Whooping cranes hatch in Louisiana for first time since 1930s

By Dana Kobilinsky

Louisiana whooping crane family on May 16. ©Eva Szyszkoski/Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries

A few years ago, biologists in Louisiana — covered from head to toe in white whooping crane costumes — released juvenile whoopers into the White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area in southwestern Louisiana.

This past April, roughly five years after the reintroduction, two chicks hatched on a private property in Jefferson Davis Parish nearby the conservation area making it the first time since the 1930s that a whooping crane (Grus americana) chick has hatched in Louisiana. Unfortunately, one of the chicks disappeared — likely eaten by a predator. “We were pleased to see the parents had raised both chicks till one month,” said Sara Zimorski, a biologist with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. “We’re disappointed one was lost but that gives the remaining chick an edge so the parents can focus in on one chick.”

Louisiana Whooping crane chicks when they first hatched. ©Sara Zimorski/Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries

Louisiana Whooping crane chicks when they first hatched. ©Sara Zimorski/Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

Although Louisiana was once home to healthy populations of whooping cranes, they disappeared from Louisiana by 1950 as a result of habitat loss and overhunting. The birds were listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1967 and despite suggestions to reintroduce the species back to Louisiana as early as the 1970s, no real effort was made until this reintroduction effort in 2011.

Today, there are still a few challenges that the birds face that can make it more difficult for the reintroduced population to persist. For example, according to Zimorski, since 2009, 23 whooping cranes in eight different states were shot and killed. While Zimorski says LDWF provides hunter education courses about the importance of conserving whooping cranes, she says the shootings are a result of illegal poaching. “There’s time, money and effort put into these birds,” she said. “If someone shoots one or two, it’s a big blow to a new project that’s just getting started.”

The birds’ biology also causes some predation vulnerabilities. When they molt, they lose all of their flight feathers, which puts them in danger of predators since they can’t fly, Zimorski said. So far, one reintroduced bird has been killed by a predator while it was molting.

Meanwhile, Zimorski plans to continue to monitor the birds and to periodically check if other chicks have hatched this spring. “It will take a number of years to see if they’ll succeed,” she said. “But we’re seeing a lot of progress since the reintroduction began. We encourage folks to support these projects and whooping crane conservation in their area.”

Dana KobilinskyDana Kobilinsky is a science writer at The Wildlife Society. Contact her at dkobilinsky@wildlife.org with any questions or comments about her article. You can follow her on Twitter at @DanaKobi.

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