Whooping Cranes May Move Back to LA Next Spring


Whooping Crane by skylarprimm

Whooping cranes–the tallest, most endangered and gawky bird in America–may start moving into a new home in Louisiana next spring.  The federal and state wildlife officials announced plans to release four to eight juvenile whooping cranes in a huge pen at White Lake, then add up to 30 a year for a decade to create a non-migratory flock. But first the idea is open to public opinion and could face some flack from hunters, despite generous pro-hunting provisions in the plan.

Louisiana nudged out Texas, which wanted to have the new flock to have more flexibility in hunting sandhill cranes. This flock is only the fourth in the country. The new locations effectively replaces Kissimmee, FL, where a non-migratory flock has failed. Whooping cranes, like many species, used to have flocks that migrated and others that stayed put all year. Unlike Florida, researchers know that whooping cranes used to nest and stay all year at White Lake. The lake is  is just 17 miles from the coast and which, ironically, was once an oil field known as BP America Production White Lake. It’s near an area where the National Audubon Society considered allowing oil drilling as late as January.

Biologists say they prefer a non-migratory flock in part to prevent birds crashing into power lines, a common cause of death. Migratory birds also create conflicts with hunters, who have a long history of shooting the birds, then claiming it was an accident. Migrating birds also also have to be taught their migration route–an heroic undertaking by Operation Migration.

Raising the chicks requires a massive effort and handlers dressed in spooky crane costumes so they don’t get used to people. Even with that, the Texas-Canada flock is the only one that can really survive on its own. Officials raised and released 289 chicks into Florida’s nonmigratory flock, but stopped in 2004 because the birds kept dying. They had trouble nesting, were hit by drought and hunted by bobcats. Some tried to migrate and disappeared.

The wildlife service says they hope to have 30 to 40 captive breeding pairs to produce offspring for the next decade. The plan is to raise them first at the Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species, one of four captive breeding centers around the country. Because biologists don’t the cranes to get used to people or disturbed by them, you can’t see their 10 breeding birds, says spokesperson Sarah Burnette. But, you can go see two whooping cranes at the nearby Audubon Zoo because they’re not involved in breeding.

For the Louisiana flock, the local Audubon Center would hatch and raise the chicks, something they have plenty of experience doing with the endangered Mississippi Sandhill Crane. Because whoopers are so rare and precious, researchers

Currently, eggs from the breeding programs at New Orleans’ Audubon Center,  Wisconsin’s International Crane Foundation, Calgary Zoo, San Antonio Zoo go to the main biggest breeding center, the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland to hatch, then onto Wisconsin to train to join the WI-FL flock.

The five foot tall birds used to range over much of the US but overhunting and habitat loss left only 17 birds in the wild in 1941. Since then national news has followed the ups and downs of the entire species, which was simple to track because it was all in one flock until 1993. They migrate between Arnasas NWR, TX, and an absurdly remote part of Canada. Despite searches, no one knew found where they nested until 1952.

In 1970 whooping cranes (Grus americana) were declared endangered and people started capturing one egg per nest for captive breeding–since the birds usually lay two eggs, but only raise one chick.  Biologists first tried to get more plentiful Sandhill cranes to raise the whoopers and teach them to migrate, but that failed because the offspring wanted to breed with sandhills. So Operation Migration came up with a way to teach the young birds a migration route. They fly between Wisconsin and Florida by leading the flight with an ultralight plane.


Arnasas NWR, TX – Wood Buffalo: 263 migratory. 28 died in a drought in winter 2008 that a lawsuit by The Arnasas Project says was caused by development-crazy water permits.
Kissimmee Prairie, FL-26, non-migratory
Necedah NWR, WI- Chassahowitzka NWR, FL –97 migratory
Where to See Animals Down South
Where to See Weird Birds Like Cranes

Related posts:


On the advice of a right whale, we have closed comments for this post. If you have something really important to say, email us and we'd be delighted to reopen it for you. (The whale is only trying to prevent spam comments.)