Help wanted : For the Whooping Crane

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Help wanted : For the Whooping Crane
Series Title:
A55 - Articles - recent
Allen, Robert Porter
Place of Publication:
Tampa, Florida
University of South Florida
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Copyright Date:
Physical Description:
pp. 211-214


Subjects / Keywords:
Whooping crane ( LCSH )
Birds -- Florida ( LCSH )
Birds -- Migration ( LCSH )
Birds -- Breeding ( LCSH )

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Source Institution:
University of South Florida
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University of South Florida
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
A55-00013 ( USFLDC DOI )
a55.13 ( USFLDC Handle )
10 ( Box number )
3 ( Folder number )

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Robert Porter Allen Collection

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FOR THE Wf Aoofiin9 CJ;ane Eve ryone living w ithin the migra tion route of the whooping crane can help protect it. -+The migration route of the whooping cranes shown on the map (left) is gen erally within the shaded area. In North Dakota and South Dakota, marked by directional arrows, some of the cranes may spread out to follow the Missouri Rive r at least 150 miles east of the shaded area. Map drawn by the author. B y Robe r t P A llen* SINCE much of the population data on Grus americana was as sembled and discussed in the re cently published monograph on that species ("The Whooping Crane, Research Report No. 3, National Audubon Society, 1952), the events of four complete "Whooping Crane Years" have come and gone. While major population changes have been reported in the pages of this maga zine, as well as in the press, there has been no detailed analysis of the situation. Many persons have asked for additional information. What is happening to the whooping crane and what is being done about it? The accompanying tables and graphs will supply the answers to many of the questions that have come to us in recent months, and possibly the discussion that follows will help to explain and bring up *Research biologist of the National Audubon Society and au thor of "The Whooping Crane," Research Report No. 3, published by the National Audubon Society in 1952.


Photograph of migrating whooping cranes b y Albert D. Simmons. to date other phases of this urgent and important subject. The Increase and Decline In a population discussion it is necessary to divide the whooping cranes into three distinct categories: (1) the main flock of wild migrants that breeds in the Northwest Territories and winters on the Texas Gulf Coast, chiefly on the Aransas Na. tional Wildlife Refuge; (2) the resident flock formerly present on the marshes of southwest Louisiana, and (3) the small number of injured cranes that have been kept in cap tivity. From the beginning, our largest and most promising group has been the Texas-Canadian migrant flock The Louisiana birds, now gone, had only a brief, tragic modern history which had virtually ended by the time that concerted measures to help the species got under way They do not enter into our present calculations. The cap tives no longer have a part in the normal whooping crane existence and are also omitted from this dis cussion. For better or worse there are only five captive whooping cranes in our recent records, of which two are still living. Any use ful consideration of population data must necessarily limit itself to the SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER, 1953 life and times of the migrant flock, lhe Texas-Canadian birds that have been, for some years now our chief concern and our greatest hope. To begin with, this flock numbered only 18 birds. The modern whooping crane inventory started in 1938, when Jim Stevenson and Everett Beaty, of the newly-established Aransas Waterfowl Refuge in Texas, watched eight known breeding adults with their four young, and six additional adults of unknown age and relationship take off for the North in late April 1939. Since that time, these birds and their progeny have made 14 migrations northward. Over these years their fortunes have gone up and down, as reflected in the tables and graphs that accompany this article Over all, and in the face of a current slump that will become very grave if it contin ues, it is apparent that they have done amazingly well. In these 14 years this small flock of crarres, against difficult and sometimes fear ful odds, have reared a total of 57 additional young and brought them safely from the Canadian wilder ness to the distant Texas coast. This number of young alone is more than three times the size of the entire whooping crane flock on the northern breeding grounds in that sum-mer of 1939. It is an averag e of four young (4.07) each year. On the other hand, during this same period, a total of 53 whooping cranes was lost-an average of 3.78 birds per year. Compared with most other species of birds the whooping crane's mortality rate (averaging about 14 per cent over the last 1 4 years) must be considered quite low. Apparently around 70 per cent of the population is of potential breeding age. We do not know many of the important details of the nesting cycle and so cannot estimate what normal egg and chick losses to expect, but we do know that an average of eight breeding 211


