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Captive-reared Mississippi sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis pulla) reared at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center (Patuxent) have been released at the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge (MSCNWR) since 1981. Of 131 birds released through December 1990, 103 were reared by foster parents. The remaining 28 were experimentally hand-reared in 1989 and 1990. After refining release procedures, parent-reared birds have integrated into the wild flock, many have survived, and some have bred. Releases of hand-reared cranes elsewhere in the 1970's were largely unsuccessful, at least in part due to the lack of a lengthy acclimation period. A new hand-rearing protocol holds promise in producing release-worthy birds. The technique employs some features first used in the 1960's (e.g., a costume for the human caretaker and model crane heads used to train chicks to feed). In the mid-1980's, the following features were added: (1) the costumed caretaker was given a visor and feathers, (2) a taxidermic crane head or a hand puppet was held or suspended from the ceiling for use in stimulating chicks to feed, (3) a taxidermic mount of a brooding crane supplied warmth, (4) a full-sized live crane was maintained in an adjacent pen and in visual contact with neonatal young to provide an imprinting model, and (5) a small group of adult (or subadult) cranes was penned adjacent to the outdoor chick pens to provide socialization models. Recent releases of Mississippi sandhill cranes hand-reared according to this protocol and released in Mississippi have had high first-year survival rates. The now-operational technique holds promise for producing large numbers of release-worthy birds.
Additional Publication Details
Techniques for rearing and releasing nonmigratory cranes: Lessons from the Mississippi Sandhill Crane program