THE WHOOPING CRANE REPORT: 1
Two Mississippi Chicks in Their Nest. Parents Like the Pair Above Built the Nest in the Refuge's Wetlands, USFWS Photo
A Controlled Burn Helps Restore the Natural Habitat on the Refuge, USFWS Photo
THE MISSISSIPPI SANDHILL CRANE
The Mississippi sandhill crane is a slate gray bird with white face markings and a red crown. Four feet tall, this sub-species of the non-migratory Florida sandhill crane is smaller and darker in color than its Florida cousin. The only remaining population of Mississippis lives year round on a refuge named for it. The Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge is located on three separate tracts of land along the Gulf Coast, in Gautier, Mississippi. In the past, sandhill cranes existed in small separate colonies all along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. Now there are two separate populations. The Florida sandhill is found only in Florida, and the Mississippi sandhill only exists in one small area of Mississippi.
In the 60's, only 30 Mississippi sandhills were left. Eggs taken from this remnant flock were brought to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and eventually became a successful breeding flock. Birds raised at Patuxent were sent to the Refuge for release. Today, there are around 120 cranes on the refuge, almost 3/4 of the flock captive-reared. The first costume-reared birds at Patuxent were Mississippis, and it was the survival success of these human-reared birds that gave scientists hope that whooper chicks could be reared the same way and survive in the wild. The Mississippi sandhill crane program at Patuxent became the prototype for the whooper release program.
Whoopers and Mississippis are very different cranes, with different behavior and environmental needs. However, rearing techniques first used in the Mississippi program have successfully been incorporated into the whooper release program. The released whoopers have had high survival, and the successful hatching and rearing of whooper chicks in Florida from parent birds which were costume-reared is proof that costume-rearing can be used to establish cranes back into the wild.
Mississippi sandhill cranes are still very endangered. The refuge is located on land which has been used for decades for pine tree plantations. Since the habitat originally was wetland and savanna, habitat restoration on the refuge is an important part of their land management. Removing trees, filling in drainage ditches, doing controlled burns, and allowing the land to restore itself to its natural state will take years. The refuge has been suffering an historic drought, as Florida has, and this has had a severe impact on the cranes, reducing chick production drastically. Also, predators such as bobcats and coyotes, are an on-going problem.
While Patuxent no longer produces Mississippi sandhill cranes, focusing now on whoopers, captive reared Mississippi cranes from both the White Oak Conservation Center in Jacksonville Florida, and from the Audubon Institute are sent to the refuge every year to bolster the population until it can become self-sustaining.
Read more about Mississippi sandhill cranes.
Please check our site on November 29 for a Tux update!
|Click here to ask questions about our chick* or Patuxent's whooping crane program. *Tux is now in quarantine with his cohort, getting ready for their trip to Florida. A report on our quarantine procedure and other facts about the birds' preparation for release will be on our next update. Check back on November 29th.|
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