Conservation Story Worth Celebrating!
Get ready to read one of the most
amazing comeback-tales of all time . . .
THE BRINK AND BACK
Whooping Crane is one of the oldest bird species on earth and the
tallest bird in North America. Whoopers used to live in marshy areas in
six Canadian provinces,
35 US states and four Mexican states. However,
habitat destruction and hunting by humans in the last half of the
1800’s drove the Whooper to the very brink of extinction. By the
1940’s, there were just 15 Whooping Cranes left on the planet!
of the remaining Whooping Cranes lived in one flock that nested in
northern Canada. They migrated to the coast of Texas for the winter.
Aransas National Wildlife Refuge for migratory birds, created in 1937,
protected the Whoopers on their Texas wintering grounds. Laws preventing
the hunting of Whooping Cranes in the US and Canada have also helped to
protect the last of the Whoopers.
many efforts to find the nesting grounds, their exact location remained
a mystery until 1954. That year, a fire crew flying over Wood Buffalo
National Park in Canada’s Northwest Territories spotted three Whooping
Cranes. The following year, nests were located in the area.
discovery gave scientists in the US and Canada new opportunities to
study the birds and to work toward saving them from extinction. Read on
to find out about some of their conservation projects.
In 1966, the US Fish
and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) began a
captive breeding program. Whooping Crane pairs lay two eggs each year,
but usually only one of their chicks survives.
Therefore, scientists were able to remove one egg from each nest
without decreasing the productivity of the wild flock. Between 1967 and
1996, 230 eggs were collected from the wild. These eggs were used to
establish a captive flock that would produce offspring to be released
into the wild. The captive flock has been productive enough that
scientists no longer need to collect eggs from nests.
Between 1975 and 1988, the USFWS and CWS transferred eggs from Whooping
Cranes nests in Canada to the nests of Sandhill Cranes in Idaho. They
had hoped to create a new wild flock by having Sandhills raise the
Whoopers and then teach them to migrate to safe wintering grounds in New
Mexico. This part of the experiment succeeded. However, the Whooping
Cranes that were raised by Sandhills never bred with other Whoopers.
Scientists think this is because they “imprinted” on the Sandhill
Cranes (grew up thinking that they were Sandhills).
BANDING AND TRACKING
Over the years, banding and tracking have provided researchers with
invaluable information about Whooping Crane migration and habitat use.
From 1977 to 1988, brightly-colored plastic bands were attached to the
legs of wild chicks in northern Canada. Leg bands allowed researchers to
study particular birds throughout their lives. In 1981, scientists also
began attaching radio transmitters to the legs of Whooping Crane chicks.
This enabled researchers to follow entire families on migration.
NON-MIGRATORY FLOCK IN FLORIDA
In 1993, scientists began releasing captive-raised Whooping Crane chicks
into the Kissimmee Prairie area of Florida. Their goal was to
re-establish a wild, non-migratory Whooper flock in eastern North
America. Each year, 20 or more chicks are released into the Florida
population. In 2000, a pair from this flock hatched the first two wild
Whooper chicks in the US this century!
Scientists plan to continue releasing captive-raised Whooping
Crane chicks in Florida until the flock stabilizes at 100-125
individuals, including at least 25 nesting pairs.
EASTERN MIGRATORY FLOCK
In 1998, eight government and non-profit agencies came together to form
the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP). WCEP’s goal was to
re-establish a wild, migratory flock in eastern North America. Cranes
must be taught migration routes by their parents, but there were no
migratory cranes left in the east, so WCEP had to be creative. They
invited pilots from Operation Migration (OM) to lead captive-raised
chicks on their first migration from Wisconsin to Florida. Between 2001
and 2006, OM taught 78 chicks the route. WCEP plans to continue this
work until the flock reaches 125 birds, including 25 nesting pairs.
COME A LONG WAY, BABY!
Within the span of sixty years, conservation efforts have enabled
Whooping Cranes to rebound from just 15 birds in the 1940’s to
approximately 470 in August 2007! That’s
a success-story worth celebrating!!
BY THE NUMBERS
In May 2007, the Western Migratory (natural) Flock stood at an amazing
236 individuals! In
May 2007, there were at least 45 Whoopers in the Florida non-migratory
flock. The Eastern
Migratory (ultralight) flock suffered a high number of weather- and
predator-related deaths between September 2006 and August 2007. However,
the remaining 50 birds are faring well.
HOW YOU CAN HELP!
Migration... the non-profit organization that uses aircraft to teach
a safe migration route to the juvenile cranes in the Eastern Migratory
here to read more about Canadian involvement in Whooping Crane