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Ducks reach out to Whooping Cranes

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Conservation group begins work on critical endangered species habitat

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - December 2, 2008 - Ducks Unlimited (DU) recently began work on a six-acre habitat restoration project to benefit the endangered whooping crane at Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel, Md. The refuge is home to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s whooping crane rearing facility, where the endangered birds mate and produce offspring every year and then take part in a staged fall migration south to their native wintering grounds in southern Florida.

The whooping crane, once a common bird in the United States, was driven to near-extinction by a variety of factors in the 1930s, including both loss of habitat and a robust commercial market for whooping crane feathers, which were used in ladies’ hats. In 1967 the US Fish and Wildlife Service designated the cranes as federally endangered, and took special efforts to preserve the few remaining birds. While the program has been successful, raising the number of live birds in the wild from just 15 in the 1940s to a total of 389 in 2008, one problem remains – the Patuxent facility does not contain any of the cranes’ preferred habitat – wetlands – in which to train the young birds. As a result, the cranes are less likely to thrive when they arrive in Florida faced with an entire landscape full of different types of wetlands.

In an attempt to address this need, the US Fish and Wildlife Service contacted Ducks Unlimited, the world leader in wetland conservation, to survey, design, and construct a system of wetlands at the whooping crane rearing facility. Ducks Unlimited biologists and engineers worked together to design a wetland that will flood during the winter and spring, similar to the wetlands that wintering cranes use in their natural wintering grounds. The new wetland will feature a variety of natural perches for the birds, including piles of sticks resembling a beaver lodge, and placed large dead trees called “snags.” Whooping cranes prefer to rest and hunt for food from these types of structures. While several additional wetlands are planned for the facility, the wetland currently under construction is the largest and will receive the most use by whooping cranes and their trainers.

With more than a million supporters, Ducks Unlimited is the world’s largest and most effective wetland and waterfowl conservation organization with almost 12 million acres conserved. The United States alone has lost more than half of its original wetlands - nature’s most productive ecosystem - and continues to lose more than 80,000 wetland acres each year.

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Kristin Schrader 734.623.2000 kschrader@ducks.org

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