Teaching Cranes About Crabs: Tom Stehn's Advice
Tom Stehn works with the wild Whooping Crane flock at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. He has watched cranes feeding on blue crabs for many years, and watched how parents feed their babies. He doesn't work with captive birds, but Tom thinks this plan might work for teaching young cranes how to eat blue crabs:
"My thought is that during the first week, project staff may want to somehow obtain crabs and provide them for the whoopers in the pen. I don't think it will take the whoopers long to learn about crabs. I would suggest modifying some commercial crab pots by covering them on all sides with a smaller mesh wire, with mesh openings about half the size of the original openings. This would capture smaller crabs that the whoopers could swallow whole, and increase biomass harvested. Note that capture of undersize crabs would probably require a special permit from the State of Florida. Also, WCEP should investigate permits needed to capture legal size crabs. Perhaps dump crabs right by the feeder and see how the cranes react. You'll need to figure out a way to keep the crabs from just scrambling away — perhaps by building a low circular ring using sheet metal, using a small wading pool, or putting the crabs in a cooler with ice for a while so they are lethargic when released. WCEP definitely needs to be prepared to help the whoopers learn about catching and eating crabs."
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