Cranes


Cranes are tall long-legged birds found on all continents except South America and Antarctica.  There are 15 species of cranes with 2, whooping and sandhill, found in the United States.

Cranes


Sandhill Cranes

Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge

Alaska



Sandhill Cranes

Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge

Alaska



Sandhill Crane

Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge

Alaska


Whooping Cranes

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

Texas


Whooping Crane

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

Texas


Sandhill Cranes

Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge

Alaska


Whooping Crane

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

Texas


Whooping Cranes

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

Texas


The Tallest Flying Bird!!


The sarus crane is tallest of the flying birds, standing at a height of up to 5 feet 11 inches (1.8 meters) and is a non-migratory crane found in parts of the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia and Australia. Their favorite habitat is open wetlands in south Asia.


Sarus cranes have loud trumpeting calls. These calls are, as in other cranes, produced by the elongated trachea that form coils within the sternal region.  Pairs may indulge in spectacular displays of calling in unison and posturing.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarus_crane


Sarus cranes forage in shallow water (usually with less 1-foot depth of water) or in fields, frequently probing in mud with their long bills.  They are omnivorous, eating insects (especially grasshoppers), aquatic plants, fish, frogs, crustaceans and seeds.



A Vulnerable Species!


There were about an estimated 15–20,000 mature sarus cranes left in the wild in 2009. The Indian population is less than 10,000, but of the three subspecies, is the healthiest in terms of numbers. They are considered sacred and the birds are traditionally left unharmed, and in many areas they are unafraid of humans.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarus_crane


Whooping Cranes

2018 Photos


Whooping Crane traveling with Sandhill Cranes

Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge

October 2018


Approximately 500 whooping cranes travel north from Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas to Wood Buffalo National Park where they nest in the summer before returning to Aransas.  North Dakota is part of their flyway and occasionally they will stop for several days on their migration.


Whooping cranes are nearly 5 feet tall with a wing span of 7.5 feet, males average 16 pounds while females average 14 pounds.  Sandhill cranes are 4 feet tall and their wing span can be over 7 feet, males average 10 pounds and females 9 pounds.


Whooping Crane

Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge

October 2018


The whooping crane is the tallest North American bird, is an endangered crane species named for its whooping sound. Along with the sandhill crane, it is one of only two crane species found in North America. The whooping crane's lifespan is estimated to be 22 to 24 years in the wild. After being pushed to the brink of extinction by unregulated hunting and loss of habitat to just 21 wild and two captive whooping cranes by 1941, conservation efforts have led to a limited recovery. The total number of cranes in the surviving migratory population, plus three reintroduced flocks and in captivity, now exceeds 800 birds.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whooping_crane


Whooping Cranes

2019 Photos


Short Run into the Wind Needed for Flight!


Whooping cranes are the tallest bird native to North America and are anywhere from the third to the fifth heaviest species there, depending on which figures are used. The species can reportedly stand anywhere from 1.24 to 1.6 m (4 ft 1 in to 5 ft 3 in) in height. Wingspan, at least typically, is from 2 to 2.3 m (6 ft 7 in to 7 ft 7 in). Widely reported averages put males at a mean mass of 7.3 kg (16 lb), while females weigh 6.2 kg (14 lb) on average. 


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whooping_crane



Still Running!


Photographs were taken on April 19, 2019 in Burleigh County, North Dakota



Running Faster!


Almost There!


Take Off!


Mates for Life!


Whooping cranes live to be 22 to 24 years in the wild.  They become sexually mature between 4 and 7 years old.  They migrate from their nesting grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada in the Fall and winter in Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas before returning in the Spring.



Back from the Brink!


After being pushed to the brink of extinction by unregulated hunting and loss of habitat to just 21 wild and two captive whooping cranes by 1941, conservation efforts have led to a limited recovery. The total number of cranes in the surviving migratory population, plus three reintroduced flocks and in captivity, now exceeds 800 birds.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whooping_crane


A Sight I will Probably Never See Again!


