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Flirty and maverick cranes put in pens for their safety

The whooper that wooed a captive female and the storm survivor perplex their protectors.

By BARBARA BEHRENDT
Published February 13, 2007


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CRYSTAL RIVER - Two whooping cranes that have received a lot of attention in recent days - one for courting a captive crane in a Homosassa park and the other for escaping a sure death in horrible storms - are now roomies.

The birds known as 105 the Romeo and 615 (the death cheater) are in separated, top-netted pens at the Halpata Tastanaki Preserve in Marion County.

Officials involved with the whooping crane reintroduction project are trying to figure out what to do with these birds.

Bird 105 was retrieved Feb. 1 from the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, where it visited a captive crane, Peepers, on at least two occasions.

Some figured the bird was looking for a new mate since its former partner had been found dead in Hernando County several weeks ago.

Others surmised that 105 was in the pen to share in Peepers' free lunch. The wild bird was one of the cranes to make the first year's flight from Wisconsin to Central Florida in 2001.

The hope was that the bird would lose interest in the captive female once it was kept away a while.

Crane 615 is the sole survivor of the Class of 2006. The other 17 birds that made the 1,200-mile flight behind ultralight aircraft from Wisconsin to Central Florida in December all drowned in the surge produced during the strong storms that hit the area overnight Feb. 1 and 2.

No one knows how 615 escaped the top-netted pen that night.

But since that time, it has been actively flying over east Citrus, as far north as Gilchrist County and even back to the Halpata pen site, which was the temporary stop at the end of this year's migration before the Class of 2006 was led to the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge.

The hope had been to manage 615 as a wild crane and allow it to stay free, but its habits concerned keepers still reeling from their loss of the rest of last year's flock.

Officials were worried about 615 spending nights at Halpata, which is largely dry habitat. The cranes are taught to roost in water to protect them from predators. Staying in dry areas at night leaves them open to attack.

The agencies that make up the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership were discussing their options late Monday, hoping to decide what is best for the two birds.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at 564-3621 or behrendt@sptimes.com.

[Last modified February 13, 2007, 06:19:45]


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