In the latter part of the 19th century over a thousand Whooping Cranes existed, but by 1941 they were on the verge of extinction as only 15 wild birds remained! Thanks to a multi-oragnizational effort the number increased to over a hundred birds by the millenium. As of 2011 there are over 400 Whooping Cranes living free and wild in North America and almost 200 in captivity. Programs such as Operation Migration are essential for the continued survival of this magnificent bird.
In the last few years Operation Migration have been bringing juvenile Whoopers to Florida, using light aircraft, which the birds are taught to follow by a team of dedicated workers. This teaches the juvenile cranes their migration route so that when spring arrives the birds naturally head north returning to Wisconsin. As they grow older the cranes pass on this learned trait to their own young.
For reasons I won't go into, this years Operation Migration class were unable to make it all the way to Florida and had to be released in Alabama. Disappointing for the thousands of Floridians in the Big Bend area who were looking forward to seeing yet another successful class reach the state. However, 2 male Whooping Cranes from the class of 2009 did return to our area for the winter, and have been enjoyed by local birders and wildlife lovers for several weeks. Our own Mark Trainor was able to capture some pictures of the cranes recently.
As you can see in the pictures, the cranes are wearing large plastic color bands. They are also fitted with transmitters so that biologists can track the cranes movements. It is very important that we respect these birds and minimize disturbance. The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership has some guidelines on what to do if you see a Whooping Crane.
Should you be fortunate enough to encounter these birds, use extreme caution in observing the cranes and do not attempt to approach them. Click here to read the rest of these guidelines.
If you do see a color banded Whooping Crane you can report your sighting here.
The Class of 2011 are safe and well in Alabama. To see pictures of their release click here.
One of our Backyard Birder contributors, Judy Lyle, captured some great video of one of the Whooping Cranes displaying recently. It's not only people who have fun dancing!
The movie below is from WFSU program "Dimensions" and highlights the class of 2009, which the 2 males that are currently present in our area were part of. Clever boys! Congratulations to all the different organizations who have worked hard with Operation Migration to make this project a success. Hopefully one day in the future there willl be good numbers of wintering Whooping Cranes in the Big Bend area.
For more information on Whooping Cranes and Operation Migration click here.