Date of this Version
Proceedings of the North American Crane Workshop 13: 79
On 16 February 2011, whooping cranes (Grus americana) were reintroduced in the wetlands of southwest Louisiana, after an absence of 61 years. This brief communication provides background on the historical presence of whooping cranes in this region, describes the long road to reintroduction, presents observations from the reintroduction’s first day, and offers thoughts on its future prospects.
On 15 May 1939, biologist John J. Lynch of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service observed 13 whooping cranes in the remote freshwater marsh north of White Lake in Vermilion Parish, Louisiana. He not only confirmed what local residents and trappers had long known (Drewien et al. 2001, Gomez et al. 2005), but he was also viewing a native Louisiana species in its twilight.
According to Robert P. Allen (1952), whooping cranes had once flourished in southwest Louisiana. Migratory cranes wintered on the tallgrass prairies of the Pleistocene Prairie Terrace at the northern edge of the coastal plain, as well as in the adjacent Chenier Plain wetlands, using the region’s brackish and saltwater marshes and chenier ridges. Large-scale conversion of the prairies to commercial rice production in the late 19th century, followed by canal construction and the resultant enhanced access to the marshes in the early 20th century, increased the vulnerability of whooping cranes to hunting and disturbance. The last report of the species on the Louisiana prairies dates from 1918, while reports of cranes in the salt and brackish marshes end in the early 1940s. Only in the region of the still relatively isolated freshwater marsh north of White Lake did sightings continue, and area residents and trappers insisted that la grue blanche (the white crane) was not only resident year-round, but was also nesting and raising young in the vast Panicum hemitomon marsh (Allen 1952, Gomez 1992).