- Associated Press - Thursday, April 14, 2016

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The endangered whooping cranes that hatched Louisiana’s first chick in the wild since 1939 now have a second.

The second chick hatched Wednesday, two days after the first, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries announced Thursday.

“They did a good job keeping them both dry and warm during the rain,” said Sara Zimorski, a department biologist.

Whooping cranes are among the world’s most endangered birds, with only about 600 alive. All are descended from 15 in Texas, where the world’s only natural flock now numbers about 250.

Zimorski said she’s also learned of two new nests found this week.

The nest found Thursday belongs to the first birds to lay eggs this year. Those eggs were both fertile, but both embryos died during incubation. Now the birds have a new nest and new eggs, Zimorski said.

State and federal wildlife officials have been working since 2011 to create a self-sustaining wild flock of whooping cranes in the general area where Louisiana’s last wild flock once lived.

It’s far from a simple task. Attempts began in 2001 to establish a migratory flock by having youngsters follow ultralight aircraft from Wisconsin to Florida, and that flock is still a work in progress. They’ve hatched 64 chicks, but only nine survived long enough to learn to fly.

Thinking that perhaps cranes must learn parenting from two of their own, officials have decided that those to be added to the eastern migratory flock will now be raised and taught to migrate by adult birds. So biologists are keeping a close eye to see how well Louisiana’s birds do as parents.

Those in Louisiana will still be raised, at least for the next couple of years, by people who wear special gear that hides the human form so the chicks don’t mistakenly bond to them.

Even if wild parents do the best job possible, wild chicks often die because of predators, disease and other troubles.

There’s also danger inside the nest.

“Very young cranes are siblicidal - they will attack their sibling and kill it,” Sarah Converse, a research ecologist for the U.S. Geological Survey, which breeds and raises whooping cranes at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland, said in an interview last month.

Zimorski said she doesn’t think it’s a matter of killing. “The first chick will be a little more mobile, a little stronger, demand more of the parents’ attention and get more food,” she said, so the second becomes weaker and weaker.

“Whatever happens happens,” she said. “If they have two chicks, that gives them better odds of successfully raising one - and maybe if there’s great food they can maybe raise two.”

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