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In the mid-1800s, the principal breeding range extended from central Illinois northwestward through northern Iowa, western Minnesota, northeastern North Dakota, southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan, into central Alberta. A non-migratory breeding population occurred along the coast of Louisiana until the mid-1940s. The whooping crane disappeared from the heart of its breeding range in the north-central United States by the 1890s. Historically, the whooping crane wintered along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico from Florida to Central Mexico. There were two important migration routes, one between Louisiana and Manitoba and the other from Texas and the Rio Grande Delta region to the Canadian provinces. Although widely distributed, the whooping crane was never common. The total population in the mid 1800s may have been 1,300 to 1,400 according to one estimate. The species declined dramatically as human settlement and development spread westward. By 1942, only 16 birds remained in the migratory population. The present world population is about 396 wild and captive whooping cranes.

WHOOPING CRANE NUMBERS / MARCH 1, 2002

114 cranes were in captivity in 2002:

Patuxent WRC, Maryland: 10 breeding pairs, 53 adults, 1 young total 54.

International Crane Foundation, Baraboo WI: 8 breeding pairs, 27 adults, total 27.

Devonian Wildlife Conservation Center/Calgary: 3 breeding pairs, 18 adults, total 18.

Calgary Zoo 1 adult, total 1.

ACRES, New Orleans 5 adults; total 5

New Orleans Zoo 1 adult, 1 young total 2

San Antonio Zoo, Texas 2 breeding pairs, 5 adults, total 5

Lowery Park Zoo, Tampa, Florida 2 adults, total 2

Subtotal in Captivity 23 breeding pairs, 112 adults, 2 young, total 114

282 whooping cranes were in the wild in 2002:

Aransas TX/Wood Buffalo NP adult 160, young 14, total 174

Rocky Mountains, 1 adult

Florida non-migratory, 85 adults, 18 young, 103 total

Wisconsin/Florida migratory, 5 young, 5 total

Subtotal in the Wild, 246 adults, 37 young, 282 total

The Whooping Crane seen at Jasper-Pulaski 11/17/02 was a male, called simply #6, of the new Wisconsin/Florida migratory flock. After an absence of over 100 years, migratory whooping cranes were reintroduced into the eastern flway! In the fall of 2001, whooping cranes were led by ultralight aircraft between Wisconsin and Florida and released at Chassahowitzka NWR. Field work had started with the production of 11 chicks in captivity at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. One was lost to a bacterial infection. Ten were shipped on July 10th to Necedah NWR in central Wisconsin on a Windway Capital aircraft. One died from capture myopathy during handling after fledging. One bird was removed from the ultralight program due to a wing abnormality and shipped to the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, leaving eight at Necedah in the fall. Eight whooping cranes left Necedah NWR on October 17th behind the ultralight. During the migration, a severe storm with winds in excess of 50 mph blew down the portable pen during the night of October 24th. The birds escaped, and one was killed hitting a power line. The remaining 7 cranes were recovered that same night One crane did not follow the plane well and was trucked daily in a crate, rejoining its cohort every night. The migration team faced a rash of bad weather and headwinds, necessitating 22 days on the The migration included 26 stops, covered 1,227 miles, and took 50 days. The longest flight day covered 95 miles, and the longest flight lasted 2.15 hours. The shortest migration leg only lasted 38 minutes. Total flight time of the birds between Wisconsin and Florida was 35.8 hours. The WCEP Team learned that Chassahowitzka is not ideal for whooping cranes. Problems included large tidal fluctuations that made roosting impossible for the cranes in the release pen. Some nights the water was too deep, and on others no water at all was present. Changes including a larger pen and modifications to the substrate to make roosting habitat more suitable will need to be made before next winter. Salinities increased later in the winter and marsh waters became too salty for the whoopers to drink. Fresh water and pelleted food were provided in the pen throughout the winter. Early on, crabs were trapped and fed to the whooping cranes. They did better eating small crabs, and foraging on wild crabs was occasionally observed throughout the winter. Two cranes were taken by bobcats soon after their arrival in Florida. The first bird killed December 17th outside the pen on burned needlerush marsh was the crane that had been trucked daily throughout the migration. The second loss occurred January 7th when the group of cranes apparently roosted in a narrow bayou too close to a vegetated bank. Two bobcats were trapped and removed from the area, with no other sign of bobcats detected until March. Next year, bobcat trapping will need to be initiated just prior to the arrival of the cranes. After these losses, great care was taken to try to ensure the cranes roosted nightly in the release pen. The remaining five began the spring migration on their own as a single flock on April 9. It is interesting to note that this was the same time period when peak whooping crane departures were taking place at Aransas NWR in Texas. One crane split off from the group in flight over northern Georgia. The group of 4 landed on Necedah NWR in central Wisconsin on April 19. The entire migration had taken the group 11 days, of which 7 were flight days. The route was roughly direct and averaged only 40 miles from the route flown in the fall. The distance covered per flight day varied from 93 to 238 miles with a mean of 170 miles. The single crane that split off from the group spent nearly 2 weeks in south central Wisconsin before flying on to Necedah NWR on May 3. This crane had flown west almost as far as the Iowa border before reversing course and heading for Necedah.

