Louisiana’s first wild-hatched whooping crane since 1939 out on her own
NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana’s first wild-hatched whooping crane since 1939 is out on her own, chased off by her parents so they could embark on their second nesting season.
The big white bird with black wing-tips officially turned 1 year old Tuesday. She no longer has a juvenile’s mottled brown-and-white plumage — except for a bit on her head, which has not yet developed an adult’s bright red cap, said Sara Zimorski, a biologist with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
“She’s doing all the right things — staying in good spots, foraging,” Zimorski said.
Whooping cranes are among the world’s most endangered birds, with only about 600 alive. All are descended from 15 in Texas, where the world’s only natural flock now numbers about 250.
Biologists had worried an injured left wing might keep the bird dubbed LW1-16 from flying, but that hasn’t been the case, Zimorski said.
Her left wing developed a droop when she was about six weeks old. When she was caught for banding in February, “it sort of felt as if it had slipped a tendon along the leading edge,” Zimorski said. She said the crane still cannot fully extend that wing, which still has a slight droop, but she had been seen flying with her parents and she’s flown across roads and canals.
“She can fly. We just don’t know if she could get up and go 100 miles,” Zimorski said Monday.
The code on her band identifies the bird as Louisiana Wild whooping crane No. 1 of 2016.
Her parents are among five pairs that laid eggs in February and early March without producing a chick, though one pair has a second nest and there’s plenty of time for the rest to try again, Zimorski said. Those five pairs all also nested last year, though only LW1-16’s parents laid eggs that hatched.
LW1-16 had a sibling that “disappeared after about a month, which is not unusual,” Zimorski said. “A lot of times, only one makes it.”
And, says Zimorski, three additional pairs are nesting in southwest Louisiana marshlands — two for the first time ever. The third of those pairs laid eggs that got flooded by heavy rains two years ago, and didn’t nest last year.
The marshland nests were spotted on a flyover, so biologists don’t know just when the eggs were laid, Zimorski said. She said a flyover next week will check on whether any have hatched.
If eggs go past 30 days without hatching, biologists collect them, or remaining eggshells, to try to learn whether the eggs were fertile.
Zimorski said she really respects state wildlife veterinarian Jim Lacour for checking those eggs. “I have to back away: they’re pretty pungent.”
Young adults often lay infertile eggs.
There’s no way to be certain whether LW1-16 is the bird that hatched April 11 or the one that hatched two days later, Zimorski said — but for bookkeeping purposes, she’s No. 1.
She’s not the only addition to the flock: Louisiana received 27 juveniles over the winter. Two have died since their release, but the flock still numbers 57.