Whooping Cranes in SouthWood

Endangered Birds Whoop it Up
Lou Kellenberger

Some of the SouthWood community’s newest residents are snowbirds — quite literally. A boy/girl pair of endangered Whooping cranes have surpassed the odds by returning twice consecutively, and independently, to a specific location known to enthusiasts as Cow Pond.

These aficionados — “craniacs,” they like to call themselves, have made it their mission to protect this particular pair of whoopers and preserve their habitat.

Large in size and named for their distinctive whooping call, Whooping cranes are migratory birds that summer in Canada and Wisconsin, and fly south for the winter to places like Texas and Florida.

Less than 600 Whooping cranes are left in existence. That number is down from the 1,400 birds estimated in 1860; but up from the 15 counted in 1941. Survival is threatened by natural disadvantages involving biodiversity and predation; but also by various versions of human encroachment — including illegal hunting and the continuing destruction of wetlands that are the birds’ natural habitat. 

A great effort to save Whooping cranes began in 1947 by ornithologist Robert Porter Allen and was pushed forward by conservationist groups like ICF and Operation Migration — which employ ultralight aircraft, flown by pilots disguised as Whooping cranes. A flock from Wisconsin was led to the nearby St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge. 

As for the pair of Whooping cranes in SouthWood … they have decamped to their summer home in Wisconsin. Reproduction is anticipated; and, according to Lou Kellenberger of the refuge, eggs have been laid up north. 

If the lovebirds return this November — with offspring in tow — it will mean Tallahassee is providing a proper sanctuary for these instinctual animals. Karen Willes, a local resident and craniac who photographed the cranes every morning and evening for four months, says continuing to do so is the craniac community’s biggest concern. Avoiding human imprint is imperative to the species’ survival; so if you should visit — please, stay behind the fence.

Categories: History