- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2006

MILWAUKEE (AP) — A pair of whooping cranes has hatched two chicks in central Wisconsin, marking the first young of the species to be hatched in the wild in the eastern United States in more than 100 years.

The new arrivals will join about two dozen young cranes that will be added this year to a second migratory flock of the endangered birds that is being established in North America.

Operation Migration, the nonprofit group trying to build the flock, posted photos on its Web site showing two brown chicks being tended by their parents in the thick grass of the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin.

As part of the project, now in its fifth year, cranes hatched in captivity at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland have been raised at the Necedah refuge and led south by ultralight aircraft in the fall to the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge near Crystal River, Fla. They migrate back north on their own in the spring.

Joe Duff, who heads Operation Migration, said the successful nesting was the second attempt by the adult pair this season. The adults had abandoned their first nest.

“Seems the first try was just practice for this grand event,” Mr. Duff said, while also cautioning that the parents still face the challenge of keeping the young alive until they are able to fly.

Mr. Duff said the chicks could be especially vulnerable to predators because the adults have never had young to protect and must learn parenting skills. Crane chicks are also highly competitive, and when two hatch in the same nest, sometimes only one survives.

“If they both survive, it’s going to be terrific,” Mr. Duff said.

He said he expects the cranes hatched in the wild to migrate with their parents.

The flock of cranes now numbers about 60 birds, with 22 newly hatched young ones being raised for release this fall.

Mr. Duff said this year’s group of young cranes from Maryland was shipped to Necedah on Monday, and those eight cranes include another first — a bird conceived in the wild but hatched in captivity.

Researchers in Wisconsin had collected two eggs after determining that the parents weren’t diligently tending their nest. The eggs were incubated and flown to Maryland, where the cranes hatched but only one survived, Mr. Duff said.

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