Perfect morning light, blue sky, the rare whooping crane and a south wind resulted in this whooping crane running towards me before taking off and flying.  I doubt that I will ever experience this again!



2020 Photos


Whooping Crane!

Burleigh County, North Dakota

April 18, 2020



Whooping Crane!

Burleigh County, North Dakota


Photo of the Day- April 19, 2020



The whooping crane, the tallest North American bird, is an endangered crane species named for its whooping sound. Along with the sandhill crane, it is one of only two crane species found in North America. The whooping crane's lifespan is estimated to be 22 to 24 years in the wild. After being pushed to the brink of extinction by unregulated hunting and loss of habitat to just 21 wild and two captive whooping cranes by 1941, conservation efforts have led to a limited recovery.  The total number of cranes in the surviving migratory population, plus three reintroduced flocks and in captivity, now exceeds 800 birds.  An adult whooping crane is white with a red crown and a long, dark, pointed bill. However, immature whooping cranes are cinnamon brown. While in flight, their long necks are kept straight and their long dark legs trail behind. Adult whooping cranes' black wing tips are visible during flight.  The whooping crane is roughly the fifth largest extant species of crane in the world, on average.  Whooping cranes are the tallest bird native to North America and are anywhere from the third to the fifth heaviest species there, depending on which figures are used. The species can reportedly stand anywhere from 1.24 to 1.6 m (4 ft 1 in to 5 ft 3 in) in height.  Wingspan, at least typically, is from 2 to 2.3 m (6 ft 7 in to 7 ft 7 in).  Widely reported averages put males at a mean mass of 7.3 kg (16 lb), while females weigh 6.2 kg (14 lb) on average.  The only other very large, long-legged white birds in North America are: the great egret, which is over a foot (30 cm) shorter and one-seventh the weight of this crane; the great white heron, which is a morph of the great blue heron in Florida; and the wood stork. All three other birds are at least 30% smaller than the whooping crane. Herons and storks are also quite different in structure from the crane.  Larger individuals (especially males of the larger races) of sandhill crane can overlap in size with adult whooping cranes but are obviously distinct at once for their gray rather than white color.  Their calls are loud and can carry several kilometers. They express "guard calls", apparently to warn their partner about any potential danger. The crane pair will jointly call rhythmically ("unison call") after waking in the early morning, after courtship and when defending their territory.  

The muskeg of the taiga in Wood Buffalo National Park, Alberta, Canada, and the surrounding area was the last remnant of the former nesting habitat of the Whooping Crane Summer Range. However, with the recent Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership Reintroduction Project, whooping cranes nested naturally for the first time in 100 years in the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin, United States. They nest on the ground, usually on a raised area in a marsh. The female lays 1 or 2 eggs, usually in late-April to mid-May. The blotchy, olive-colored eggs average 2½ inches in breadth and 4 inches in length (60 by 100 mm), and weigh about 6.7 ounces (190 g). The incubation period is 29–31 days. Both parents brood the young, although the female is more likely to directly tend to the young. Usually no more than one young bird survives in a season. The parents often feed the young for 6–8 months after birth and the terminus of the offspring-parent relationship occurs after about 1 year.

At one time, the range for these birds extended throughout midwestern North America. In 1941, the wild population consisted of 21 birds. Conservation efforts have led to a population increase; as of July 2010 there were about 383 whooping cranes living in the wild, and another 152 living in captivity. The whooping crane is still one of the rarest birds in North America. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service estimated the population in the wild population as 505 whooping cranes in 2017.


In the early 1960s, Robert Porter Allen, an ornithologist with the National Audubon Society, appeared as a guest challenger on the network television show "To Tell The Truth", which gave the Conservation movement some opportunity to update the public on their efforts to save the whooping crane from extinction. His initial efforts focused on public education, particularly among farmers and hunters. Beginning in 1961, the Whooping Crane Conservation Association (WCCA), was established to improve the status of the whooping cranes. This non-profit organization functioned largely by influencing federal, state and provincial political decisions and educating the general public about the critical status of the bird. The whooping crane was declared endangered in 1967.


Identification of the location of the summer breeding grounds of the whooping cranes at Wood Buffalo National Park in 1954 allowed more detailed study of their reproductive habits in the wild, and led to the observation that while many breeding pairs laid two eggs, both chicks would almost never survive to fledge. It was concluded that the removal of a single egg from a two-egg clutch should still leave a single hatchling most likely to survive, while providing an individual for captive breeding. Such removals in alternating years showed no decline in the reproductive success of the wild cranes. The withdrawn eggs were transferred to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland, where approaches for hatching and rearing crane chicks in captivity had been optimized using the more-numerous sandhill cranes. Initial challenges getting the resultant birds to reproduce, even using artificial insemination approaches, would give impetus to the first, unsuccessful attempt at reintroduction, by swapping whooping crane eggs into the nests of the more numerous sandhill cranes as a way to establish a backup population.


The techniques pioneered at Patuxent, the International Crane Foundation and a program at the Calgary Zoo would give rise to a robust multi-institutional captive breeding program that would supply the cranes used in several additional captive breeding and reintroduction programs.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whooping_crane

 

The whooping crane has been called the ‘giant panda of the bird world’ and, at one time, had decreased to a total of 16 individuals. C2S2 is working within the Whooping Crane SSP and the USFWS to accommodate reproducing pairs now ‘orphaned’ as a result of severe budget cuts – and elimination of the entire breeding program at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.  Having rebounded from near-extinction, the whooping crane is truly representative of a species saved as a result of collaborative conservation.  Its original distribution included the Great Plains region and extended from the Arctic coast to Central Mexico, from Utah to New Jersey and south to Florida.  The decline of the whooping crane in the 20th century was related to the conversion of critical wetland habitats for agriculture as well as persistent and illegal hunting.


https://conservationcenters.org/programs/native-species-forces/whooping-crane/



Whooping Crane!

Burleigh County, North Dakota

April 19, 2020



Whooping Crane

Burleigh County, North Dakota


Photo of the Day- October 26, 2020



Sandhill Crane Adventures

In

Yellowstone National Park

May 2019


"It sure is hard to climb on Mom's back!"


"Almost There!"


"Almost There!"


"Almost There!"


"Oh, That was too Tough.  I Think I will Sleep Next to Mom- I Can Hear Her Heartbeat- My Favorite Sound!"


Sandhill cranes raise one brood per year. In nonmigratory populations, laying begins between December and August. In migratory populations, laying usually begins in April or May. Both members of a breeding pair build the nest using plant material from the surrounding area. Nest sites are usually marshes, bogs, or swales, though occasionally on dry land. Females lay one to three (usually two) oval, dull brown eggs with reddish markings. Both parents incubate the eggs for about 30 days. The chicks are precocial; they hatch covered in down, with their eyes open, and able to leave the nest within a day. The parents brood the chicks for up to three weeks after hatching, feeding them intensively for the first few weeks, then gradually less frequently until they reach independence at 9 to 10 months old.  The chicks remain with their parents until one to two months before the parents lay the next clutch of eggs the following year, remaining with them 10–12 months. After leaving their parents, the chicks form nomadic flocks with other juveniles and nonbreeders. They remain in these flocks until they form breeding pairs at between two and seven years old.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandhill_crane


 May 31, 2019


Oops!  Baby on right fell down walking through mud holes.  Baby on left is being fed by Mom!


Sandhill Crane Family!


The Bison and the Cranes!

June 2, 2019



After finding the baby Sandhill Cranes on May 30, 2019 I was able to watch them for 4 days.  The Yellowstone National Park Staff stated that they had been born on May 29.  By the 3rd day, the babies were following their parents up the grassy slopes so their parents could feed them insects.  On the evening of June 2, the Crane family was returning to the slough where their nest was located.  Three large American Bison were also feeding near the slough and one Bison approaches where the Cranes were!


As the Bison got within a couple of yards of the babies, they hide in the slough grass and Sandhill Crane Mom walked to within a few feet of the Bison, calling loudly!



Sandhill cranes defend themselves and their young from aerial predators by jumping and kicking. Actively brooding adults are more likely to react aggressively to potential predators to defend their chicks than wintering birds, which most often normally try to evade attacks on foot or in flight. For land predators, they move forward, often hissing, with their wings open and bills pointed. If the predator persists, the crane stabs with its bill (which is powerful enough to pierce the skull of a small carnivore) and kicks.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandhill_crane


"Stay Away from My Babies"


The 9-pound Sandhill Crane Mom did not strike or kick at the Bison, loud calling and sudden flapping of wings was enough to startle the 2000-pound Bison.  



"Stay Away from My Babies"


This is the first time that I have seen a Bison jump away from another animal!  



"Stay Away from My Babies"


The 2000-pound Bison wanted nothing to do with an upset 9-pound Sandhill Crane Mom.  



"You Stay Away from My Babies and Don't Come Back"


The Bison did just that and Mom returned to her babies.  



The Bison was relieved that the whole situation was over.  



2020 Photos


Heading South!


Sandhill Cranes

Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge, North Dakota


Photo of the Day- September 17, 2020



Sandhill Cranes

McKenzie Slough, Burleigh County, North Dakota


Photo of the Day- September 30, 2020



Whooping Crane

Burleigh County, North Dakota

April 17, 2021



Whooping Crane

Burleigh County, North Dakota

April 17, 2021



Whooping Crane

Burleigh County, North Dakota

April 17, 2021



Whooping Cranes

Burleigh County, North Dakota

April 17, 2021



Whooping Cranes

Burleigh County, North Dakota

April 17, 2021



Whopping Cranes

Lake Oahe, North Dakota

April 21, 2021



Whopping Cranes

Lake Oahe, North Dakota

April 21, 2021



Whopping Cranes

Lake Oahe, North Dakota


Photo of the Day- April 21, 2021



Whopping Cranes

Lake Oahe, North Dakota

April 21, 2021



Whopping Cranes

Lake Oahe, North Dakota

April 21, 2021



Whopping Cranes

Lake Oahe, North Dakota

April 21, 2021



Whopping Cranes

Lake Oahe, North Dakota

April 21, 2021



Whopping Cranes

Lake Oahe, North Dakota

April 21, 2021



Whopping Cranes

Lake Oahe, North Dakota

April 21, 2021



Whopping Cranes

Burleigh County, North Dakota

October 29, 2021



Whopping Cranes

Burleigh County, North Dakota

October 29, 2021



Whopping Cranes

Burleigh County, North Dakota

October 29, 2021



Whopping Cranes

Burleigh County, North Dakota

October 29, 2021



Whopping Cranes

Burleigh County, North Dakota

October 29, 2021



Whopping Cranes

Burleigh County, North Dakota

October 29, 2021



Whopping Cranes

Burleigh County, North Dakota

October 29, 2021



Whopping Cranes

Burleigh County, North Dakota

October 29, 2021



Whopping Cranes

Burleigh County, North Dakota

October 29, 2021



Whopping Cranes

Burleigh County, North Dakota

November 1, 2021



Whopping Cranes

Burleigh County, North Dakota

November 1, 2021



Whopping Cranes

Burleigh County, North Dakota

November 1, 2021



Whopping Cranes

Burleigh County, North Dakota

November 1, 2021



Whopping Cranes

Burleigh County, North Dakota

November 2, 2021



Whopping Cranes

Burleigh County, North Dakota

November 2, 2021



Whopping Cranes

Burleigh County, North Dakota

November 4, 2021



Whopping Cranes

Burleigh County, North Dakota

November 5, 2021



Whopping Cranes

Burleigh County, North Dakota

November 6, 2021



Whopping Cranes

Burleigh County, North Dakota

November 6, 2021



Whopping Cranes

Burleigh County, North Dakota

November 6, 2021



Whopping Cranes

Burleigh County, North Dakota

November 6, 2021



Whopping Cranes

Burleigh County, North Dakota

November 6, 2021



Whopping Cranes

Burleigh County, North Dakota

November 6, 2021



Whopping Cranes

Burleigh County, North Dakota

November 6, 2021



Whopping Cranes

Burleigh County, North Dakota

November 6, 2021



Whopping Cranes

Burleigh County, North Dakota

November 6, 2021



Whopping Cranes

Burleigh County, North Dakota

November 6, 2021


I was able to visti the Patuxent Wildlife Reseach Center in 2014


50-year whooping crane program will close at Patuxent refuge


Dance S. (2018, November 19). 50-year whooping crane program will close at Patuxent refuge. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/fifty-year-whooping-crane-program-will-close-at-patuxent-refuge/2018/11/19/450c0b1a-ce3f-11e8-920f-dd52e1ae4570_story.html


When the nation’s treasured fliers have faced extinction over the past half-century — bald eagles, California condors and the majestic whooping crane — scientists have studied how to save them from deep within thousands of acres of forests and wetlands along the Patuxent River.


The crane has defined that work ever since a one-winged bird known as Canus, at the time one of fewer than 50 whooping cranes alive, helped establish the whooping crane program at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in 1966.


For decades, biologists at the center near Laurel overcame whoopers’ scarcity by dressing as cranes, wearing costumes while rearing the birds. Through trial and error, they learned ways around cranes’ finicky reproductive capabilities, developing artificial insemination techniques and strategically stealing their eggs, a practice that coaxes them to lay even more.


But the era of the whooping crane — and perhaps of any captive breeding of imperiled birds — has ended in Maryland.


Nearly half of the Patuxent whooping crane flock was shipped to Louisiana last month, and 200 acres of whooping crane pens are expected to empty by the end of the year. The Trump administration moved last year to eliminate the $1.5 million-a-year breeding program, run by the U.S. Geological Survey on a federal Fish and Wildlife Service refuge. Zoos and other private wildlife centers are taking over the work.


The decision is a pivotal moment at the research center, where generations of scientists have dedicated their careers to the whooping crane’s survival. The center will remain open, but its focus will shift from breeding experiments to studies exploring the potential impacts of West Nile virus or offshore wind farms.

More important, some researchers fear it could mark a turning point in the troubled life of North America’s tallest bird.


In some ways, the scientists’ work is done — their mission is to study endangered birds, not farm them. And it has been a success. Since the early 1990s, they have raised enough chicks to maintain and grow four flocks in the wild, numbering close to 800 birds.


“We’ve been doing it for 50 years, but that itself isn’t a reason to continue the program,” said John French, director of the USGS Patuxent center.


The population growth masks the fact that the plight of the whooper is not solved, however. The species is far from self-sustaining because birds raised in captivity rarely succeed at rearing their own young in the wild. Scientists are still trying to figure out why, so captive breeding remains whooping cranes’ only secure path to survival.


Some researchers worry the end to the Patuxent program could have lasting effects on still perilously small whooping crane flocks. Even slight disruptions can prevent them from successfully breeding — new pens surrounded by chain-link proved that once in the 1980s — so the scientists expect it could take years before a new generation of cranes is born.


“It could end the Eastern migratory flock,” said Joe Duff, co-founder of a recently abandoned 15-year effort to teach cranes to migrate using ultralight aircraft. That group of about 100 whooping cranes is one of only two migrating flocks, spending summers in Wisconsin and winters in Florida.


“They may not breed for another couple of years, if ever again,” said Duff, chief executive of Operation Migration. “Meanwhile, the Eastern migratory population was counting on those birds. The Louisiana flock was counting on those birds.”


Whooping cranes numbered in the thousands throughout North America when the first European settlers arrived. But their size — up to 5 feet tall, with slender necks and long legs made for marshes — made them a popular target for hunters. The population fell to a few hundred by the end of the 1800s, and to a low of just 16 birds in 1942.


