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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


March 8, 2003 - Issue 82


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The Race Between the Hummingbird and the Crane


Cherokee Legend

HummingbirdThe Hummingbird and the Crane were both in love with a pretty woman. She preferred the Hummingbird, who was as handsome as the Crane was awkward.

But the Crane was so persistent that in order to get rid of him she finally told him he must challenge the other to a race and she would marry the winner.

The Hummingbird was so swift - almost like a flash of lightning - and the Crane so slow and heavy, that she felt sure the Hummingbird would win. She did not know the Crane could fly all night.

They agreed to start from her house and fly around the circle of the world to the beginning, and the one who came in first would marry the woman.

At the word the Hummingbird darted off like an arrow and was out of sight in a moment, leaving his rival to follow heavily behind. He flew all day, and when evening came and he stopped to roost for the night he was far ahead.

Crane in FlightBut the Crane flew steadily all night long, passing the Hummingbird soon after midnight and going on until he came to a creek and stopped to rest about daylight.

The Hummingbird woke up in the morning and flew on again, thinking how easily he would win the race, until he reached the creek and there found the Crane spearing tadpoles, with his long bill, for breakfast. He was very much surprised and wondered how this could have happened, but he flew swiftly by and soon left the Crane out of sight again.

HummingbirdThe Crane finished his breakfast and started on, and when evening came he kept on as before. This time it was hardly midnight when he passed the Hummingbird asleep on a limb, and in the morning he had finished his breakfast before the other came up. The next day he gained a little more, and on the fourth day he was spearing tadpoles for dinner when the Hummingbird passed him. On the fifth and sixth days it was late in the afternoon before the Hummingbird came up, and on the morning of the seventh day the Crane was ' a whole night's travel ahead.

Wading CraneHe took his time at breakfast and then fixed himself up as nicely as he could at the creek and came in at the starting place where the woman lived, early in the morning.

When the Hummingbird arrived in the afternoon he found he had lost the race, but the woman declared she would never have such an ugly fellow as the Crane for a husband, so she stayed single.

Print and Color your own Whooping Crane Picture
Whooping Crane

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Whooping Crane (Grus americana)

Photos: Whooping Crane Chick at: 5 days; 25 days; 45 days; 65 days and 1 year


Whooping Crane - age 5 daysDESCRIPTION: The Whooping Crane is the tallest North American bird. Males, which may approach 1.5 meters in height, are larger than females. Adults are snowy white except for black primary feathers on the wings and a bare red face and crown. The bill is a dark olive-gray, which becomes lighter during the breeding season. The eyes are yellow and the legs and feet are gray-black. Immature cranes are a reddish cinnamon color that results in a mottled appearance as the white feather bases extend. The juvenile plumage is gradually replaced through the winter months and becomes predominantly white by the following spring as the dark red crown and face appear. Yearlings achieve the typical adult appearance by late in their second summer or fall. The life span is estimated to be 22 to 24 years in the wild. Whooping Cranes are omnivorous feeders. They feed on insects, frogs, rodents, small birds, minnows, and berries in the summer. In the winter, they focus on predominantly animal foods, especially blue crabs and clams. They also, forage for acorns, snails, crayfish and insects in upland areas.

Whooping Crane - age 25 daysREPRODUCTION AND DEVELOPMENT: Whooping Cranes are monogamous and form lifelong pair bonds but will remate following the death of a mate. Whooping Cranes return to the same breeding territory in Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada, in April and nest in the same general area each year. They construct nests of bulrush and lay one to three eggs, (usually two) in late April and early May. The incubation period is about 29 to 31 days. Whooping Cranes will renest if the first clutch is lost or destroyed before mid-incubation. Both sexes share incubation and brood-rearing duties. Despite the fact that most pairs lay two eggs, seldom does more than one chick reach fledging. Autumn migration begins in mid-September, and most birds arrive on the wintering grounds of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Gulf Coast by late-October to mid-November. Whooping Cranes migrate singly, in pairs, in family groups or in small flocks, and are sometimes accompanied by Sandhill Cranes. They are diurnal migrants, stopping regularly to rest and feed, and use traditional migration staging areas. On the wintering grounds, pairs and family groups occupy and defend territories. Subadults and unpaired adult Whooping Cranes form separate flocks that use the same habitat but remain outside occupied territories. Subadults tend to winter in the area where they were raised their first year, and paired cranes often locate their first winter territories near their parents' winter territory. Spring migration is preceded by dancing, unison calling, and frequent flying. Family groups and pairs are the first to leave the refuge in late-March to mid-April.

Juveniles and subadults return to summer in the vicinity of their natal area, but are chased away by the adults during migration or shortly after arrival on the breeding grounds. Only one out of four hatched chicks survive to reach the wintering grounds. Whooping Cranes generally do not produce fertile eggs until age 4.

Whooping Crane - age 45 daysRANGE AND POPULATION LEVEL:
Historic: The historic range of the Whooping Crane once extended from the Arctic coast south to central Mexico, and from Utah east to New Jersey, into South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. The historic breeding range once extended across the north-central United States and in the Canadian provinces, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. A separate non-migratory breeding population occurred in southwestern Louisiana.

