Sunday's for the Birds: Crane Love (Part Two)

Last Sunday in Crane Love Part One, I left you wondering the gender was of Pete's potential mate. Luckily, as it turned out, the injured whooper from Louisiana, named Joe, was indeed a female. So, a name alteration was needed again, and Joe was changed to Josephine and eventually shortened to Jo.

Jo and Pete were introduced in October of 1948 in a newly constructed pen on the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas coast. The couple hit it off immediately and in December, they began performing their species' mating dance. As spring approached, the couple constructed a shallow nest. By the end of April, refuge manager, Bud Keefer noticed a change in the cranes behavior. Instead of both coming to the fence to feed when corn was distributed, they came one at a time. When Keefer went in for a closer look, he found Pete sitting on the nest. Suddenly, Jo rushed the invader, grabbed his sleeve, pecked him on his head an thumb hard enough to draw blood. Despite his injuries, Keefer was happy to confirm the crane couple had laid two fawn-colored egg.

This was the first time in history, anyone had a chance to observe whooping crane nesting behavior.
Robert Porter Allen in his office in Tavernier, FL.
As hatching time grew near, ornithologist Robert Porter Allen, packed his bag and headed for Texas. He arrived on May 12 and began observing the birds from dawn to dusk. The cranes defended their nest aggressively, chasing away deer, terns, gulls, black skimmers, egrets, herons, even tiny plovers. Allen often observed Pete chasing intruders from one end of the enclosure to the other. In his 1952 monograph on whooping cranes, Allen wrote the following, "Sometimes, after a series of exhausting chases, he walked back to the nest dripping wet, and black underneath from the splashing mud. He was a game old warrior and did the best he could." 

After twenty-three days of incubation, Allen was surprised to find both Pete and Jo wandering from the nest. Allen enter the enclosure and discovered that both eggs had been smashed. Upon inspection, it was obvious they were infertile.

On the morning of July 21, Jo let out an earsplitting alarm call. New refuge manager, Julian Howard, and his assistant, Russell Clapper, ventured inside and found Jo standing near a pool of water. Pete, lying on his back, was dead. The Old Devil had apparently died of natural causes.

For more details about Pete and Jo's short time together, check out chapter eight of my book The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story. I like to describe the book as Indiana Jones meets John J. Audubon. The book has been nominated for the following awards:  
George Perkins Marsh Award for environmental history
Washington State Book Award for history/general nonfiction.

Tune in again next Sunday to find out if Jo gets another chance at crane love.

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 cranes and the ornithologist who helped save them from extinction. 
Check out these other whooping crane links:
Operation Migration:
Whooping Crane Conservation Association:
Whooping Crane: The Journey North: