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Md. Wildlife Center Helps Save Bird On Brink Of Extinction

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WHOOPING CRANES
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LAUREL, Md. (WJZ)—Whooping cranes born in Maryland have just been released to a new habitat in Louisiana, where they disappeared decades ago.  If this works and the endangered birds soar back from the brink of extinction, it will be thanks to a breeding center here in Maryland.

Denise Koch has the story.

The call of the whooping crane is rarely heard, as the bird is on the brink of extinction. Maryland leads the effort to save the whooping crane.

It’s a breakthrough moment for this endangered species. Ten whooping crane chicks, born and raised in Maryland, have just been released in their new home in southwest Louisiana.

“The first time I saw birds that we had produced here flying free in the wild, it was really a thrill,” said John French, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.

It’s been 60 years since whooping cranes called these marshes home.  Hunters, developers and predators killed them off in the 1950s.  Caretakers at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel are trying to undo the damage.

“It’s a bit of a gamble, but we’ve looked at the habitat and the habitat looks great,” French said.

In the entire world, only 400 whooping cranes remain—all in North America and all with a link to Maryland.

It’s a very unusual process to raise a wild whooping crane. So from the moment the chicks are born, they never encounter a human being unless that human being has on an elaborate disguise to look like a mother whooping crane.

“The idea here is so these birds don’t become comfortable around humans so when they’re released in the wild and see a human, they take off in the other direction,” French said.

When the chicks are first born, they use a simulated mother crane head to teach them how to eat, how to drink, how to be a whooping crane.

These trailblazing birds are banded to identify them and tracked with radio transmitters.  If they survive, they’ll pave the way for future flocks of whooping cranes.

“Their plight is due to human activities, and if we can help restore this species it will say something positive about how we take very seriously the need for conservation,” French said. “They are beautiful. They’re huge and they’re spectacular birds.”

If this flock thrives in its new home, the whooping crane will move from “endangered” to “threatened” – a very positive sign.

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