Breeding Endangered Whooping Cranes In A COVID Time

Posted on May 27

Calgary, AB - Breeding endangered whooping cranes and hatching chicks successfully is always challenging – even more so during a global pandemic but WE DID IT! The Calgary Zoo has three whooping crane chicks this year!

Families everywhere come in all shapes and sizes and we wanted to share each chick’s unique story with our community:

Sometimes you need help conceiving
Whooping crane partners, “Hercules” and “Helsinki” have hatched and raised many chicks before but, they need help to conceive through assisted reproductive therapy (artificial insemination). The artificial insemination (AI) procedure earlier this spring was a success. Whooping crane eggs take about 29 to 31 days to hatch. Around the 28th day, Animal Care, Health and Welfare team members were checking on the egg as they expected it to hatch soon. They noticed that the chick was in the early stages of hatching but there was an issue – the chick was malpositioned and had pipped outside of its air cell. The Animal Care, Health and Welfare team sprang into action. With the helping hands of the veterinary team, the first whooping crane chick of 2021 successfully hatched!

Parenting is tricky. Sometimes it takes some time to figure it out!
Whooping crane, “Tim”, and his partner, “Bombadil” don’t have problems naturally conceiving, but over the course of three breeding seasons they have never successfully hatched a chick. Sometimes they move their eggs around too much. Sometimes they peck them too hard. Sometimes they leave them unattended. They figured it out this year, and after 32 days of sharing egg sitting duties, they successfully hatched a chick!

Foster parents are such a gift!
Tim and Bombadil actually had two fertile eggs. Given their past challenges, the Animal Care, Health and Welfare team gave their second egg to foster whooper pair “Gary Snyder” and “Inukshuk”. Gary Snyder and Inukshuk are solid incubators and excellent chick raisers, but didn’t produce a fertile egg of their own this year. 33 days of shared egg sitting duties and Gary Snyder and Inukshuk successfully hatched Tim and Bombadil’s second fertile egg and are off to a great start raising their chick. Twin chicks is rare in the whooping crane world – having two parenting units sharing the load exponentially increases the chance of survival for both chicks.

It’s still early days and we are cautiously optimistic that these three whooping crane chicks will survive and grow. Please join the Calgary Zoo team in #RootingForTheLittleWhoopers.

About Whooping Cranes:

  • Whooping cranes are currently listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List and are one of three bird species in Canada in that category.
  • The whooping crane is the tallest bird in North America (adults are almost 5 ft (1.5 m) and the rarest crane species.
  • The Aransas Wood Buffalo population is the only natural population and migrates between Canada and the United States. The three reintroduced populations are the Eastern migratory population and Louisiana and Florida non-migratory populations.
  • Whooping cranes are a great example of conservation success. Their wild population was down to 21 birds in the 1940s, due to widespread hunting and habitat loss. Dedicated conservation efforts have dramatically improved the fate of these endangered birds in North America. Today there are an estimated 600 of these majestic birds in the wild in four populations.
  • Today, May 28, is Whooping Crane Day.

About the Calgary Zoo’s Whooping Crane Recovery Program:

Since 1992, the Calgary Zoo has been proud to conduct conservation breeding and research as part of the international effort to restore whooping crane populations in the wild. The Calgary Zoo is the only Canadian breeding partner in the recovery effort and with its extensive expertise has contributed many eggs for release into the wild. Whooping crane breeding partners include: International Crane Foundation, San Antonio Zoo, Freeport-McMoRan Audubon Species Survival Center, White Oak Conservation Center, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and Dallas Zoo. The Calgary Zoo’s whooping crane research includes collaborative studies with the Canadian Wildlife Service, Parks Canada and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, on the potential use of satellite imagery to detect wild nesting whooping cranes and the use of data-loggers and remote cameras to investigate reproduction challenges. The Calgary Zoo’s Whooping Crane Recovery Program is proudly funded by ConocoPhillips Canada.

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For more information or interviews, please contact:
Alison Archambault 
Director, Brand & Engagement
403.232.7766 or 403.919.9482
[email protected]

The Calgary Zoo is a globally recognized conservation organization that guides, innovates, and applies scientific solutions to restore some of the world’s most endangered species. Locally and globally we take action in the wild every day to yield powerful benefits for nature and for people. Our over 1,000 employees and volunteers are passionate about inspiring people to take action to sustain wildlife and wild places, welcoming over 1.3 million guests annually. As visitors discover the rare and endangered species that we love and care for at our facilities, they are directly contributing through admission and on-grounds sales to a not-for-profit charitable conservation organization that works to fight extinction of plants and animals worldwide. For more information, go to www.CalgaryZoo.com.