Wisconsin Public Asked to be Aware of and Help Protect Whooping Cranes and Trumpeter Swans

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The illegal shooting of two whooping cranes last month in Louisiana and the accidental and intentional shootings of trumpeter swans last month in Wisconsin highlight the need for citizens to be vigilant in helping to protect these rare birds, according to state endangered resources officials.

Due to the mild fall so far this year, both cranes and swans have been slow to begin migration, and both species are still widely dispersed across the landscape.

Standing 5 feet tall, whooping cranes (Grus americana) are the tallest and one of the largest birds in North America. They are also one of the most endangered. With fewer than 500 left in the wild, whooping cranes continue to teeter on the verge of extinction.

Since 1999, Wisconsin has played a major role in efforts to restore a migratory whooping crane population in eastern North America, with a core breeding area in Wisconsin. Prior to these restoration efforts, only one migratory population of whooping cranes existed in the wild. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is a founding member of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, a large group of nine government and private sector organizations, with the mission of restoring a second self-sustaining migratory population.

There are approximately 96 whooping cranes in the Eastern Migratory Population, with plans for 25 to 30 birds to be added to the population each year until it becomes self-sustaining, perhaps by 2020.

“Already threatened by power-line collisions and other accidents on their annual migration routes, the cranes face a potentially deadlier threat from human poaching and thrill killing,” said Davin Lopez, a DNR conservation biologist working with the crane reintroduction.

Whooping cranes are protected under the Federal Endangered Species and Migratory Bird Treaty Acts, as well as state wildlife laws. Disturbing, harassing or killing whooping cranes or other non-game wildlife is a crime, punishable by jail time, fines, and other penalties.

In late November, two adult trumpeters were shot and found in garbage bags north of Shawano Lake in Shawano County. The perpetrators have not been caught. And in early November, a young trumpeter swan, known as a cygnet, was accidentally shot and killed at a wildlife area in St. Croix County. The hunter who shot the swan turned himself in and a conservation warden retrieved the carcass.

Trumpeter swans (Cygnus buccinator) -- named for their resonant, trumpet-like call -- are the largest waterfowl species in North America. They were present in Wisconsin until the 1880s, but disappeared due to market hunting and feather collecting.

Under a 1986 trumpeter swan recovery plan, Wisconsin biologists flew to Alaska for nine consecutive years to collect surplus swan eggs that were then hatched in incubators at the Milwaukee County Zoo and then placed in a captive-rearing program or decoy-rearing program until they were released to the wild.

Efforts to restore trumpeter swans have been dramatic, with the number of breeding pairs doubling from 98 to around 200 over the last five years, according to Sumner Matteson, a DNR avian ecologist who has directed the swan recovery program since 1987. In 2009, the trumpeter swan was removed from the state endangered species list due to the successful recovery efforts. Matteson says there were are now more than 1,000 trumpeter swans statewide, including many juvenile cygnets, which have grayish plumage and are smaller, but are still are significantly larger than Canada geese, with which they are sometimes confused.

People are asked to report any suspected illegal activity involving wildlife in Wisconsin to the DNR at 1-800-TIP-WDNR.

For additional information and a short public service announcement, please see the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership website here: www.bringbackthecranes.org (exit DNR).

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Davin Lopez, Conservation Biologist, Madison: 608-266-0837 (whooping cranes); Sumner Matteson, Avian Ecologist, Madison: 608-266-1571 (trumpeter swans).