Michael Warren: Whooping Cranes
Artist: Michael Warren
As recently as 1945, only 17 of these picturesque birds were known to survive. Today, though that number has crept up to approximately 100, the danger to this impressive creature remains substantial. Every year, a number of Whoopers are lost during migration, some perhaps to poachers, others due to power lines which present a nearly invisible hazard to the low-flying birds. Two key factors led up to their long-term status as an endangered species. Whooping Cranes, once frequently sighted on plains and wetlands across North America, were for decades hunted for their long white feathers which adorned fashionable ladies hats. In addition, key breeding grounds were drained and cultivated beginning at the end of the 19th century. Only concerted conservation efforts have preserved those few remnants of the formerly huge flocks of Whoopers. The Eurasian cousin to the Whooping Crane -- the Siberian white crane -- is endangered as well. Joint American/Russian efforts to save the two species are underway, using more common cranes -- including the sandhill crane -- as foster parents for eggs collected from the endangered birds. Perhaps one day, if these efforts are successful, we will again be able to experience the wonder of watching the migration of these large birds, which in the early part of the 19th century were so numerous that hours would pass before the enormous flocks were out of sight.
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