 

NO LONGER EXTANT: The remnant Louisiana non-migratory population was reduced from 13 to six birds following a hurricane in 1940, and the last individual was taken into captivity in 1950.

 

As a result of an enormous conservation effort since 1940, the whooping crane population has slowly increased. Although numbers have fluctuated from year to year, by March 1990, the Aransas TX/Wood Buffalo population had climbed to 146. In March 1993, this population numbered 136. In 1993, 45 pairs nested, an all-time high. The year 2002 was a break-even year for the Aransas / Wood Buffalo flock. Based on weekly aerial census flights, the peak whooping crane population in the 2001-2002 winter equaled 161 adults + 15 chicks = 176 total. This was four less than the peak of the previous winter (180). Two single-adult families made it to Aransas, indicating the loss of one adult after nesting. Canadian Whooping Crane Coordinator Brian Johns re-evaluated his August sighting data and concluded 15 chicks had fledged from a record 53 nests. Chick survival in the fall migration was high. However, mortality of adults between spring and fall, 2001 was estimated at 13 cranes. One adult and one chick died at Aransas in the 2001-2002 winter. Thus, the population approaching Spring 2002 is estimated at 174, exactly the same as in the spring of 2001 after six cranes had died during the 2000-01 winter from the peak population of 180.

 

NO LONGER EXTANT: Idaho to New Mexico. Only eight individuals remained in this flock in 1993, and there has been no reproduction. There is now 1 bird from this flock that winters in New Mexico and spends the summers in Idaho and Wyoming. This bird is the survivor of an experiment to start a new migratory wild population. Whooping crane eggs were placed in sandhill crane nests in Idaho. The foster parents reared the whooping cranes and taught them how to survive in the wild, when to migrate and where to spend the winter. The population peaked at 33 in 1985, but these birds never paired and produced young. The absence of breeding is thought to be caused by improper sexual imprinting. We now know that some species of birds identify their parents or foster parents as a model for their future mate. Therefore, the foster-reared whoopers want to mate with sandhill cranes but sandhill cranes are not interested in pairing with the whoopers. There is apparently only one whooping crane left in the Rocky Mountains. This is the cross-fostered bird from 1983 that summers at Red Rocks Lake NWR in Montana and winters near Belen in the Rio Grande Valley, New Mexico. The ultralight whooping crane from 1997 spent the summer in Idaho and apparently started the fall migration sometime around September 6th. It was not seen in the San Luis Valley in Colorado during the fall migration and did not winter at the Bosque del Apache NWR in New Mexico. It presumably died during the fall migration. August 2002 update: The last remaining whooping crane in the Rocky Mountains is now believed to be deceased, too.

