Table of Contents
Grays Lake and the Bosque del Apache
The Rocky Mountain project began in Grays Lake, Idaho, under the supervision of Rod C. Drewien. In 1975, fourteen eggs were transported from Wood Buffalo Park, Canada, to the facility in Idaho. The basic layout of the project was to replace sandhill crane eggs with whooping crane eggs, and let the sandhill cranes raise the whooping cranes when they hatched. Out of the fourteen eggs that were set in the nest of sandhills, nine of them hatched. Both the eggs and, later, the chicks were marked 75-1 to 75-14. These numbers represented the year of the project and the number of the egg. The whoopers and the sandhills got along fine, behaving as normal families--the parents took care of the chicks and the chicks obeyed the parents and adopted their ways. As the chicks grew during the spring and the summer and learned to fly, the biologist had a hard time keeping them safe. Aside from the threat to predators, the young whoopers found out that fences were dangerous things. Sandhill cranes are smaller than whooping cranes and can easily jump through fences. The whooping cranes often got stuck in the fences that their foster parents and siblings easily jumped through. The project started out fine, however, it seemed to fall apart as the whooping cranes got older. The whooping cranes that were raised by sandhill cranes did not seek whooping crane mates. They were confused about what they were and tried to pair with sandhill cranes. Biologists watched the chicks grow as the spring and summer moved on and the migratory season became close at hand. During October and November, the cranes began their migration to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge (NWR).
This refuges is located in southern New Mexico, 850 miles south of the Rocky Mountain Range. The cranes follow the same migratory route every year. However, the year that the whooping cranes joined the sandhill flock with their foster parents, they were shunned. The families were forced to live on the outskirts of the flock or completely isolated from the flock. In the spring, the whooping cranes did not return to their home at Grays Lake. Instead, they stayed with a few larger sandhill cranes in another area of the Rocky Mountain Range.
In 1976, Drewien and other biologists planted the sandhill nests and continued this for the next thirteen years. In 1989 egg shipments from Wood Buffalo stopped after almost three hundred eggs had been used in the Rocky Mountain Project. Although some whooping cranes still return to the Bosque-del-Apache NWR, the plan has been abandoned by scientists.
Aransas Migratory Waterfowl Refuge
The Aransas Migratory Waterfowl Refuge (AMWR) is the wintering area of the whooping cranes. In 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) signed Executive Order No. 77841 which created this refuge for many species of birds. The AMWR was a place where whooping cranes came during the winter and no one wanted to change the life style of the cranes by making the refuge a zoo or place where the animals became dependent on humans. In 1950 a drought made it hard for the whoopers to find the small marine animals that make up their diet. Following the drought, heavy rains and a hurricane made food for the cranes scarce. The cranes could not just walk to the nearest restaurant and order take out, so they went into wooded areas to find food. By doing this, the cranes put themselves at risk of many more predators. Naturally the people at the refuge did not want the whooping cranes to get gobbled up by lions and tigers and bears, and also did not want the birds to become dependent on humans. The researchers began to air-drop wheat and grains in safe places for the cranes to feed. This technique is used to lure cranes back to their homes and flight paths when the cranes are in danger. See the AMWR web site for more information.
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center (PWRC) has played a huge role in the reintroduction of whooping cranes. The Whooping Crane Conservation Association was very influential in getting the PWRC established near Laurel, Maryland in 1966. At Patuxent the whooping cranes got full attention. The propagation/release program was started here with a single adult male bird, CAN-US (named for Canada and the USA), and many sandhills. Similar to Grays Lake, the eggs used in this project came from Wood Buffalo. The hard part did not stop with producing viable eggs. The sandhills and researchers had to raise the whoopers without confronting the problems faced at Grays Lake. All the humans dressed up in big whooper costumes so that the chicks would identify with their own kind. Trainers, in costume, fed the birds while the sandhill cranes taught them everything else. In total, the whoopers at Patuxent were able to produce 356 eggs in 18 years (1975 to 1993) and they furnished the Grays Lake project 73 of them. The adult birds were to be released back into the Aransas/Wood Buffalo flock (AWP), and in twenty-five years the numbers have increased from forty-eight to one hundred thirty-six. See the PWRC web site for more information.
All of the photographs used in this site appear in the bibliography with proper credits.