pai rs annu ally produces four young, so it wou l d seem that 5 0 per cent of the a d ults are either unmated or a re unsuccessful parents. Neverthe less, if t h e t o t a l flock were l ,0 0 0 b i rds instead of 20 odd, t h e present rate of gain would doubtless be suf ficien t to maintain a com fortable stabi l i ty. As it is, wi t h such aston ishing l y few i ndividu a l s i n vo l ved, it is a mighty s lim margin. Illegal Shooting Continues For this reason the loss of even one b i r d more than the natural l aws all o w is extremel y serious. If the illega l kill could be eliminated, we be li eve that the present small w hoop ing c rane population would stand a go o d c h ance of improving its an nual gai n and of ultimatel y show ing an increase of real consequence. One adverse factor-illegal shoo ting -prevents this Insofar as is hu manly poss i ble it must be reduced to a minimum, if not halted en tirely. L i ke so many things of this sor t it is essentially insignific ant, t his monkey-wrenc h in the works, made up as it is of a scattered fra ternity of men and boys, few in n umber and unknown to one an oth er, but b lood broth ers nonethe less. Yet some day they may, with o u t censure or remorse, shoot the last whooping crane. In spite of the immense amount of goo d will that has been created for the w h o opin g crane, in spite of articles, editorial s reams of news print fu ll page photographs of t h e birds in leading national magazin es, and much earnest t a l k, we h ave been unable to reac h these part icu lar men and boys. In spite of adequate s t a t e and federal laws and capabl e en forcement, the cranes are still s h ot. In spite of the marvelous record of more than nine million sch ool ch il dren that have been enrolled in Audubon Junior C l ubs, you may be sure that these men and boys h ave never been members In spite of t h e w holehearted cooperation of scores of agencies and organizations and of hund reds of interested individua ls, and despite the advantage of special field studies that have vast l y im proved our knowledge of the whoop er's existence, we cannot make one specific move that will infallibl y in sure their safety. All that has been done is of im portance, all of it has been helpful, but individually and c o ll ective l y it has not been enough. The proof of t h i s stares at us from the population tables. In 1950, 1951, and 1952 a total of 24 whooping cranes was l ost This is 45 per cent of all that died or were killed since 1938. It is an average loss of eight per year, more t han tw i ce the 14-year average A g l ance at the graph (upper, p. 224) s howing the trend of t h e population over t h ese years demonstrates that for the firs t time since 1946 (the year after the cooperative whooping crane project was set up) t h e curve has dropped bel ow the p opulation mean of 24.4 birds. Biggest Losses-Spring and Fall Further analysis of these tragic losses indicates (Table B) that 20 of t h ese cranes disappeared between May and O ctober, either along the migration route or on the nesting grounds. Four other birds died while on winter quart ers, and it is believed that they may h ave succumbed tc, wo u nds received while flying south. There is but one other instance of a bird dying in the winter, so the loss of these fo u r fits into the disastrous pattern of the past three seasons. It is our belief t hat the breeding grounds, isolated and virtually un known, are fairly safe from unnat ural dist urbance and, therefore, that nearly a ll l osses between May and October must occur along the mi gratory rou te. We are not without actual examples. Two of the six birds l ost in 1952 were found, while still alive, and valiant efforts were made to save them. One was dis covered October 30 near Sharon TABLE A: Population Analysis of Texas-N.W.T. Flock (1939-1952) Est. Gai n or Bree d i ng Est. No nMo rSu r Total Total Actua l Loss fo r Adults Y ou ng Sub -Adults M igra nts M igrants tal ity v i va I Year Apr. I Nov. I Los s Yea r Apr. I Nov. I Apr. I Apr. I Apr. I Rate Rate 1939 18 22 3 + 4 7 6 -18 0 16 % 84 % 1940 22 26 + 4 5 4 22 0 4 % 96% 1941 26 15 13 -11 2 < 7 23 3 50 % 50 % 1942 15 19 0 + 4 12 X4 15 0 0 100 % 1943 19 21 3 + 2 13 5 2 19 0 15% 85 % 1944 21 22 2 + 1 13 3 3 21 0 9 % 9 .1% 1945 22 25 0 + 3 15 )( 3 4 18 4 0 100 % 1946 25 25 3 0 18 3 2 23 2 12% 88% 1947 25 31 0 + 6 21 6 23 2 0 100 % 1948 30 30 4 0 20 3 2 28 2 13% 87% 1949 30 34 0 + 4 21 4 5 29 0 100 % 1950 33 7 2 24 5 29 4 21% 79 % 1951 31 25 11 6 24 5 2 30 32 % 68 % 1952 25 21 6 4 18 2 2 25 0 24% 76% 24.4 24.7 53 + 28 17 57 23 19 14% 86 % Av. Av. 23 Av. Av. mean mea n Does not i nclude young of previ ous summer If/' '" I


