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Whooping Cranes Lay Eggs in Wild

April 14, 1999

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) _ Two whooping cranes have produced the first eggs laid in the U.S. wild in decades, raising hopes that the majestic birds will make a comeback after nearly being wiped out.

The 4-year-old cranes are part of an experimental flock raised in captivity and placed in central Florida’s Kissimmee Prairie. None had produced eggs.

``We’ll be happy if the eggs hatch, and we’ll be really happy if they do raise these chicks,″ said George Archibald, director of the International Crane Foundation. ``But we don’t really expect it to happen.″

Biologist Kathy Sullivan said the eggs themselves were ``a big enough accomplishment.″

Once, thousands of whooping cranes soared across the United States, their bugling calls audible for miles. But settlers drained marshes and plowed prairies, destroying the crane’s habitat.

By 1938, only two small flocks remained: one that nested in Canada and wintered in Texas, and another that lived in Louisiana.

A storm wiped out most of the Louisiana birds, and none laid eggs again. The last survivor of that flock died in 1950.

Researchers desperate to save the birds from extinction found the Canadian birds’ nesting grounds and, beginning in the late 1960s, started taking eggs to try to resurrect the species by raising birds in captivity.

In 1993, federal officials started sending whooping cranes raised in captivity in Maryland to Florida as an experiment. Over the last three years, biologists have seen six of the birds pair off. But none had laid eggs.

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