In late 1993, a third wild flock in Florida consisted of 10 captive-reared birds remaining from experimental releases. Starting in 1993, cranes have been released into the wild at Kisimmee Prairie, Florida, in an experimental effort to reestablish a nonmigratory flock in that area. As of summer 1997, there are 64 birds in the flock with additional birds to be released in subsequant years. Two of the Florida whooping cranes dispersed in early April 2000 and were reported on May 11-14 near Sandoval in central Illinois. The pair was photographed and the transmitters were clearly visible. The female had traveled extensively around central Florida before pairing. The male had made only limited movements. The pair in Florida was believed to have dispersed in response to the widespread drought. The pair formed in spring of 1999 and consisted of birds hatched at Patuxent in 1995 and 1996. The pair had previously moved little from Lake County since pairing. The pair was last sighted in Illinois on May 14. The whoopers were next seen in Michigan by a local farmer on May 15th, one day following the last sighting in Illinois, although the Michigan sightings were not reported to anyone until July 17. This was in Sanilac County in the thumb of Michigan about 80 miles north of Detroit. Much work went into notifying biologists, and the company on whose property the bird landed put out a national news release. The pair moved into an nearby peat bog where the female molted and presumably went through a flightless period. The pair may have built two nest platforms, but this clearly was not a full attempt to nest. The pair had never nested before. They were first sighted by an employee of the Michigan Peat Company around June 1 who monitored the pair. Michigan Peat was most excited and cooperative with the presence of the whoopers , monitored the pair daily, and put in place special protective measures to insure the birds would not be disturbed in the bog. A sandhill was usually closely associated with the whooper pair. Starting in mid-July, the pair started moving frequently back to wheat and soybean fields where they had been first seen May 15. Dr. George Archibald viewed the pair on August 24. Will they return to Florida, and will they return to Michigan to nest next summer? There was some discussion about whether the Florida whooping cranes which are designated experimental nonessential become endangered once they leave Florida. Since the pair is clearly banded and came from Florida and is not in an area frequented by Aransas/Wood Buffalo whooping cranes, it is generally felt the pair remains as experimental nonessential. Other whoopers in Florida also dispersed due to the drought. A trio was found at the end of July near St. Augustine, Florida, far north from the central part of the state. Teen charged with killing 2 rare cranes If convicted, he faces relatively light punishment because federal and state authorities failed to communicate. By CRAIG PITTMAN© St. Petersburg Times, published December 6, 2000 Two teenagers sat in a blue Chevy pickup, watching a pair of large white birds standing in a field near St. Augustine. The older teen poked a bolt-action .22 Remington out of the window and fired several times. The truck drove off, leaving behind two dead whooping cranes. This week investigators with the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission charged 18-year-old William Lonnie Bush Jr. of St. Augustine with killing the cranes last month. The whoopers are the rarest cranes in the world, numbering just 400. But a communications gap between federal and state agencies means that the teenager won't face a stiff federal charge in the killing the endangered birds. Instead, Bush is charged with four state misdemeanors, which carry a far lighter penalty. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Joe Oliveros said state wildlife officers kept federal investigators in the dark, refusing to share leads and tips. Oliveras said he did not even know Bush's name. "They made the decision to charge him in state court without calling anybody," precluding federal investigators from filing federal charges, Oliveras told the St. Petersburg Times on Tuesday. "I'm kind of really mystified by it all." The federal offense carries a penalty of up to $25,000 and up to six months in a federal penitentiary. The state charges each carry a maximum penalty of $500 and 60 days in a county jail. State wildlife agency spokeswoman Joy Hill said Lt. Robert Lee of the state wildlife agency did keep Oliveros abreast of the investigation, but when the time came to charge Bush, "we tried to get in touch with Oliveras twice and we couldn't. We made the decision we needed to go ahead and make an arrest." To Kate Fitzwilliams of the International Crane Foundation in Wisconsin, not charging Bush with a federal crime seemed questionable. "I think that's unfortunate in what message that's giving to the public," she said. Bush could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Although Bush admitted the Nov. 19 shooting, he told officers he did not realize he had killed a pair of endangered birds, according to Lee. "He said he thought they were ducks," Lee said Tuesday. "Take that for what it's worth." Whooping cranes stand more than 4 feet tall and weigh about 15 pounds. "That's a pretty odd duck," Lee said. This is the second shooting involving Florida whoopers in recent years. Two years ago someone shot a whooping crane in Orange County, but no one was ever charged. Two cases in Texas resulted in federal charges. In 1989, a Houston lawyer shot a whooper he said he thought was a snow goose. He was fined $15,000 and ordered to pay $6,480 in restitution. In 1991, two fishermen who shot a crane on a dare were fined thousands of dollars, and the shooter was sentenced to 60 days in federal prison. Of the 400 cranes worldwide, 75 live in Florida. The two whoopers killed in St. Augustine were hatched in May 1999 at the International Crane Foundation, where the only humans they came in contact with wore crane costumes. They were shipped to Florida, fitted with radio transmitters and released in Lake County. By June of this year, they had traveled to the St. Augustine area. Birdwatchers had spotted them in the field a few hours before they were killed. When the bird watchers returned, they found the birds' carcasses. A witness had seen a blue mid-size truck with two white males in it parked near the field just prior to the shooting, Lee said. State wildlife officers set up a stakeout to watch for the truck. They also offered a $14,500 reward. Because he has family in the area, Bush "was compelled to travel that area often," Lee said. Bush had heard the officers were watching the road for a blue truck like his 1991 Chevy S-10, Lee said. A tipster called the reward line to report that Bush was asking around about getting his truck painted a different color, Lee said. That led investigators to question him and the 14-year-old friend who was in the truck during the shooting. The 14-year-old did not participate in the shooting and was not charged, Lee said. Bush is scheduled to appear Dec. 19 in St. Johns County Court to face two counts of taking a species of special concern and two counts of taking wildlife from a county road right of way. If a judge chooses to hit Bush with the maximum on all counts, Lee said, he could face a $2,000 fine and 240 days behind bars. - Researchers Caryn Baird and Cathy Wos contributed to this story, which contains information from the Associated Press.