Kansas, and the other a few days later near Weyb u rn, Saskatchewan. Both of these birds died from gunshot wounds. The Migration Route and Its Dangers We know this migration route we ll. In spring, the whooping cranes fly north from Texas out across Oklahoma, over t h e salt plains of Kansas, into the s tubble fiel ds and onto the sand bars of Nebraska's P latte R iver, across the wide Dakotas and on into the farming districts of Saskatchewan and the forests and lakes and rivers leading north-we have been over this ground and know pretty we ll what is involved. The whoopers migrate as they spend the winter season, in close l y knit family groups and small bands of year l ings or unmated adults. They are wi l d and e l usive and it is who ll y impracticabl e to attempt to fo ll ow them and to ride herd on them over the long route. In fact, it is difficult enough even to see them at any given point as they pass by, as the writer has occasion to recall rather vivid ly. They must go their own way, aloof and wi t h the solemn dignity of all wild things, as they have always done. Our only hope is to reach the peopl e who live a long the whooping crane migration route, to reach every one who can hel p, those in the towns and cities, on the isolated farms, and in camps in the northern bush. It is not enough that people know the need that exists; we must show them how they, too, can hel p. Perhaps a basic medium would be an inexpensive pamphlet, available in unlimited quantities and dis tributed in every way possible It might contain an identifying pic ture of a whooping crane, explain in plain language the danger of this bird becoming extinct and ask the reader to help by passing the pamphlet a long to anyone he or she knows who owns a gun. There must be a surprising number of people who wou l d be willing to say a good word for the whooping crane. A few such words may alte r the thinking of a human mind, stir a new emotion in a human breast, stay a careless finger on the t rigger of a gun save a whooping crane. Raising Captive Cranes A few we ll-intentioned peopl e have s u ggested that the wild cranes o u g h t to be trapped, t heir great w i ngs pinioned and t h e entire flock grounded on the Aransas R efuge in Texas. T h ey belie ve this would prevent the birds from making the long and dangerous migration, on w h ich most l osses occur, and their hope wou l d be t hat t h e cranes woul d eventually nest and rear their young in captivity, within the securi t y of a large enclosure. We can fully understand the feelings that have inspired thi s p lan but we wou l d depl ore i t s execution. The safe trapping of wi l d whooping cranes wou l d be difficu l t and risky Not only would the operation of traps inevitabl y injure some of the precious birds, perhaps fata lly, but others would be sca t tered and placed in danger of being shot as wandering strays beyond the safety of the refuge. The breaking up of the pattern of their winter life wou l d be extreme l y serious, regard less of other results. It would be a fool h ardy and dangerous experiment and in the end, even if two or three birds had been successfully caught, the loss and injury and the scattering of others would be a most de p lorabl e price to pay for highly du bious results. The breeding of the s e cranes in captivity has not been a success, even while they were at Aransas under nearl y ideal condit i ons. It h olds no solution to our probl em. In addi t ion, I can think of no less appropriate p l ace for the whooping cra n e to end its days than in a wire pen-like any common barnyard chic ken-its flig h t denied, its proud plumage so iled and ill conditioned from enforce d and undignified confinemen t I wou l d far rather know t hat the last one had been lost as it spread its wings agai n st the sky, free and wi ld fo ll owing t h e path t hat had carrie d i t s ancestors across a con tinent for uncounted whooping crane generations. T h ere i s a basic wild l ife management phil osophy invo l ved here t hat cannot be disavowed. It is one of the concep t s of our whole wild l ife preservation program, one of the keystones of the entire structure. What You Can Do to Help Although the present situation is insecure-as it has been for many years-the whooping crane has not reached the end of its tether-not by a long shot! A was made in 1939 with 18 birds; the flock numbered 21 when they took off for the North in April 195S. This is not much of a change, to be sure, but it is a gain nonethel ess. Not long ago there were as many as 30 mi-Cont i n ue d o n Page 224 TABLE B: Analysis of Actual Losses (Grus americanaJ-1939-1952 Losses in Texas N WT L o s se s Year Flock May t o Oct. 1939 3 3 1940 1941 13 13 1942 0 v O 1943 3 3 1944 2 2 1945 0 v o 1946 3 3 1947 0 i/o 1948 4 3 1949 0 v 0 1950 7 6 1951 11 8 1952 6 6 53 48 Losses in Winter 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 0 5 Losse s in La. Floc k 0 6 0 l 0 0 0 *** 11 Losses t o Captives 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 l** 2 **** 0 0 3 Tota l of 7 lost from wild flock but one { "Jo" } captured and placed in zoo **The Gothe nberg Neb. capti ve ( Pete } ** The last L a. b ir d { Mac } di e d i n Texas i n semi-capti ve state ****"Mac" and "Rust y ," th e latter 4 days old. Tot a l Popula ti o n Los se s 3 7 13 4 3 3 4 9 11 6 67 ...


