Efforts to save the tallest and rarest bird in North America will continue, despite federal funding cuts to some preservation programs.
Rich Beilfuss is president of the International Crane Foundation, based in Baraboo, Wisc. He said his program is primarily funded through donations, but an important partner, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has been gutted by federal cuts. Beilfuss said their work is about more than the whooping crane flocks they’ve helped re-establish along a Wisconsin-to-Florida migration route. He said, “To us, keeping cranes on the landscape is about healthy landscapes. If we can’t keep the cranes out there, there’s likely more that we’re going to lose.”
There were only 15 wild whooping cranes left 70 years ago, after decades of hunting and habitat destruction. Now, there are around 400.
Beilfuss said a program to teach cranes to migrate, through the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, has been discontinued. He said there’s something even more important researchers are dealing with now: “We’re trying to tackle a more serious problem, which is how to help the birds learn to avoid predators because we are basically losing all the chicks that hatch each year.”
Whooping crane chicks are falling prey to natural enemies like raccoons, bobcats, and skunks. Beilfuss says researchers are looking for ways to help the birds become better parents, protecting and teaching their offspring to avoid predators.