Update: Man Charged in Whooping Crane Killings

According the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) they have charged an 18-year-old St. Augustine man with the Nov. 19 shooting of two whooping cranes. William Lonnie Bush Jr. must appear in court December 19 to face charges of two counts of taking a species of special concern and two counts of taking wildlife from the right of way of a public road. Both charges are state misdemeanors, and can punishable by a maximum $500 fine and 60 days in jail for each of the four counts. FWC law enforcement officer Doug Tyus investigated the case with assistance from five other officers. Tyus tracked down a tip that Bush owned a two-tone blue pickup which matched the description of a vehicle seen at the site of the shootings. Bush had attempted to have his pickup painted a new color before investigators contacted him. The individual who provided the tip to investigators may qualify for up to $14,500 in rewards offered by the FWC, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Audubon of Florida, St. Johns Chapter Audubon Society, Safari Club International, St. Johns County Commission and Dr. William J. Broussard of Forever Florida. A 14-year-old juvenile, who was with Bush at the time of the shootings was not charged. In addition to filing the criminal charges, the arresting officer seized a .22-caliber rifle, which Bush had borrowed from a relative. Investigators believe it is the same rifle Bush used to shoot the birds.

________________ The number of whooping cranes in Florida reached 103 as more birds were released in the past six monthsof 2002: September 26, 8 were shipped to Florida from Patuxent (HY 2000 birds held back last winter); January 16, 5 birds from the International Crane Foundation (birds from Calgary, ICF, and San Antonio), February 7, 7 birds from Patuxent; February 26, 7 birds from Patuxent. The cohort sent to Florida in September consisted of cranes hatched in 2000 that were 16 months old. This was only the second time that whooping cranes were released as subadults. Two of these subadults were taken by an alligator. The other six are doing well. They were held back from release last winter due to the continuing drought and the unprecedented disappearance of so many birds released in the 1999-2000 winter. Nine birds are still unaccounted for from the 1999-2000 releases. However, two birds that had been missing showed back up in the fall, 2001 providing hope that some of the nine are still alive. Survival of birds released in the 2000-2001 winter was 18 of 21. At the end of February 2002, two pairs were sitting on eggs. A total of 13 pairs are present in Florida. In late November, one whooping crane entered thicket habitat and acted strangely. The crane was captured, but no health problems were uncovered, so the bird was released back into the wild and after a period of time returned to its normal habits. August 2002: Despite the drought, 7 whooping crane pairs nested. The most nests in a single year previously was 3 that occurred in 2000. One of the 7 nests included an unsuccessful re-nest by a widowed female with a new mate, the first re-nesting within a season for the project. One pair successfully fledged a chick, nicknamed "Lucky" by a local homeowner after its twin chick was taken off the nest by a bald eagle. The parents later in another encounter injured the eagle which had to be captured and was successfully rehabilitated. This was the first chick fledged in the U.S. dating back to the last nesting of whooping cranes in Louisiana in 1939, and marks the first whooping crane fledged in Florida since the reintroduction started in 1993. This fledging was a strong stamp of approval for the isolation rearing and soft release technique from captivity used in the reintroduction, proving that the captive parents had the proper sexual imprinting and good parenting skills. The habitat chosen by the successful pair was a marsh right near a housing area in Leesburg, Florida. The parents protected their chick from neighborhood dogs on several occasions. Lucky made his first flight at age 77 days and was an accomplished flier 2 weeks later. The Florida staff hopes to capture and mark Lucky with a radio transmitter at the end of August. Project staffer Steve Baynes transferred in August on to a job with benefits. One of the needs of the Florida project is additional assured funding to upgrade this field job to a career service position. The release of captive juveniles in the 2001-02 winter was disastrous. Eleven out of 19 young died from a variety of causes. Disease, bobcats, alligators, and one lightning strike seemed to account for most of the mortality. The first cohort got into commercial bee hives, with one bird dying after ingesting bees, and a second bird was stung in the eye which got swollen shut. However, the number one suspected culprit for the high mortality was a virus known as infectious bursal disease, an immune deficiency disease that affects juvenile cranes and causes them to become lethargic, lose weight, and makes them vulnerable to predation. Older cranes released in previous years at the same release site were not affected by the disease. This disease is known from domestic poultry but it is not known how the whooping cranes got it. Two juveniles were captured and rehabilitated at the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Florida. One had a broken bill, and the other was severely emaciated and had wounds in the side possibly from being entangled in a barbed wire fence. These 2 cranes became so tame that they will remain in captivity. On April 11 2002, one whooping crane was hand-captured at a golf course in Hillsborough County. Upon examination, the bird's left tibia was discovered broken. Personnel at the golf course report that the bird had been struck by a golf ball. The crane was transported to the University of Florida School of Veterinary Medicine where it died while under anesthesia. At the end of June 2002, 89 whooping cranes were alive in the wild in Florida. This includes 7 birds that are still unaccounted for following the unusual dispersals of 2000. Four whooping cranes were captured for routine replacement of transmitters between April and June. This included the female currently un-paired that spent the 2000 summer in Michigan.

