Project to re-establish cranes said successful

Fourteen young whooping cranes are settling in to their new home in Vermilion Parish as part of a project to establish a self-sustaining population of the rare birds.

The young cranes were delivered last week to the state’s White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area, joining 14 other cranes that have survived since their introduction last year, the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries announced Wednesday.

The joint state and federal project is an effort to re-establish the endangered species in a coastal area where the birds were last documented in Louisiana in the 1940s.

The project began last year when researchers released 26 cranes at White Lake in two groups.

Fourteen of those cranes are still alive, surviving the predators, illnesses and — in the case of at least two birds — gunshots that claimed the others.

Two birds out of the first contingent of 10 are still alive, but 12 cranes out of the contingent of 16 released in late 2011 are still flying, according to figures from the Wildlife and Fisheries.

Bird deaths were expected, and the project so far has been deemed a success, said Robert Love, an administrator for Wildlife and Fisheries who is overseeing the project.

“We have demonstrated good results for the first two years,” Love said.

He said the goal, which could still be several years off, is to build a population of 130 cranes that can sustain itself for 10 years without any further introductions.

Tracking devices on the birds have found the cranes exploring much of southwest Louisiana, and a few have even made brief visits into Arkansas, Texas and Mississippi, Love said.

“They’ve all come back. They’ve just been doing exploratory flights,” he said.

The new arrivals were raised at a federal wildlife center in Maryland and are about 5 months to 6 months old.

Love said they will live in the safety of a netted area until their release in a week or so.

“They are healthy. They look good,” he said.

The project in Louisiana is one of only a handful of reintroduction efforts for the whooping crane, an impressive bird that can grow up to 5 feet tall with a 7-foot wingspan.

Love said the marshes across south Louisiana offer much promise for the birds.

“Louisiana has the largest expanse of coastal wetlands,” he said. “That’s why the whooping crane was here.”

For more information on the whooping crane reintroduction project, visit http://www.wlf.la.gov.

A $5,000-a-person waterfowl hunt to help support the project is planned for next month at Grand View Lodge in Creole.

For information, call Robert Love at (225) 765-2811.