The whooping crane, Louisiana’s rarest and largest bird, is making a comeback. After completely disappearing from the state in the 1950’s, a decade-long effort to reintroduce the big white birds is working.
The whooping crane is an impressively large bird with a wing span of seven feet. An adult measures just over five feet tall. The crane’s population rapidly declined throughout the first half of the 20th century because of demand for its feathers and loss of its favored marsh habitat. Louisiana’s last whooping crane was relocated to a migratory flock in southern Texas in the 1950s. The reintroduction of the endangered birds began in 2011 at the White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area in southwestern Louisiana.
saving the endangered whooping crane
The Audubon Species Survival Center, located in New Orleans, has played a critical role in the comeback of the highly endangered bird. The center houses 16 of the cranes. As the adults lay eggs, usually two per year, the staff carefully incubates the eggs until they hatch. After six months, the chicks are large enough to relocate to the marsh of southwestern Louisiana.
Seven cranes hatched at the Audubon Species Survival Center during 2021. Four of those young birds were healthy enough to be released into the wild. Three chicks remain at the center. Adult cranes mentor the younger chicks, showing them how to feed and to be wary of humans. Staffers wear white suits with puppets resembling the head of a crane on their hands. The staff does not want the humans to imprint on the young chicks.
a modest success story
Louisiana’s population of whooping cranes has gone from zero in the 1950s to more than 75 in 2022. The North American population now tops 500 cranes. But growing the population is a slow process. “A lot of it is due to the bird’s biology,” explains Richard Dunn, Assistant Curator at the Audubon Species Survival Center. A pair will only produce two eggs a year, says Dunn. “If only one check survives, it’s going to take a while to get the population up.”