A pair of young whooping cranes has built a practice nest in a crawfish pond in Louisiana’s rice country, according to Louisiana Department Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) officer Bo Boehringer. When the birds mate and successfully breed a chick, it will be the first time that the endangered species has bred in the wild in Louisiana since 1939.
However, LDWF noted that the young birds are probably just playing house and won’t actually breed this year. The female is only two years old, and the male is only a year older. Most females don’t lay their first fertile egg until age four.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has redlisted the whooping crane species as “endangered” since at least 1994, but it has been in trouble since the early 20th century. From a population of more than 10,000 birds in North America before the arrival of European settlers, it has crashed to a few hundred.
LDWF said that it dropped to as few as 21 whooping cranes on earth in 1941. The last colony remaining in Louisiana, six birds from a now-extinct non-migratory strain, apparently became too old to breed in 1939 and eventually quietly died out in 1950.
The only remaining wild population is the famous flock that migrates between its summer breeding grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada and the winter territory at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. That population was making a strong comeback since its 1940s low, but it has now been threatened by the persistent drought in Texas.
In an effort to reduce the whooping crane’s vulnerability, wildlife officials have tried to establish new populations in Florida and New Mexico, without much evidence of success. The new population in Louisiana has also faced challenges.
In 2011, LDWF made its first attempt to reintroduce whooping cranes into Louisiana’s rice country. Two joy-riding teens, shooting from their truck, killed two of the ten rare birds, sparking public outcry.
Keep your fingers crossed. There are currently 27 reintroduced birds in Louisiana’s new experimental whooping crane flock.
[whooping crane photos by Elaine Radford]