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Whooping Crane Observed, Public Asked to Report Sightings

A recent sighting of a whooping crane in Emmons County serves as a good reminder for hunters to be on the lookout for these endangered birds as they make their way through the state.

Mike Szymanski, migratory game bird biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, said one of the rare birds was recently observed in a field with sandhill cranes. "We've received some other reports this past week, but this is our first sighting confirmed by wildlife officials," Szymanski said.

Whooping cranes are in the midst of their fall migration and sightings will increase as they make their way through North Dakota over the next several weeks, Szymanski said. Anyone seeing these birds as they move through the state is asked to report sightings so the birds can be tracked.

Whoopers stand about five feet tall and have a wingspan of about seven feet from tip to tip. They are white with black wing tips, which are visible only when the wings are outspread. In flight they extend their long necks straight forward, while their long, slender legs extend out behind the tail. Whooping cranes typically migrate singly, or in groups of 2-3 birds, and may be associated with sandhill cranes.

"It can be surprisingly easy for people to mistake pelicans for whooping cranes, Szymanski said. "What most people don't realize is that pelicans fly with their pouch tucked up leaving only the long, pointed portion of their bill visible."

Anyone sighting whoopers should not disturb them, but record the date, time, location, and the birds' activity. Observers should also look closely for and report colored bands which may occur on one or both legs. Young whooping cranes were marked during 1975-1988 with colored leg bands to help determine their identity.

"It's always helpful if people can use binoculars when making observations," Szymanski said.

Whooping crane sightings should be reported to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office at (701) 387-4397, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department's main office in Bismarck at (701) 328-6300, or to local game wardens around the state. Reports help biologists locate important whooping crane habitat areas, monitor marked birds, determine survival and population numbers, and identify times and migration routes.
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