BARABOO — Supporters of the return of whooping cranes to Wisconsin unexpectedly found the first wild-hatched chick of the year in the care of a previously infertile crane pair.

On Monday, a chick was found in the nest of a pair of whoopers living on private land in Wood County, north of the Necedah Wildlife Refuge, said Joan Garland, spokeswoman for Baraboo's International Crane Foundation. The parents are cranes released in 2002 and 2004 which were led to the wintering grounds in Florida by an ultra-light aircraft and have since returned to Wisconsin for the breeding season.

The crane pair have been producing eggs together since 2008, but all past ones have been infertile, said Barry Hartup, ICF veterinarian and a member of the team working to establish an eastern whooping crane flock. Because the pair show good nesting and parenting behavior, they have been used to foster eggs laid by other cranes and raise those young.

"Colleagues of mine went to the nest planning to put a fertile egg into what they expected to be an empty nest," he said. "Lo and behold, this pair had their own chick, a newly hatched chick, just sitting on the nest."

It is not possible to know why the cranes haven't produced a fertile egg before, Hartup said. The eggs produced by the female look normal.

However, there are a variety of reasons, including hormones and behavior, that might cause the eggs to be infertile to this point, he said.

One hundred-six whooping cranes are members of the Wisconsin flock, Garland said. Including the newest chick, 16 have hatched so far. However, only three have survived to become fledglings and make the migratory trip south.

Hartup said getting the whoopers to reproduce naturally in the wild has been difficult.

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