Aransas/Wood Buffalo Population: The current nesting range of the self-sustaining natural wild population is restricted to Wood Buffalo National Park in Saskatchewan, Canada and the current wintering grounds of this population are restricted to the Texas Gulf Coast at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and vicinity, is experiencing a gradual positive population trend overall, although some years exhibit stationary or negative results. In January, 2000, there were 187 individuals in the flock, including 51 nesting pairs.

Rocky Mountain Experiment: In 1975, an effort to establish a second, self-sustaining migratory flock was initiated by transferring wild Whooping Crane eggs from Wood Buffalo National Park to the nests of greater Sandhill Cranes at Grays Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Idaho. This Rocky Mountain population peaked at only 33 birds in 1985. The experiment terminated in 1989 because the birds were not pairing and the mortality rate was too high to establish a self-sustaining population. In 1997, the remaining birds in the population were designated as experimental, nonessential to allow for greater management flexibility and to begin pilot studies on developing future reintroduction methods. In 2001, there were only two remaining Whooping Cranes in this population.

Whooping Crane - age 65 daysCaptive Populations: As of March, 2001, there were 120 captive Whooping Cranes held at six facilities. Four facilities: Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, International Crane Foundation, Calgary Zoo, and San Antonio Zoo have successful breeding programs. Currently, the remaining facilities, Lowry Park Zoo and Audubon Institute house cranes for rehabilitative and educational purposes. Chicks produced at the captive facility either remain in captivity to maintain the health and genetic diversity of the captive flock, or are reared for release to the wild in the experimental reintroduction programs.

Florida Experimental Nonessential Population: An experimental reintroduction of Whooping Cranes in Florida was initiated in 1993 to establish a non-migratory population at Kissimmee Prairie. A nonmigratory population avoids the hazards of migration, and by inhabiting a more geographically limited area than migratory cranes, individuals can more easily find compatible mates. Since 1993, 233 isolation-reared Whooping Cranes have been released in the area. In Spring 2000, there were 65 individuals in the project area with 10 pairs defending territories and evidence of the first successful hatching of chicks. Annual releases of chicks are expected to continue to augment this new experimental population.

Eastern Migratory Population: A second experimental nonessential population is proposed for development in eastern United States. The intent is to establish a migratory flock which would summer and breed in Wisconsin, migrate across the eastern U.S. and winter in west-central Florida. The birds would be taught the migration route by following ultralight aircraft. Initial experiments using Sandhill Cranes, completed in the Fall of 2000, successfully led 11 cranes 1,250 miles from Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin to Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. The birds will remain in Florida throughout the winter and are expected to migrate back to Wisconsin on their own in the Spring.

HABITAT: The nesting area in Wood Buffalo National Park is a poorly drained region interspersed with numerous potholes. Bulrush is the dominant emergent in the potholes used for nesting. On the wintering grounds at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, Whooping Cranes use the salt marshes that are dominated by salt grass, saltwort, smooth cordgrass, glasswort, and sea ox-eye. They also forage in the interior portions of the refuge, which are gently rolling, sandy, and are characterized by oak brush, grassland, swales, and ponds. Typical plants include live oak, redbay, Bermuda grass, and bluestem. The non-migratory, Florida release site at Kissimmee Prairie includes flat, open palmetto prairie interspersed with shallow wetlands and lakes. The primary release site has shallow wetlands characterized by pickerel weed, nupher, and maiden cane. Other habitats include dry prairie and flatwoods with saw palmetto, various grasses, scattered slash pine, and scattered strands of cypress. Areas selected for the proposed eastern migratory experimental population closely mimic habitat of the naturally occurring wild population in Canada and Texas.

Whooping Crane - age 1 yearREASONS FOR CURRENT STATUS: The Whooping Crane population, estimated at 500 to 700 individuals in 1870 declined to only 16 individuals in the migratory population by 1941 as a consequence of hunting and specimen collection, human disturbance, and conversion of the primary nesting habitat to hay, pastureland, and grain production. The main threat to Whooping Cranes in the wild is the potential of a hurricane or contaminant spill destroying their wintering habitat on the Texas coast. Collisions with power lines and fences are known hazards to wild Whooping Cranes. The primary threats to captive birds are disease and parasites. Bobcat predation has been the main cause of mortality in the Florida experimental population.

MANAGEMENT AND PROTECTION: The self-sustaining wild population is protected on public lands in the nesting area at Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada and on the principal wintering area at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. A major traditional migratory stopover is at Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma. This population is closely monitored throughout the nesting season, on the wintering grounds, and during migration. The Canadian Wildlife Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are involved in recovery efforts under a 1990 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), "Conservation of the Whooping Crane Related to Coordinated Management Activities." All cranes within the Rocky Mountain, Florida non-migratory and proposed eastern migratory nonessential, experimental population areas are fully protected as a threatened species (instead of endangered), but other provisions of the Endangered Species Act are relaxed to allow for greater management flexibility as well as positive public support

Whooping Crane
The following resources provide lots of great information about one of North America’s best-known endangered species: the Whooping Crane. These links profile the life and history of the Whooping Crane, the causes for its decline, and some efforts to restore "whoopers" in the wild.

Kids & Teachers
Whooping Crane activities for kids and teachers

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