Ghazi Rifai, SPNL volunteer took the initiative to feed migrating cranes while refueling in his front yard, for their long journey between south and North America.
“Something we should be All doing, not shooting at them like some Shooters do in Lebanon and parts of the Mediterranean”. Said Assad Serhal, SPNL Director General.
Lead by ornithologist Nabil Khairallah , SPNL team documented over 60.000 cranes migrating together in March 2004 over the Hima/ IBA EbelEsaqi in southern Lebanon, from their wintering grounds in Africa to the Black Sea. An amazing site witnessed and heard by the hima community, and eco-tourist from Lebanon and abroad.
In North America Cranes continue to suffer from low numbers and are far short of establishing a self-sustaining population.
The biggest problem, say those involved in returning them to parts of their native range in the eastern United States, has been the failure of adult birds to raise chicks that fledge.
Still, experts see some progress. The cranes are producing eggs and chicks in captivity, and an army of handlers is learning how best to release the birds to the wild. And they are also gaining a keen insight into how best to manage a species that is slow to mature and has a preference for remote locations.
Crane organizations also have fostered wide public support for the 5-foot-tall bird, in part by drawing attention to a migrating technique in which young cranes learn the route from crane-costumed pilots and their ultralight aircraft.
In the latest annual report, the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership writes that “no crane introduction has ever been successful,” and reintroduction of wildlife populations previously wiped off the landscape is “extremely complex and fraught with challenges.”
Whooping cranes are the tallest bird in North America, and until their return they were last recorded in Wisconsin in 1878 — victims of overhunting and the loss of wetland habitat.
Since 2001, nearly 250 cranes have been released into the wild in Wisconsin, according to publicly available figures.
But only 95 are currently living. Also, two — possibly three — cranes born this year have been seen in and around the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, northeast of Tomah, where the reintroduction first began.
Only six chicks have hatched in the wild and survived to fledge, according to the crane partnership. This year, 13 cranes hatched in the wild — the most ever. But at least 10 are dead and thought to have been killed by predators.
In contrast, a western flock of cranes that spends the winter on the Gulf Coast of Texas and the summer in northern Alberta has not faced the same reproduction problems. The worry for the western flock has been a protracted drought in Texas, which poses a long-term threat to the birds.
The western population stood at 304 cranes in early 2014, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Since 2001, the eastern population has been hurt by predators, birds flying into power lines and other mishaps.
In 2007, 17 first-year cranes flew to Florida, led by ultralights operated by Operation Migration, a private group that leads young cranes on their fall migration. But they were killed by a storm that surged through the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Florida.
In July 2013, researchers with the International Crane Foundation found a dead radio-tagged whooping crane in a Waupaca County wheat field. The crane had been shot. Matthew Kent Larsen, 28, of New London pleaded guilty in federal court in Green Bay for violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act by killing a protected species.
The Fish and Wildlife Service estimates the cost of each whooping crane at $110,000, with dollars coming from public and private sources. Fasbender said there is no central accounting because funding comes from public and private sources. He estimated the total cost of bringing back whooping cranes at more than $20 million.
To date, the most nettlesome issue has been the inability of adults to produce birds that fledge. The problem has been tied to parental inexperience and the presence of swarms of black flies at Necedah that drive cranes off their nests.
But as the crane population grows older, the black fly issue has loomed larger, according to Barry Hartup, director of the veterinary services at the Crane Foundation.
Scientists experimented at Necedah with spraying a naturally occurring bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis, to kill the flies in 2011 and 2012.
Hartup said one promising experiment is removing eggs from nests, which prompts cranes to renest later and lay more eggs when the flies are gone. The eggs taken by crane managers are used for the captive rearing program.
Also, chicks have been released since 2011 farther east at Horicon National Wildlife Refuge and the White River Marsh State Wildlife Area, where black flies don’t appear to be as much of a problem.