It’s believed that only half of those whooping cranes were able to reproduce, and it took decades of painstaking work to bring any meaningful rebound.


It started with the arrival of Canus and a dozen eggs collected from crane summering grounds in Canada’s Northwest Territories. It wasn’t until the mid-1970s before any eggs were laid in captivity, and many never hatched. When they did, chicks often didn’t survive.


Scientists routinely clip the wings of research subjects but quickly learned that practice prevented adult cranes from mating — the act involves the male flapping precariously onto the female — so they began keeping the birds in pens. They also developed artificial insemination processes, in collaboration with crane researchers in Wisconsin.


And scientists eventually realized they could rear even more cranes by donning white robes and head coverings, and delivering food through a long, lifelike beak of a crane puppet.


Soon, each season’s brood grew from a handful of chicks to as many as 20 or 30. Scott Hereford, a biologist and manager of the Patuxent crane flock in the late 1980s, said there was a sense among the scientists that they were building momentum.


“It was a very exciting time,” said Hereford, now a senior biologist at Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge. “We knew we were part of something really special.”


By the early 1990s, the center had enough whoopers to split up the flock, creating new breeding programs managed by the International Crane Foundation in Wisconsin and at the Calgary Zoo in Canada. And the captive population finally started being released into the wild, building up new flocks, including the Wisconsin-to-Florida migrating flock and groups that stay year-round in Louisiana and Florida.


Those reintroduced populations now number more than 160, about the same number as are being held in captivity, according to the crane foundation. The only fully wild flock, which migrates from the Gulf Coast of Texas to the Northwest Territories, has grown from its low of 16 birds to nearly 500.


Yet the small flock nevertheless remains vulnerable. “They’re still highly endangered,” French said.


That’s why many crane scientists used the same word to describe the decision ending the Patuxent crane program: “bittersweet.”


“It’s very sad to see it wrap up,” said Glenn Olsen, a veterinarian who has worked with the Patuxent whoopers for three decades.


French called the end of the crane program “a big moment, identity-wise” for the USGS research outfit. He said it’s possible scientists could find another species at the brink of extinction to breed, but it’s expensive and attitudes toward the practice have changed — in part because of Patuxent’s long history of trial and error with the whooping cranes.


Researchers found success dressing biologists in crane costumes so the birds wouldn’t become desensitized to humans once released into the wild. But they fear those raised that way don’t learn how to nurture and protect their young, leaving chicks prone to predators in the wild.


Similarly, a partnership of organizations dedicated to whooping cranes decided in 2015 to abandon a method of teaching chicks raised in captivity to migrate, leading them thousands of miles by ultralight aircraft. The practice was made famous in the 1996 movie “Fly Away Home,” based on Operation Migration’s work with Canada geese.


But the partnership decided it’s best for cranes to start learning from their own.

Duff, Operation Migration’s CEO, said he’s concerned the changes in strategy could put progress in jeopardy. Operation Migration pulled out of the group, known as the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, earlier this year. U.S. Fish and Wildlife and USGS are founding members of the partnership.


“We don’t believe it’s being managed right,” he said. “The closing of Patuxent is part of that.”


While many researchers acknowledge the cranes’ numbers could take a temporary hit as they adjust to new breeding grounds, some remain optimistic.


Wade Harrell, whooping crane recovery coordinator for U.S. Fish and Wildlife, notes that cranes can live more than 30 years — giving the flock time to adjust. One facility in Florida that has adopted some of the Patuxent flock is putting the birds in larger enclosures with more natural water sources and vegetation, perhaps better replicating what they would experience in the wild, he said.


“It’s a bit of a hurdle to get through,” Harrell said of the move. “I think long term we’ll be fine, and we’ll be back to where we were.”



Whooping Crane Progenitor Canus Dies


Huslin A. (2003, January 25). Whooping Crane Progenitor Canus Dies. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/2003/01/25/whooping-crane-progenitor-canus-dies/f49114ac-f735-41cc-96e0-c96a00fa1951/?utm_term=.927e980ec488&itid=lk_interstitial_manual_28


Toward the end, his back was stiffened with arthritis and his plumage dulled with age, but he carried himself with spirit and a characteristic cantankerousness. His was a life owed to an unprecedented treaty between two nations and dedicated to saving an endangered species.

 

Over the past four decades, Canus sired more offspring in captivity than any other bird of his kind in U.S.-Canadian history. But the Secretariat of whooping cranes was also Mr. Mom, teaching his progeny to eat their food pellets, catch grasshoppers and hunt voles and mice.

 

In the process, he helped scientists save a species that a half century ago teetered on the brink of extinction, with 17 left in the world.

 

Last week, the one-winged forebear of many of the 400-plus whooping cranes in existence today died in his pen at a wildlife refuge in Laurel. He was just shy of 39, a ripe age for the regal white birds that can grow five feet tall with an eight-foot wingspan and wings powerful enough to fend off most predators.

 

 

He is survived by his mate, Mrs. C., to whom he was introduced nearly 20 years ago by the keepers at the Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge. Together they are responsible for dozens, if not hundreds, of whooping cranes, including Lucky, the first whooping crane to be born and fly after his captive-raised parents were released into the wild.

 

"He was more than just a bird," said B.H. Powell, a spokesman for the U.S. Geological Survey, whose captive breeding program helped raise Canus in concert with a host of other groups, including the International Crane Foundation and the Canadian government.

 

"He was like a person," Powell said. "He had a personality."

 

Canus's personality was based on his protective instinct, which prompted him -- like many whooping cranes -- to challenge anyone who came into his pen by puffing his feathers and strutting aggressively toward the intruder. Canus quickly taught his keepers to either bring him a treat when they came calling -- a tasty smelt, for example -- or face his wrath.

 

 

But he was gentle with his mate -- Mrs. C actually came after his first partner died -- and a very good parent. "He and Mrs. C would raise a lot of chicks even when they didn't have any of their own," said Kathleen O'Malley, animal care foreman for the research center.

 

The parenting instinct is strong in whooping cranes, in part because they sometimes don't begin to mate until they are 15 years old and have only one offspring a year. They nest on the frozen plains of northern Canada and produce on average two eggs -- only one of which usually survives.

 

They fly with their young every year to the Gulf of Mexico, where they feast on crabs, marine worms, fish and other food.

 

Canus was found on the Canadian tundra in 1964, where scientists on an aerial survey spotted him hopping around with a broken wing. Realizing that the bird would never make the flight south, the scientists quickly conferred with Canadian colleagues, and a deal was struck.

 

 

They landed on the plain, gave chase to the five-foot-tall bird, caught him and brought him to the United States, where they named him Canus -- a tribute to the cooperation of the two nations. The year-old bird was one of only 42 whooping cranes in existence.

 

His wing had to be amputated, and when researchers tried breeding him, they realized that his handicap was an impediment to the process. So they started experimenting and, with assistance from the University of Maryland's agricultural research center in Beltsville, began the world's first whooping crane artificial insemination program.

 

It worked beautifully, and Canus, who was the oldest male bird they had, proved to be a consistent winner. Breeding pairs began producing six or eight eggs -- far more than any parents in the wild.

 

A few years ago, as his seed became less potent, Canus retired from the stud business. But he and Mrs. C continued to help raise their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

 

 

Last week, in the midst of the cold snap, Canus's handlers found him lying on his side in the pen he and Mrs. C shared.

 

A heater had been placed in a small shelter in the pen a few years ago to help his arthritic back. He was rushed to the center's veterinary hospital, and staff began pumping fluids and steroids into his system.

 

"He picked up his head, looked around and at one point tried to stand up, but he wasn't strong enough so we encouraged him to stay . . . in a reclining position," O'Malley said.

 

For two hours, the staff continued giving him fluids while they consulted by phone with his veterinarian, who was in Sacramento at a whooping crane convention. Last Saturday, at 10 a.m., Canus gave up the fight.