Crane Love (Part One): Introducing the Old Devil

          It was a nice summer day in Brady, Nebraska. Henry George’s two young daughters were riding their bicycles down a dirt road near their home when they came across a tall, white bird fluttering in a field. Amazed at the bird’s size, almost as tall as they were, the girls stopped to watch and noticed its huge wing drooping almost to the ground. They rushed home and told their father. George drove along the field until he cornered the bird along a fence line. Despite its mangled wing and injured eye, the crane put up a fight, jabbing with its beak and thrusting about with its one good wing, before George captured it. He brought it to a private bird sanctuary owned by the Gothenburg Gun Club near North Platte where it was positively identified as a whooping crane; its injuries apparently caused by a gunshot wound. The bird was placed in pen with non-releasable sandhill cranes, Canada geese and various duck species. Excerpt from The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story
            Twelve years later, when the National Audubon Society started the whooping crane captive breeding program, ornithologist Robert Porter Allen was sent to Nebraska to have a look at the crane who by this time had earned the name Old Devil. Aggressive and ornery, but otherwise healthy, Allen arranged for the crane to be sent to the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans for further examination. A few months later, Old Devil was transferred to the Arnasas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas to meet its potential mate. Not liking the name Old Devil, refuge manager Bud Keefer began calling the crane Petunia. When it was determine that Petunia was a male, its name was changed to Pete. 
Joe or Josephine?
          Fingers were crossed that the other crane, who was one of the last survivors of the non-migration flock in Louisiana, would turn out be be a female. At the time, its name was Joe. 
          Stayed tuned next Sunday. After twelve years of crane isolation, will Pete finally have a female companion, or will his pen mate turn out to be nothing more than a bird buddy?

For more details, check out chapter eight of my book The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story (University Press of Florida). I like to describe the book as Indiana Jones meets John J. Audubon. The book has been nominated for The George Perkins Marsh Award for environmental history and The Washington State Book Award for history/general nonfiction
Contact me if your Audubon chapter, nature center, library, or birding club is interested in having me present a program on the story of the whooping crane and the ornithologist who helped save them from extinction. Here are some great whooping crane links?
Operation Migration:
Whooping Crane Conservation Association:
Whooping Crane: The Journey North:

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