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

            Last Sunday in Crane Lover Part Two, the sudden death of Pete left Josephine a widow, living alone in the breeding enclosure on the Aranasa National Wildlife Refuge. Bob Allen and refuge manager, Julian Howard, were determined to find Jo another partner. They didn’t have to look far. Allen remembered seeing a crane with a damaged wing on the refuge who had summered-over the previous year, unable to migrate. Allen and his assistant, Olaf Wallmo, tried to encircle the bird and capture it. The crane had a different idea. Allen describes his encounter in his book On the Trail of Vanishing Birds. “We never had a chance! Old Crip (short for cripple) calmly hiked up his bad wing and, head high, started off with those steady 23 inch strides that a whooping crane uses when he wants to run down a skittering blue crab or outwalk a couple of boy scouts, which is what we soon felt like.”
            Allen wasn’t sure if Crip was still around, nor was Allen sure of the bird’s gender. But he remembered the bird looking strong and healthy. Once Allen got the okay from Audubon president John Baker, a posse was formed and the crippled crane was located. Allen and Howard crossed their fingers as they released Crip into the enclosure. Almost immediately Jo and Crip began their prenuptial dance. The following March, the new couple had constructed a nest and on April 22, Jo laid one egg.
            In the meantime, Baker had sent Allen to Mexico to check out some flamingos sightings. When he returned home, a message was waiting. “The hatching date in near.” He packed a fresh bag, threw it in the back of his station wagon, and drove almost now-stop to Texas. Waiting for Allen at the refuge was the newly formed Whooping Snooper Club, an unofficial group of refuge observers who had divvied up the watch time on the observation tower. Also vying for room on the tower were news reporters assigned to the whooping crane saga. Back in 1945 when the first search for the nesting site in Canada was conducted, the media had jumped on the story and continued to follow any developments that occurred. On May 8, Jo and Crip, appeared in four photos in Life magazine in an article entitled “Whooping Crane No. 38?”  One photo showed Jo standing next to an egg.
            Before dawn of May 25, Jo and Crip were fluttering near the nest. The tall grasses prevented Allen and the other observers from seeing what the cranes were attending to. As the sun lit up the sky, Allen spotted a fuzzy reddish brown ball bouncing around the nest. He wrote, “He was so tiny I could scarcely believe my eyes, but there he was, a rusty-colored, downy little thing, moving about on the nest on wobbly legs and being dutifully cared for by both parents. The miracle had happened! ‘Rusty,’ the first whooping crane ever hatched in captivity, had entered the world at an unknown hour during the night of May 24-25.”
         Was the captive breeding program destined to be a success? Tune in again next Sunday to find out the story’s conclusion.
For more details about the whooping crane captive breeding program, 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.

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:

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