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Hope takes flight for whooping crane conservation

chick montageAt 3 a.m. on May 10, Kim Allen, a lead zookeeper at Zoo New England’s Stone Zoo, began a journey to Wisconsin transporting very precious cargo.

As Allen prepared for the flight, which was then followed by a 45-minute drive to the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, she carefully nestled a whooping crane egg laid at Stone Zoo into a padded cooler surrounded by warming packs. With the thermometer affixed to the cooler’s exterior, Allen monitored the egg throughout the journey to ensure a safe arrival.

Upon arrival at the International Crane Foundation the egg was examined. “We discovered the egg had internally pipped, which is the first of three steps in the hatching process, where the chick breaks through the inner egg membrane into the air cell,” said International Crane Foundation Curator of Birds Kim Boardman. “When this happens, it can be heard peeping inside the egg.”

The egg was placed into an artificial hatcher in order to better monitor the hatching process. The following day, on May 11, it had externally pipped, meaning the chick made an actual hole in the shell. “The egg was placed under its foster parents, Achilles and Aransas, that afternoon to be sure it hatched under 'mom & dad',” Boardman explained. “The following morning, on May 12, we had a newly hatched and very tired chick!”

Boardman reports that the family is doing great. This year, all chicks hatched at the International Crane Foundation are being named after Tribal nations. This first chick hatched was named Wampanoag, after the Native Americans who have resided in Massachusetts and Rhode Island for more than 12,000 years. “Wampanoag has been observed enjoying short swims in the pond and being fed yummy live treats like waxworms and crickets,” explained Boardman. The chick also is fed a diet to help it grow strong and recognize natural food items. Wampanoag also is being brooded by mom and dad to stay warm and dry.

“We are thrilled that the chick has hatched and is doing well so far,” said John Linehan, Zoo New England President and CEO. “Zoo New England has participated in the conservation of whooping cranes for many years, and we are committed to taking an active role in helping to bring this species back from the brink of extinction.”

Linehan continued, “I couldn’t be prouder of our incredible animal care team for the successful transfer of the egg, and the hope that this represents for the wild population. This is yet another example of a species saved from extinction by a successful captive breeding program.”

Assuming all continues to go well, Wampanoag will be released this fall into the Eastern Migratory Population on Wisconsin’s landscape near other whooping cranes in the wild, to learn how to migrate south for the winter.

The chick is the offspring of Sunflower and Alec, the whooping crane pair that resides at Stone Zoo. Whooping cranes are an endangered species, and one of only two crane species found in North America, along with sandhill cranes. In the 1940s, these cranes numbered only 21 individuals in the wild. Today, there are 808 birds, of which 670 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. Learn more about how the International Crane Foundation is working to protect this endangered species.

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.

Crane chick photos courtesy of International Crane Foundation
Bottom photo: Chick during recent routine health check