Two whooping crane chicks recently hatched, marking the first time White Oak Conservation in Yulee has successfully bred this critically endangered species.
The family of four eventually will be released into the wild through a partnership with the International Crane Foundation.
The chicks are mobile – after hatching several weeks ago - and are being reared and fed by their parents, 16-11 and 18-12, at White Oak Conservation, a wildlife refuge in northeastern Florida owned by philanthropists Mark and Kimbra Walter. 16-11 is also known as Grasshopper, and 18-12 is known as Hemlock.
Each parent takes a chick for the day to minimize competition for food, and both chicks return to their mother at night for warmth. The parents feed the chicks larvae, tadpoles, grasshoppers, dragonflies and other insects, increasing their body weight by 10 percent to 15 percent per day.
Their White Oak habitat covers more than an acre and offers two ponds, natural food items, and protection from predators.
This whooping crane family is part of the Eastern Migratory Population, one of two experimental release programs that seek to protect the existence of this endangered wetland bird. Through decades of dedicated research and captive husbandry, the whooping crane has been kept from the brink of extinction. Only 700 to 800 whooping cranes remain in North America because of hunting, power line collisions, habitat reduction and encroachment.
The adult cranes were introduced for breeding at White Oak in October 2016, and these are their first offspring. White Oak eventually will release the cranes as a family unit, likely to Horicon National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Wisconsin, which is the original home of 16-11, the male. Both of the adult cranes were raised by the International Crane Foundation. The hope is that the entire family will migrate in the fall with other cranes at the refuge.
“Our goal is to create an international model for the humane and effective repopulation of endangered species,” Mark Walter said in an email to WJCT News. “We are optimistic that, working with the other groups involved, we can successfully add the whooping crane to this mission.”