the w il d turkey in Pennsylvania has expanded i t s range from only about 2,000,000 acres to well over 15,000,000. The wild turkey hasn't gone, and isn't going. And the tame turkey has been bred to such a succulent broadbreasted opulence t hat a recent U.S. Bureau of Home Economics report says the yield on its finished meat is now 34 per cent as against 20 per cent or 22 per cent for other poultry. Last year saw the raising of an almost incredible total of 60,000,000 turkeys. It took about 3,000,000 tons of feed to do it. Turkeys are such big business HELP WANTED FOR THE WHOOPING CRANE-Co11tim1cd from Page 213 grants on this spring fligh t but that was the peak for recent years There is reason for hope, but much depends on what happens to the whooping cranes this summer and fa ll. Never wi ll the fall arrival of migrant whoopers at Aransas R e fuge be watched with more interest, or with more trepidation. Meanwhile, we must make every possib l e effort t o publicize the urgent need for restraining those w h o might s hoot a whooping crane. Check the accom panying map showing the present migration route. The shaded pathway is roughl y 100 miles w i de. This is the danger area. If you live within or close to this route you can hel p. Talk to your loca l newspaper editor and the manager of your loca l radio station. Get them interested in publi sh ing stories and repeated pleas during the critical period while the cranes, with their new offspring in tow, are making the flight south. They travel in small groups, perhaps only a pair or family group of three. The flights begin at the northern end of the "' "" ::z /0 \) ANN VAL ll> PRODUC 7'1 O"{ 'Z. :7 it 0 0 I &"" u. "'-.. 0 Q( u. llQ :z 1939 nowad ays that on the C h icago Mercantile Exchange there is regular trading in "turkey futures," just as in fu t ures of such major staples as butter and eggs. Some American tur key breeders regularly raise as many as 25,0 0 0 or 30,000 birds. Int o the industry has gone a tremendous amount of experimental re search in turkey-raising techniques. Turkeymen don't even let their birds run barnyard-free; they rear them in special raised houses so the birds never get their feet wet. The best houses now have porches so the tur key can get sunshine vitamins. And a hen turkey at breeding time wears 34 ao u I 'I 1 4 / 0 NUMBER oF w1100-P1Nrr 1N TEXJ..S-CANAC>IAN FLOCK. APRIL /!I 3'1 40 4 1 YEAR 4.Z. 43 4+ 4, a specially devise d canvas saddl e, so the tom's claws can't scratch her. It takes about 24 to 28 wee k s for a turkey to be raised read y for market. Every step of the process is so per fected that the fina l bird is a plump breasted whopper such as would make a Pilgrim father rub his eyes. In a national contes t last year for largest turkey, the h onors were carried off by a strutting tom from Texas. He weighed 68Y2 pounds. In prize turkeys, pound-price can run to a grandeur all its own. Setting the world's record in 1952 was a cham pion turkey that sold for $95 a pound. I I I 1 4' 47 4r 4'f '" r 1 ri.. .f3 Graph showing the r ise and fall of t h e whooping crane popu lation. pathway in late September, continue through October and will finally be completed sometime in early No vember. To be on the safe side, communities in the Canadian Prov inces (particularly in Saskatchewan) should be alerted from the first of September on, other people, a long 10-1-1 the remainder of the rou te, from the last week of September unt i l Novem ber 15. Bring t h e p light of the whooping cranes to the attention of all of your friends or acquaintances who are hunters or out doorsmen. Enlist their help. Y O U may save a whooping crane. 19!"1 19J"2.