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Longlegged Mexican Bird Reported Seen in U.S. for First Time

February 1, 1988

PHARR, Texas (AP) _ The nation’s first confirmed sighting of the crane hawk has birdwatchers flocking to a tiny wildlife refuge.

The long-legged Mexican bird with a sharp beak showed up at the refuge along the Rio Grande on Dec. 19, said Nita Fuller, manager of the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. Since then, it has found a supply of frogs, its favorite food, she said.

″People are flying in here from all over. The bird has created quite a stir,″ she said.

The bird is common in the Mexican states of Sonora and Tamaulipas, across the border.

The bird ranges from Mexico south to Bolivia and northern Argentina, where it lives in lowland forests and wooded swamps.

The reason for the Texas visit may be that the crane hawk’s native habitat in Mexico was cleared to create new farm land, environmentalists say.

″That is a potential conern,″ Ms. Fuller said.

Last year, about 110,000 people visited the 2,000-acre refuge near Pharr, winter home to about two dozen rare species.

Since the crane hawk arrived, the refuge has drawn up to 900 visitors a day, or an annual rate of nearly 330,000 people.

To handle the crowds, the staff has expanded the tour schedule to seven days a week. Vehicle traffic has been limited, and the staff has taken steps to reduce human contact with creatures in the refuge.

The crane hawk stands 17 to 21 inches tall, and its long legs are double- jointed, allowing it to bend more easily and capture its prey, according to bird literature. Its streamlined body is covered with blackish feathers highlighted by a narrow band of white under the wings.