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The first fertile whooping crane (Grus americana; WC) egg produced through natural breeding at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center (Patuxent) was laid in 1991. Prior to that time, all fertile whooping crane eggs were the result of artificial insemination. Since 1991, eight different whooping crane pairs at Patuxent have produced fertile eggs through natural breeding. Mean fertility averages over years for each pair range from 40% to 93%. Fertility rates for each pair also vary greatly between years, from 0% to 100% but the causes of the variance are unknown. Experiences with natural fertility in Mississippi sandhill cranes (G. canadensis pulla; MSC) have been similar. Annual natural fertility rates averaged from 21% to 89% and fertility averages for each of 7 pairs also varied greatly between years. Rearing methods have not determined success in natural breeding for either species. Both hand-reared and parent-reared pairs have been fertile. Wing condition, however, has been an important factor affecting natural fertility. Becausce artificial insemination (AI) generally results in higher fertility rates than natural breeding, Al should continue for some pairs.
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Natural fertility in whooping cranes and Mississippi sandhill cranes at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center