- Associated Press - Monday, June 1, 2015

NECEDAH, Wis. (AP) - A longtime effort to reintroduce a critically endangered bird in Wisconsin could be on track for the first record year since its inception in 2001, according to wildlife experts.

An aerial survey has counted 37 whooping crane nests, the highest amount recorded in the 14-year project, with 13 chicks hatched so far this year. Nine of the young birds were still living as of late last week, and another eight pairs still were brooding eggs in the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. More than 20 chicks will be hatched this season if all the active sites are successful.

“Right now, it looks promising,” said Doug Staller, refuge manager at the 44,000-acre wildlife area in central Wisconsin. “But I don’t like to be too optimistic until we’re done.”

The birds still have their first year, which often is the most perilous, ahead of them. For the past two years of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, the only wild-reared chicks to make the migration south in the fall have perished either on the flight back or shortly after reaching Wisconsin.

Only seven chicks have lived long enough to fledge and only two whooping cranes still survive since the birds began reproducing in 2005.

“The reintroduction of any species is very difficult,” said Brad Strobel, wildlife biologist at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. “What I’m trying to say is this is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Officials with the project have been working to combat seasonal swarms of biting black flies, which are attracted to avian blood and have caused whooping cranes to abandon their nests and eggs, the La Crosse Tribune (https://bit.ly/1Fp0fGX ) reported. But the area has seen significantly fewer black flies this spring, giving experts more hope for a breakthrough year.

About 95 whooping cranes are in this eastern flock, with 27 nesting pairs in Wisconsin.

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Information from: La Crosse Tribune, https://www.lacrossetribune.com

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