Mississippi Sandhill Cranes Have New Home

Mississippi Sandhill Cranes, born in captivity in New Orleans, are getting used to their new home at the wildlife refuge in Jackson County.

Biologists are quite pleased with an ongoing captive-release program that began more than 20 years ago. There were roughly 35 of the endangered cranes when the refuge opened in the 1970's. Today that number is around 120.

"Each bird will have a unique color band combination. We should be able to tell this bird has an orange band from two or three hundred yards."

Biologist Scott Hereford oversees the release of five Sandhill cranes. A blindfolded crane gets a thorough tagging and inspection before it's released in the wild.

Actually, the five birds born in captivity in New Orleans, will spend the next month or so in a special pen. Wing restraints will keep them from flying away for the first month.

"Allowing other birds to socialize with them, developing bonds with the wild, free flying birds. And getting used to this being their home," explained Hereford.

A radio transmitter attached to the bird's leg will help biologists keep track of the released birds.

"That way we can follow the birds all year round to gather important data. You know, where they're living, what kinds of habitats they're choosing, what they may be dying of, who they're mating with."

Before the birds are set free, biologists record some vital statistics. They weigh the cranes and measure their bills. Keeping track of a bird's unique eye color is another identifier.

Over the years, biologists have learned plenty about what works well and what doesn't with this program. It is the largest and longest running crane release program in the world. They released the first birds here back in 1981.

Hereford is pleased with the program's success.

"In fact it's being used as a model for some other releases in the United States and around the world. The number of birds has increased. The number of breeding pairs has increased. And the habitat is in much better shape than it was 30 years ago."

The just released birds seem to like their new home.