Is crane a lover seeking a mate, or a freeloader?
By BARBARA BEHRENDT
Published February 2, 2007
2002-2007, St. Petersburg Times [Florida]
SPRINGS, FL- One theory: The mourning period for whooping
cranes is very short. Another: The rare birds so crave a free lunch
they would trade their freedom for one.
Whatever the reason, the whooping crane population of Homosassa Springs
Wildlife State Park unexpectedly increased this week, and the new
arrival caused quite a stir.
On Tuesday, workers noticed that one of the park's captive whooping
cranes, Peepers, was not alone in her enclosure. She had been
joined by a wild
whooping crane, designated as 105.
That wild bird was part of the first group to be led to Citrus
County from Wisconsin behind ultralight aircraft in 2001.
The mate of 105 was found dead in Hernando County several weeks
ago. Now he may be looking for a replacement.
At first, park workers scared the crane off. It flew out of
the pen and onto Fishbowl Drive, said park manager Art Yerian.
For safety reasons, workers immediately let the bird come back
into the park and away from the road
The crane hung out with flamingos and spoonbills until park
officials could contact the various agencies that have
overseen the whooping
crane reintroduction project.
They arrived at the park, dressed in crane costumes the
young chicks are raised to recognize. They captured and
105 and drove
him to a remote place in Pasco County, where he was released.
An hour later, Yerian got the call that the bird was tracking
Thursday morning, 105 was back in Peeper's pen, helping
himself to her food right in front of Rocky, the park's
Rocky and Peepers are in separate but adjacent pens. The
two have been on display, getting accustomed to one another
hopes a pair
would eventually form. But interloper 105 barged into the
equation, sending local park and federal officials scrambling for a plan.
They settled on capturing the wild bird again after the
park closed Thursday and moving it to another isolated
crane will be confined in a top-netted pen for a couple
of weeks, said Liz Condie of Operation Migration.
"We're hoping that does the trick," she said.
Officials don't know whether 105 has a romantic interest in Peepers
or whether free food was the main draw.
How 105 found Peepers is also unknown, although the flight
route for the migration comes near the park.
"Whooping cranes have to have some way to find each other and to pair
and mate" in the wild, Condie said. "The bird
down below could have called him."
"The crane foundation has already spent between $130,000 and $150,000
on this crane" and wants to keep the bird in the wild
population, Yerian said.
"He's just looking for a mate," he said, noting that he will find
one in Wisconsin when he returns in the spring.
The organizations that form the Whooping Crane Eastern
Partnership always focus on keeping the wild birds wild
and making sure
they don't become
accustomed to human beings.
Still, park visitors filed by the wild crane Thursday,
many not even realizing that one of the birds wasn't a
While the goal with the rare whooping cranes is always
to keep human contact to a minimum, Condie said that as
goes on year
after year, new challenges arise to keep wild whooping
cranes away from people.
"There are urban environments all around this area and it's inevitable
that there are going to be some sightings and some conflicts," she
Just a couple of weeks ago, 105's mate had been found dead
in the Hernando County swamp where the two had spent their
A cause of death has not yet been released. Whooping cranes
pair and mate
Days after its mate was found dead, 105 showed up at the
Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge by the pen of the
2006 crane chicks.
Keepers even snapped a picture of 105 "chatting up" the
young chicks inside the pen and posted it on the Web site
of Operation Migration.
Bob Roberts, who lives near the park and frequently walks
there, said he watched and photographed the wild crane
He said there was some discussion at the park about whether
105 should be allowed to stay if that's where his heart
"There are some romantic notions there," he said. "Some people
are really in favor of intervening but others are wanting
nature to have its way."