- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 16, 2014

LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) - Two eggs sitting on a nest of marsh grass and sticks in a crawfish pond offer a hope in a project to bring back the endangered whooping crane to south Louisiana.

“Our fingers are crossed that next week we might have chicks hatching there,” said Sara Zimorski, a biologist with the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

It’s been 75 years since a whooping crane egg was documented in the state, and the birds had disappeared from the Louisiana landscape by 1950, the victim of habitat loss and hunting.

The Advocate reports (https://bit.ly/1m6xcCX) Tuesday’s announcement of the new eggs was made in Lafayette at the North American Crane Workshop meeting, a gathering of scientists and conservationists interested in crane issues.

Zimorski is helping oversee a project to reintroduce to Louisiana one of the rarest and largest birds in the world, growing up to 5 feet tall with a 7-foot wingspan. She said the cranes laid the eggs in late March and, based on the average 30-day incubation period, the chicks could hatch by next week.

The eggs are the first since wildlife officials released an initial group of young whooping cranes in south Louisiana in 2011, and Zimorski said researchers are not certain if the eggs are viable.

“We are hopeful, but we don’t know,” Zimorski said.

Still, she said, it is encouraging so early in the project to have a pair of birds mate, build a nest and give such careful attention to protecting its clutch of eggs. She said the birds have left the nest only briefly, generally when the mother and father are switching off while taking turns sitting on the eggs.

Wildlife researchers have released 50 whooping cranes since 2011 at the state’s White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area in Vermilion Parish, the same general area where the last known flock of whooping cranes in Louisiana roosted decades ago.

The birds brought to Louisiana were reared at a federal wildlife facility in Maryland.

So far, 30 of the birds have survived.

The surviving birds, which have tracking devices attached to their legs, have ventured far from White Lake, spreading out across southwest Louisiana and even occasionally visiting neighboring states.

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For information on the whooping crane reintroduction project, visit www.wlf.louisiana.gov/wildlife/whooping-cranes.

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Information from: The Advocate, https://theadvocate.com

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