Like superheroes, whooping crane caregivers don disguises, never revealing their true identity to those they’re protecting.
While raising the young birds in captivity, they wear white costumes and never use their human voices while using a crane puppet to feed them or taking them for walks and swims. The intense foster parenting has helped to save whoopers—the most endangered cranes in the world—from extinction. This week the government released 10 of the enormous creatures in Louisiana, marking the first presence of the birds in the wild in that state since 1950.
All 400 or so of the whoopers alive in North America today come from a flock of about 16 birds. By the 1960s the cranes were essentially extinct in the wild, but through the efforts of federal, state, and conservation groups, now there are about 250 in the wild (the rest live in captivity).
The 10 gangly adolescents released in Louisiana were raised at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Maryland. Their new home is a coastal marsh in the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area. This is a resident group, unlike those whoopers that have been taught to migrate between Wisconsin and Florida over the last decade by following ultralight airplanes.
Click here for "Breakout," our in-depth article on how biologists raise whoopers and successfully lure them back on migration routes.
For an Audubon exclusive podcast on whooper recover, click here.