“When you sit crouched in a blind and watch an adult Whooper stride close by you, his head high and proud, his bearing arrogant and imposing, you feel the presence of a strength and of a stubborn will to survive that is one of the vital intangibles of this entire situation.” These are the words of biologist, Robert Allen, in his Audubon monograph, The Whooping Crane, September 30, 1950, when this species population numbered less than 20. While working on a children’s book project about whooping cranes, I have turned to this monograph from time to time for information. As I did so recently, I stumbled across this account:
On May 21, 1876, George B. Sennett, the inveterate collector from Erie, Pennsylvania, was hunting at Elbow Lake, Grant County Minnesota. On the previous day his companion had killed two Whooping cranes nearby and Sennett was determined to secure a specimen. He located a pair at their nest, which was built on top of a muskrat house in a burnt slough, with only short grass clumps for cover. As he approached to a point close to the nest the birds left, and Sennett concealed himself as best he could, piling grass over himself as he lay prone behind a clump.
“Fully half an hour went by and I began to cramp and feel uneasy and was on the point of changing my position at the risk of losing my covering by the wind, when one noble fellow flew over the slough and lit on the opposite side from me about two shots off. Cautiously he began to survey the situation and shortly his mate came swooping down to his side. They kept their eyes well on my bunch of grass and remained at a safe distance, yet I could see they knew their eggs were safe. Some fifteen minutes of strutting back and forth when she boldly walked out into the water, some eight or ten inches deep, directly toward me, mounted the rat house and sat down on her two eggs, some twenty-five yards from me in plain sight. I could see her wink her eyes watching me and her mate constantly. Her eyes gleamed like fire. How anxious and how handsome, was ever a sight so grand….The male stood on the ridge watching her closely for a few minutes. When feeling all was safe he calmly commenced to plume himself in grand style and shortly walked off away from me the proudest of birds….I slowly arose, turned and gave her one barrel as she was rising from the nest and the next before she had gone six feet and dropped her in the water….” (Deane, 1923).
Your reaction, I'm sure, was much the same as mine. While the introduction explains that we're reading a hunting account, the conclusion is none-the-less stunning.
Beyond reflexive recoil there is the following harsh reality: with one fallen female, a breeding pair is destroyed and a season of off-spring lost. It will take six years to replace this nesting female if all goes well-- one year to reach the next breeding season, five more for a female chick to reach breeding maturity. Unforeseen circumstances could delay breeding success even further.
By the early 1940's the entire population of whooping cranes was nearly lost, not just from hunting and collecting, but largely due to the draining of wetlands and the encroachment of settlement.
The above account took place 132 years ago. When you consider the causes of this bird's decline and our progress toward correcting them, do you sometimes wonder what will be said of us in as many years?
For the Love of It...
...the sage sees heaven reflected in Nature as in a mirror, and he pursues this Art, not for the sake of gold or silver, but for the love of the knowledge which it reveals.