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Dr. Archibald speaking at Horicon, 12 July 2012, photo by Pam Rotella Archibald speaks at Horicon
by Pam Rotella
13 July 2012

Dr. George Archibald, co-founder of the International Crane Foundation, spoke at the fourth annual Marsh Neighbors Night Thursday evening. The event was sponsored by the Friends of Horicon National Wildlife Refuge, and hosted at the refuge's headquarters and visitor's center.

Dr. Archibald presented a detailed history of efforts to increase the whooping crane population from 15 birds surveyed in the 1940s to its current level of approximately 600 birds. In addition to the well-known costumed handling and ultralight-led migrations, he covered techniques that his organization has found necessary for raising whooping cranes in captivity. For example, they must teach chicks to roost in water at night. Without this habit, the cranes will roost on land at night as adults, leaving them vulnerable to predation by land mammals. Also, unlike sandhill cranes, whooping cranes molt all of their flight feathers at once over the summer and cannot fly during that period, and so they must be released into an area with deeper water where they can avoid predation while flightless.

Archibald expressed concern over the construction of wind farms in the whooping crane flyway. There's a difference, he said, between windmills built right in the wetlands as proposed in states south of Wisconsin, and windmills a few miles to the east, as exist in the Horicon area. Fish and Wildlife employees in the audience confirmed that they hadn't heard of bird mortality from the wind farm east of Horicon.

An oil spill in the Intracoastal Waterway was also a potential threat to whooping cranes during their winter stay in Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, he continued

Archibald revealed that this year, six whooping crane chicks will be ultralight-led by Operation Migration and seven will be direct-released at Horicon. However, the majority of chicks are destined for the non-migratory population in Louisiana. Fourteen birds will help rebuild the Louisiana flock after its population dwindled from two shootings and other recent natural mortality.

Another topic of concern was the black fly swarms at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. Archibald mentioned that the Bti Treatments used in the Black Fly Suppression Study will be discontinued next year.

Archibald also confirmed the expense of $100,000 per bird released.

When asked about the proposed sandhill crane hunt in Wisconsin during the Q&A session, David Sakrison of Operation Migration briefly took the podium and revealed that the proposed hunt looks as though it will succeed, and that his group has promised the DNR a short video to educate hunters about the differences between sandhill cranes and whooping cranes, and the importance of preserving whooping cranes.

Dr. Archibald mentioned that genetic testing has traced whooping crane genetics to three individual females, indicating that only three nesting pairs were responsible for rebuilding the crane population after near-extinction.

All original content including photographs © 2012 by Pam Rotella.