The San Antonio Zoo is an important partner in the captive management of whooping cranes. It keeps one breeding pair of cranes on display and one pair off display. San Antonio received shipment of the female crane "Buffy" from Calgary in November. Plans call for three breeding pairs to be held in San Antonio when one crane currently at Patuxent gets moved to Texas. In 2002, San Antonio raised one whooping crane juvenile that was appropriately named "Lonestar". In the fall, Lonestar was shipped to ICF where it was socialized into a cohort of five. Upon release in Florida, Lonestar split off from its cohort and was taken the first night apparently by an alligator. The two juveniles raised at San Antonio in 2001 were shipped in January to ACRES and the New Orleans Zoo. They had been pulled from the reintroduction program in Florida because of the deepening drought and fears that birds released in drought conditions would be more vulnerable to predation.

Three juveniles produced in Calgary were shipped to ICF in August for socialization into a cohort destined for the nonmigratory flock in Florida. They were released into the wild on February 21 with one ICF bird and one San Antonio bird, along with another cohort of seven Patuxent birds. The captive adult female "Buffy" was shipped from Calgary to the San Antonio Zoo on November 29 where she will be paired. This move was part of the genetic re-shuffling that was recommended by the Captive Management Team in January, 2001.

 

The crane with valuable genetics that Lowry Park in Tampa has been holding is scheduled to be shipped in the near future to ACRES for pairing. One crane from ICF was shipped to Lowry Park on January 16, 2002 to keep on permanent display.

 

Audubon Center for Research on Endangered Species (ACRES) One pair (McFuzz and Susan) exhibits a strong pair bond and hopefully will start producing soon. The male "Fred" remains unpaired after showing aggression on numerous occasions to a potential mate.

 

USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center remains a key player in all aspects of whooping crane recovery. They conduct multiple research projects which are vital to recovery. In 2001, Patuxent raised birds for both the ultralight and Florida reintroductions, were part of the ultralight field team, and participated in both the Recovery Team, Captive Management and WCEP meetings. They also served on the captive site selection task force. Patuxent shipped 11 whooping cranes to Wisconsin in July, a cohort of eight to Florida in September,and two cohorts of seven to Florida February 7 and February 26. One young crane was retained at Patuxent to bolster captive flock genetics.

 

Captive whooping crane juveniles were shipped to International Crane Foundation ICF in late summer to form a cohort for release in the nonmigratory flock in Florida. The cohort of five cranes came from ICF (1), Calgary (3), and San Antonio (1). One of the Calgary birds suffered a cervical injury while at ICF, but recovered sufficiently to be released in Florida. Because of the small cohort size, their shipment to Florida was delayed until mid-January so that they could be released at the same time with a cohort from Patuxent. A review of the husbandry program at ICF aimed to improve breeding success was held September 24-26. Participants from other institutions included Dr. George Gee and Jane Nicolich from Patuxent, and Tom Stehn. Subjects covered included the role of ponds in pens, bird movements, diet, disturbance, and photoperiod. Many recommendations were made which mostly have already been implemented. This was an excellent example of the close cooperation amongst captive facilities that hold whooping cranes.