Sunday's for the Birds: Another Whooper of a Story

          Every so often, but not often enough, I have the pleasure of birding with two avid birders, my old friend, Ruth, and my new friend, Wendy. I live in Washington and they live in Texas and when we are in the same state our schedules don’t usually work out. The few times we have birded together were such a joy only another birder would understand my elation. There’s nothing like stuffing bird identification books, binoculars, bottles of water, inspect repellant, and snacks into a bag, and heading out in the wee hours of the morning in search of birds, or sitting inside a blind waiting for the birds to come to us, or hopping aboard a birding tour boat and heading out for hours in search of birds not easily found on land.
Photo by Wend McSwain taken near Goose Island State Park
            My last trip to the Texas coast, my favorite birding venue, had me indoors for three days, while Ruth and Wendy went out and about on a few birding adventures. I was promoting my book, The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story, at the Whooping Crane Festival in Port Aransas and unable to join them. The morning of the second day of the festival, Ruth and Wendy spent inside a bird blind waiting for a couple of whooper families to make their daily appearance. They were not disappointed. Not only did the cranes show up, but they put on quite a show: territorial disputes; parents protecting their young; aggression over the choice feeding area. While Ruth took note of the various behaviors, Wendy snapped dozens of photos. When the show was over, my friends reported back to me at the festival.
Photo by Wendy McSwain taken near Goose Island State Park
            We took a closer look at Wendy’s photos. Something looked out of place. The young chick that was so aggressively protected by its supposed parents, looked too small and too gray to be a whooper. That’s when we discovered our first (me vicariously) encounter with a sandhill crane adoption. We’ve since learned that this is not an unusual occurrence, but it made us wonder how this adoption came about. Did the whooping crane pair lose their own chick and go in search of a substitute? Did the sandhill chick become separated from its parents and subsequently become taken in by its cousin species? Questions that will probably go unanswered. But one thing’s for sure, understanding the crane brain is a mystery.

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