounds and public education against shooting them gradually helped to increase their numbers. Come find out how David Blankinship’s work with the Whooping Cranes helped insured their chances of recovery.
We meet Thursday, February 1, 7 p.m. at the Rose Park Senior Center, corner of South 7th and Barrow, Room A.
For as long as David can remember he was fascinated by wildlife, nature, biology and the outdoors. His first books (besides comic books of course) were beginning field guides to birds, fish and mammals. Growing up in McAllen, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley, David’s first opportunity to work with birds came as a field assistant on the White-wing Dove Research project in l956. This job worked out so well that he worked on the White-wing project every summer from 1956 through 1963. White-wings sent him to and through college.
While working on his doctoral degree at Texas A&M in wildlife management, he made numerous trips into Mexico doing various research. It was on one of his return trips to Texas he met some folks from National Audubon who asked him to be involved in the Whooping Crane Recovery Program. So began his 16 1/2 years as a research biologist for the National Audubon Society (from mid-l970’s to l987) and the opportunities for some of the most rewarding experiences of his career.
“Working with Whooping Cranes was a tremendous experience. What a privilege to be able to get to know each great white bird on an individual basis, to add to our knowledge of the species and to be in a position to help make management decisions and do battle on their behalf. When the birds went north in the spring the great salt marsh had a vacancy as noticeable as a missing tooth. At least I could help make sure the whoopers could come back to this marsh.”
The Whooping Crane has made a remarkable recovery, with wintering populations well over 200. David conducted numerous presentations, conferences, and workshops all over the world concerning the Whooping Crane Recovery Program. He also participated in a four year cooperative project with National Audubon, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service using radio telemetry to track whoopers in migration between Texas and the nesting grounds in northern Canada and collected data on their behavior and migration habitat use. This project was the subject of a National Geographic Society Television Special, The Flight of the Whooping Crane.
David has now retired from the Fish and Wildlife Services and makes his home in Abilene with his wife Debbie.
Activities David has been involved in:
- Went on a 3-month expedition to Central America recording tropical bird calls for the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology, 1960.
- Worked on the ecology of White-wing Dove nesting colonies in Northeastern Mexico, traveling from the border to Tampico and Valles, l966.
- Worked for National Audubon Society 1970-1987, main emphasis on Whooping Crane recovery but also involved in other bird recovery projects.
- Population recovery of the Brown Pelican in Texas, color banded most of the young pelicans produced in Texas from 1972 through 1984.
- Made aerial censuses of pelicans in Mexico from Brownsville to Belize.
- Participated in the Texas Colonial Waterbird Census resulting in the preservation and protection of numerous rookery islands off the coast of Texas.
- Served as warden for Sundown Island, Second Chain-of-Islands, Matagorda Island, Ayres and Roddy Islands, Deadmanâ€™s Island, Long Reef and Lydia Ann Island sanctuaries on the central Texas coast.
- Served as the Director of all National Audubonâ€™s Texas sanctuaries including the Sabal Palm Grove.
- Conducted nesting and banding studies and traveled throughout most of the Bahama Islands locating and censusing colonies and collecting hunting season data on the Bahamian White-crowned Pigeon.
- Taught high school biology and then worked for awhile as staff biologist for the Corpus Christi Botanical Gardens.
- Worked with the Fish and Wildlife Service on their endeavor to preserve and restore the wildlife and plants of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, 1989-2005.