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White-naped crane chicks hatch! A symbol of hope for a vulnerable species

Posted by Elizabeth Bacher, Communications
Photos by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo

Two white-naped crane chicks hatched at Woodland Park Zoo—a first in the zoo's history for this species. Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo
We are proud to announce the hatching of two threatened white-naped crane chicks—a first in the zoo’s 119-year history for this species. These two chicks, which hatched July 9th and 10th, are the first offspring for parents Cal, who is 9 years old and Laura who is 8. While Cal and Laura have only been at Woodland Park Zoo for five years, we have had white-naped cranes living at the zoo for around 30 years. But none successfully produced offspring until now. The sex of our two new chicks hasn’t been determined yet, and they do not have names yet.

White-naped crane parents keep a watchful eye on their chick. Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo
Cranes are monogamous and can be very picky when choosing a mate. Even the slightest incompatibility between two birds can prevent successful breeding and they will only breed once a strong pair bond is formed between them. Even then, it can take several years to solidify that bond. Cal and Laura were paired on a recommendation from the White-Naped Crane Species Survival Plan (SSP), a conservation breeding program to ensure genetic diversity and stability for endangered species in accredited North American conservation zoos. Currently there are fewer than 75 white-naped cranes in that program, but thanks to Cal, Laura and these new chicks, those numbers are on the rise.

Cal is proving to be an attentive and protective father to his two white-naped crane chicks. Photo: Dennis Dow Woodland Park Zoo
Cranes typically mate for life and are renowned for their spectacular and elaborate courtship dances. They gracefully circle each other while leaping and calling, head-bobbing toward one another and bowing with spread wings. These dances continue throughout the year as the birds continually reinforce their pair bonds. Lucky for us, Cal and Laura seem to have just the right chemistry—and dance moves—for parenting success!

The hatching of these chicks is a reflection of the good care provided by Woodland Park Zoo staff and of the strong pair bond between the two adult white-naped cranes. Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo 
“This is such a significant hatching and a symbol of hope for the vulnerable species,” said Mark Myers, bird curator at Woodland Park Zoo. “The successful breeding and hatching are attributed to the bond between the parents, the quality of their habitat, and the expert day-to-day care and dedication provided by our animal keepers. We’re very proud of our team and our new parents.”

Both crane chicks can now be seen in the Temperate Forest exhibit area. You can usually spot them sticking close to their parents. Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo
Given the delicate nature of what it takes to form a bond between birds, plus the continued loss of suitable habitat throughout the world, it’s not surprising to learn that cranes are one of the most endangered families of birds. White-naped cranes—which can grow to more than 4 feet tall—are native to northern Mongolia, southern Siberia, Korea, Japan and central China. It is the only crane species with pinkish legs and a dark gray and white striped neck. The back of its neck, including the top of the head and the nape, are white and its eyes are surrounded by a distinctive red face patch.

These two white-naped crane chicks provide hope for the future of their species. Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo
Woodland Park Zoo works with Conservation Partners Muraviovka Park in Russia’s Amur River Basin and the International Crane Foundation—protecting critical habitats for several species of threatened and endangered cranes including the white-naped crane.

The two white-naped crane chicks are growing fast! Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo
Come see and celebrate the white-naped crane chicks at Wild Asia: Asian Wildlife Conservation Day event, Saturday, August 10, 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Learn how to make choices and take actions to help save cranes, Malayan tigers, greater one-horned rhinos, orangutans, tree kangaroos and other endangered species native to Asia.