- Associated Press - Friday, December 4, 2015

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Eleven young whooping cranes have arrived in southwest Louisiana, where biologists hope a small flock eventually will become self-sustaining, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries said.

The birds were flown Thursday morning from Maryland, where they were bred, to Jennings, Louisiana, said Tom Trester of Windway Aviation. He said he was in the plane to keep an eye on them.

From Jennings, the birds from the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laural, Maryland, were being trucked to the White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area, state wildlife spokesman Bo Boehringer said.

Whooping cranes are among the world’s largest and rarest birds. The 600 or so alive today all descended from 15 that lived in coastal Texas in the 1940s.

More than 60 have been brought to Louisiana since 2011. The 11 newcomers - three males and eight females - will stay in a covered pen at White Lake for a couple of weeks, then be released, joining 35 older birds in the wild, Boehringer said.

The older birds have spread across the landscape, some into Texas. Most deaths have been natural, but some cranes were shot.

When they come to Louisiana, the birds are young enough to still have mottled brown-and-white plumage. As adults, they’ll be elegant white birds with black wingtips and nearly featherless red caps.

The birds “always make a little chatter” during the flight, said Trester whose Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin, company has made dozens of flights taking whooping cranes to Louisiana and Wisconsin. “When they take off that’s a little dramatic, because they fly back in the box from the G-forces.”

Trester, interviewed by phone from Sheboygan, said he was in the back with the birds during the latest flight, which arrived in Jennings about midday. One bird pecked a hole through the floor of its cardboard crate and the tarps beneath it, Trester said.

He said state wildlife biologist Sara Zimorski told him the bird would be fine.

“He didn’t hurt the plane,” Trester said.

Two of the oldest whooping cranes laid eggs in 2014. They didn’t hatch. Neither did the five sets laid by four pairs of birds this year, Zimorski said in an email in November. At least one of those eggs was fertile, but didn’t hatch because 10 inches of rain in four days flooded the nest.

“All of those pairs are still together and we have several possible new pairs forming so right now things are looking good for the upcoming breeding season,” Zimorski wrote.

Whooping cranes typically don’t hatch chicks until they are at least 4 years old, biologists say.

The only natural and self-sustaining wild flock of whooping cranes migrates between Texas and Canada. Another flock has been taught to migrate between Wisconsin and Florida. This flock is planned to stay in Louisiana year-round.

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Online:

www.facebook.com/Louisiana-Department-of-Wildlife-and-Fisheries-Whooping-Cranes-733006696805446/

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