Whooping Cranes: The Road to Survival
U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE, 1997
The United States and Canada work cooperatively to recover this species to portions of its orginal range. Three main captive flocks have been developed to produce cranes for reintroduction to the wild. These flocks are located at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center near Laurel, Maryland; at the International Crane Foundation near Baraboo, Wisconsin; and the Calgary Zoo, Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Starting in 1993, cranes have been released into the wild at Kisimmee Prairie, Florida, in an experimental effort to reestablish a nonmigratory flock in that area. As of summer 1997, there are 64 birds in the flock with additional birds to be released in subsequant years. [UPDATE SUMMER 2001: 79 BIRDS in the nonmigratory flock in Florida.]
Two legally hunted wildlife species, sandhill cranes and snow geese, are similar in appearance to whooping cranes. The sandhill crane is gray and smaller with a wingspan of 5 feet, but sometimes appear whitish in bright light. Sandhill cranes occur in flocks of 2 to hundreds. Snow geese and white pelicans are white with black wingtips (geese) or wing edges (pelicans) but both have short legs that do not extend beyond the tail when in flight. Snow geese generally occur in large flocks, are much smaller than whooping cranes, and fly with a rapid wingbeat. White pelicans fly with their neck folded and can be distinguished by their large yellow bill. Herons and egrets also fly with their long necks folded.
Whooping cranes mate for life but will re-mate following the death of a mate. Whoopers may survive up to 25 years in the wild and 35 to 40 years in captivity. They generally begin to produce eggs when 4 ro 5 years old and lay two eggs but seldom are successful in rearing more than one chick. The nests are built on small islands of bulrushes, cattails and sedges. Wetlands are the main source of food for whoopers where they find crabs, crayfish, frogs, and large insects but rarely fish. In the uplands they feed on small grains, acorns and berries. At night they stand (roost) in shallow water where they are safe from coyotes and bobcats.
Fall migration begins in September. The cranes normally migrate as a single pair, family group, or in small flocks, sometimes accompanying sandhill cranes. Flocks of up to 10 subadults have been observed feeding at stopover areas. They migrate during the day and make regular stops to feed and rest. They prefer to stop at isolated areas away from human disturbance. By sometime in November they are on their wintering grounds. Spring migration begins in early March and they reach the breeding grounds in May.
The Rocky Mountain Population: the
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is now experimenting with techniques of introducing captive-reared whooping cranes (imprinted on their own species) into the wild where they will learn an appropriate migration route. In cranes, migration behavior must be learned. Seven whoopers have been captive-reared in Idaho and trained to follow an ultra-light aircraft. They will follow the plane (mimicking migration following their parents) to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife refuge in the fall of 1997. The whoopers will winter at the refuge and then should migrate back to Idaho in the spring, on their own.
If this experiment is successful, the technique may be used to introduce a new migratory flock to the eastern United States and Canada. No more whoopers will be introduced into the Rocky Mountain population. [UPDATE: A new eastern migratory flock, led by ultralight aircraft to show them the way, is being reintroduced in fall 2001 by ultralight pilots of Operation Migration and other cooperating groups of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership.This population is designated as "experimental" because it will be isolated from other populations of the same species, and "nonessential" because they will not be esssential to the survival of the entire species. Under this designationm, the reintroducd whooping cranes will nt receive full Endangered Species Act protection, which will allow greater management flexibility and also resolve some possible conflicts between people and whooping crane conservation.]
Viewing, Protection, and Reporting Sightings
Sandhill crane and snow geese hunters in Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico should be on the look out at all times during the various hunts for whooping cranes. Whooping cranes are protected by the Endangered Species Act of the United States. The Act authorizes payment of up to $2500 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of any person harassing, shooting, or attempting to take a whooping crane. Contact your local State Game and Fish Office, or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for further information, or to report possible violations. If you see whooping cranes during the migration periods of March-May or September-November, please report the observation to your State Game and Fish Office or to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Grand Island, Nebraska phone (308)382-6468.
Division of Ecological Services
Aransas National Wildlife Refuge
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service