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New female whooping crane on exhibit at Stone Zoo

Visitors to Stone Zoo will notice a new feathered face within the whooping crane exhibit. A female whooping crane made her exhibit debut last month and has since been settling into her new home.

The female, whose name is Sunflower, arrived to Stone Zoo earlier this summer from the Calgary Zoo, where she hatched in 2013 as part of the International Whooping Crane Recovery Plan, a joint effort between Canada Wildlife Service and US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Sunflower joins male whooping crane, Alec, who has lived at Stone Zoo since 2014. Prior to physical introductions, the two cranes underwent a two-week “howdy” period – a socialization process during which they had visual access to each other at all hours of the day. Cranes are highly territorial and require a slow and gradual introduction process.

After the completion of the howdy period, the cranes were physically introduced within the whooping crane exhibit during the day and separated again in the evenings, with staff closely monitoring their behaviors and interactions.

“The socialization period went very smoothly and Alec and Sunflower have adjusted well to each other,” said Pete Costello, Assistant Curator at Stone Zoo. “These cranes are incredible ambassadors for their species, and through them we not only have the opportunity to educate guests about these remarkable birds but also about the important conservation work being done in the wild.”

This week, Zoo New England’s Conservation Committee donated funds to support the International Crane Foundation’s recovery efforts following the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey along the Texas coast where the Texas Whooping Crane program is based. ZNE has also supported Operation Migration, as well as the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction initiative. SAFE is a commitment to harness the collective resources of zoos and aquariums, and is focused on specific endangered species to save them from extinction by restoring healthy populations in the wild.

Whooping cranes are a critically endangered species, and one of only two crane species are found in North America. In the 1940s, these cranes numbered only 21 individuals in the wild. Today, there are around 612 birds, of which more than 300 live in the wild.

The tallest of the North American bird species, whooping cranes face a variety of threats in the wild including loss of critical wetland space, illegal or accidental hunting, power line collisions, predation and disturbance at nest sites.

Whooping cranes are noted for their stark white feathers and black primary (flight) feathers, which are only visible during flight or courtship dancing. They have a small black patch of feathers below their crimson crown. These birds take their name from their distinctive whooping call, which can carry over several kilometers as a way to advertise their breeding territory to other whooping cranes.

Migrating whooping cranes fly like a glider, on fixed wings. The birds spiral up using updrafts, glide down, and begin spiraling upward again. This method of flying is energy-efficient and enables whooping cranes to fly nonstop for great distances. In flight, these birds are distinguished from other large white birds by their long necks extended forward and their legs that trail straight behind.

Two distinct migratory populations spend the summer in northwestern Canada and central Wisconsin, and the winter along the gulf coast of Texas and the southeastern United States. Small, non-migratory populations live in central Florida and coastal Louisiana.

At Stone Zoo, the whooping cranes reside in the Alfred Huang North American crane exhibit, an area of the zoo that is also home to sandhill cranes and American alligators.

Learn more about the whooping crane here.