Whooping crane sighted in Kewaunee County
Bob Watson was just taking a country drive last Thursday when he spotted about 50 sandhill cranes feeding in a field in Kewaunee County.
As he got closer, he spotted a white bird among them.
“I was watching the sand hill cranes and saw a white spot – I assumed it was an egret,” said Watson, but when he pulled over to get a better look he realized it might be a whooping crane.
Watson, who is retired from Vollrath Corp. and has lived in the Town of Pierce since 1993, said it is the first time he had seen the rare bird.
He pulled out his camera and managed to snap a few pictures, but then the birds were scared off by a bald eagle flying in the area,’ said Watson. He immediately called the DNR who notified Natanya Hayden, a DNR wildlife biologist.
By the time Hayden, who is based in Mishicot, was able to drive to the site, the cranes had flown off.
“The pictures were more than enough to document that it was a whooping crane,” said Hayden. “I don’t know of another sighting ever reported in Kewaunee County.”
Hayden and Watson can’t reveal the field’s location because the locations of such sightings of an endangered bird are protected by federal law.
The whooping crane is very rare in this part of the state and on both the federal and state endangered species list, she said. Only about 250 whopping cranes exist in the wild.
The whooping crane was probably from the Necedah Wildlife Refuge in Juneau County and had joined up with the flock of sand hill cranes to forage and feed and get ready to migrate with the group to Florida.
She said sand hill cranes use the flyaway along Lake Michigan on their fall migration to Florida..
She said that Wisconsin is just beginning to develop successful reproducing pairs of whooping cranes. There are approximately 100 cranes in the Necedah preserve. This number includes about 25 nesting pairs, although only eight eggs hatched in 2014 and only one fledging survived to adulthood, according to Hayden..
Another bird once on the endangered species list – the bald eagle — also is native to Northeastern Wisconsin and was removed from the list in 2007. This was primarily because DDT and other chemicals that damaged the eagle’s eggs were banned and some of its habitat has been protected, allowing its numbers to grow, Hayden said.
However, a young whooping crane must be from 4 to 5 years old to reproduce successfully and can live to be 25 years old, but scientists believe that there is not enough remaining habitat for the birds to thrive and reproduce, said Hayden.
“We are still trying to understand their habitat needs,” she said.
The majority of wild whooping cranes summer on the Wood Buffalo Refuge in Canada and migrate to the Aransas Wildlife Refuge in Texas.
“Unfortunately that refuge along the Gulf coast was recently compromised by the BP oil spill,” she said.
Hayden said that anyone who does spot a whooping crane should not attempt to chase it or move close to it because this will disturb its need to forage before its migration.
Instead, she requested that residents call the DNR Hotline at 1-888-936-7463 and also report it on the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership website.
This article originally appeared on Wisconsin: Whooping crane sighted in Kewaunee County