|An adult whooping crane|
|A crane in a Georgia marsh|
The current distribution of these birds is highly relevant to their history as an endangered species. In 1941 there were only fifteen of the birds left in the world, making the species critically endangered and close to extinction. These fifteen birds were part of a population that migrated from the Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. Through protection efforts, the numbers were able to begin to bounce back. However, conservationists were concerned that relying on a single population could still result in the loss of the entire species though illness or natural disaster. So, effort was put toward creating several different populations of birds.
|A juvenile whooping crane|
|Young cranes following the ultralight|
There is also now another non-migratory population that has been experimentally established in White River, Louisiana.
So, back to how a whooping crane could have possibly ended up in Georgia. There are two possible explanations. First, a bird from the permanent Florida population somehow made it over the border. Second, a bird from the Florida-Wisconsin migratory population spent a little time resting on the way to its breeding grounds. The latter seems like the most likely explanation since it is spring and approximately the right time for these birds to be leaving their wintering grounds.
No matter the reason, seeing one of these endangered birds in the wild is a rare treat. If you ever see a whooping crane in the wild, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would like you to report your sighting using the following form: Reporting Whooping Crane Observation.
Sources are the International Crane Foundation, National Wildlife Federation, and IUCN Red List of Endangered Species. First image is copyright to Kathy F. Additional images are from Wikimedia Commons and are copyright free: one, two, three.