By TAMMY BAIN email@example.com
A whooping crane has found itself among sandhill cranes in the area recently. The rare bird is one of only hundreds in the world.
A group of residents who gathered near the Golden Spike Tower on Sunday spotted a bird so rare that only about 450 exist in the world.
Whooping cranes tend to migrate north later than sandhill cranes. But a lone bird may end up hanging out with sandhill cranes, as they eat and nest together, said Julie Geiser, public information officer for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
While Geiser said sandhill cranes usually travel in a “family group,” the groups usually see a lone whooping crane as “just another crane,” said Joel Jorgensen, nongame bird program manager for Nebraska Game and Parks.
Because of the bird’s federal and state endangered status, Geiser and Jorgensen emphasized the importance of not harassing the whooping crane.
“If people see this bird, they will hopefully stay in their vehicle,” Jorgensen said.
If you approach a bird with a camera and it starts walking away, “you should just go back to your vehicle,” Jorgensen said. “You’re not going to get a better picture anyway. It’s best to use your vehicle as a blind.”
Jorgensen described whooping cranes as “very weary birds.”
“They’ve always got to be aware of predators wherever they are,” he said.
While taking a bird census presents challenges, Jorgensen said that last winter scientists estimated about 450 whooping cranes exist in the world. In some areas, experts are “trying to get other populations up and going,” he said.
That includes introducing whooping cranes to one another to encourage mating, but those groups aren’t self-sustaining, so they aren’t included in final totals.
“There’s uncertainty whether those birds will be self-sustaining or whether they’ll become a population,” he said.
In the early 20th century, Jorgensen said, the whooping cranes were down to 15 or 16 individuals, “right on the cusp of going extinct.”
As with many other species, the reason for near-extinction was hunters.