Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A life with Whooping Cranes

Michigan Technological University sends word of a biological sciences graduate, Eva Szyszkoski, who's created a life with some of North America's largest birds. After she began working as an intern for International Crane Foundation in 2007, Szyszkoski became a tracking field manager a year later -- which means she migrates with the birds from southern Wisconsin to Florida to Wisconsin.

The Eastern migratory flock includes birds reintroduced to the Eastern U.S. since 2001. The flock of 103 birds represent quite an increase from the early 1940s when there were as few as 15 cranes because of hunting and habitat loss.

There are two ways of reintroducing cranes. In one, the birds are raised in the breeding grounds and accustomed to the sound of an ultra-light plane. Then they follow their surrogate plane-parent south to Florida, thus learning the migration route.

“The ultra-light plane method is expensive and creates a very unnatural situation for the birds, but it does enable us to introduce a large number of birds each year,” Szyszkoski said.

The other approach is called Direct Autumn Release. Chicks are hatched and raised on the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, about 45 minutes north of the Wisconsin Dells.

“They hopefully follow older, more experienced birds south,” the crane specialist explained. This method is more natural and less expensive, but it only enables the team to introduce up to about 10 birds a year. However, “it is showing increasing signs of success every year,” she said.
Whooping Crane photo courtesy of U.S. Geological Services

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