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Whooping cranes get in family way

Two chicks, the first offspring of the migration-trained birds, were born under staffers' care at a research center.

Published May 12, 2006

The staff and volunteers who have labored over the reintroduction of a migratory whooping crane flock over the eastern United States marked a milestone Thursday.

It was especially significant because it coincided with National Endangered Species Day, as declared by the U.S. Senate.

The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership announced that the first two offspring of reintroduced cranes have hatched at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland.

Why does that matter?

"Because it makes us grandparents," said Chris Danilko, office manager for Operation Migration.

"We're working toward having a self-sustaining flock," she said.

A step toward that goal is seeing the cranes that were taught the migration route from their training home at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin to the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge now begin to reproduce. The ideal situation would have been for the crane parents, two birds from the "Class of 2002," to hatch and raise the chicks themselves. But "this is the next best thing," Danilko said.

The eggs that produced the two chicks, dubbed 602 and 603, were abandoned by their parents. But staffers were nearby, and the day they were abandoned was warm enough that that eggs were still viable.

"The timing was just perfect," Danilko said.

Four other whooping crane pairs in the reintroduced flock also nested and produced eggs this spring, but all their eggs were destroyed. Danilko said that the parent birds with the hatched chicks stayed on their nest only about two weeks before abandoning it.

Staffers hope that next year, the young birds will stay with their eggs longer.

This spring, there have been five hatched whooping crane chicks at Patuxent. More are hatching every couple of days, and there are more than two dozen more eggs at the center that have not yet hatched.

That is especially good news to those associated with the whooping crane project.

A severe winter storm several months ago devastated the crane pens, and some worried that the captive birds that produce the chicks for the migratory training might not produce as many eggs.

For the first 24 hours after the rare birds hatch, the chicks are in a kind of intensive care setting. But within days, they can eat, drink and begin training for following the ultralight aircraft from Wisconsin to Florida.

The young stay at Patuxent for about 45 days but must be in Wisconsin before they learn to fly. Once they are taught the migration route, staffers watch for them to return by themselves in spring to the area of the Necedah refuge.

"They want to return to the first place that they've seen by air," Danilko said.

The two special crane chicks will get the same treatment as the other members of the Class of 2006 and are set to participate in migration training with the rest of this year's young cranes.

Still, it will be hard to not see them as special.

"We're just thrilled to death," Danilko said.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at 564-3621 or

[Last modified May 12, 2006, 00:55:11]

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