Three cranes hatched in Florida were released into the crane refuge in Gautier last week, helping boost the population of the endangered species to over 130 birds.
The three new cranes were born at White Oak Conservation in Yulee, Florida, which works with the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge on a breeding program to replenish the species.
The refuge protects the rare subspecies of sandhill cranes, and maintains a special Gulf Coast habitat that can be found almost nowhere else. About 130 Mississippi Sandhill cranes and 34 breeding pairs remain in the wild. The birds live only in Mississippi and don’t migrate.
“This population of cranes is dependent on the reintroduction of healthy offspring produced each year at the breeding centers,” said Steve Shurter, CEO of White Oak Conservation. “The valuable cooperation among the various partners helps sustain the remaining Mississippi sandhill cranes.”
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The cranes brought to Gautier were about 5 to 6 months old. While at White Oak in northeastern Florida, the young cranes bonded as a group called a “cohort,” which will give them a better chance of survival in the wild, a news release said.
As a cohort, they will take turns watching for predators as they feed on invertebrates and other natural food. The young cranes will remain at the refuge year-round, as Mississippi Sandhill cranes do not migrate. But the cranes do fly, and electronic devices have been affixed to their legs to allow researchers to track their movements.
According to a story by WJCT radio, the cranes at first lived in an enclosure until they got used to their new habitat.
Since 1994, White Oak has bred and released 109 birds to the Gautier refuge, which is 30 square miles between the Pascagoula River and Ocean Springs.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service established Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge in 1975 specifically to protect these rare, endangered birds and their unique wet pine savanna habitat,” said David Viker, Southeast regional chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System. “White Oak Conservation has been instrumental in helping recover these cranes, and we appreciate all of the partners who have been collaborating to ensure the cranes can be enjoyed by future generations.”