LAUREL, Md. - Thanks to a local team of scientists, one of nature's treasures that was on the brink of extinction now has a fighting chance at survival.
The whooping crane, the rarest of all cranes and America's tallest bird, is the focus of a long-term project at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Maryland
"They stand about 5 feet high when fully grown," explains research manager John French.
Whooping cranes have white bodies, black tips on their wings, bright red coloring on the tops of their heads and yellow eyes.
"They are beautiful birds, very striking," French says.
The birds are native to North America. At one point there were fewer than 20 in existence.
"We figure there were something like three or four breeding females only," French explains.
The whooping crane conservation project that French oversees is the largest of its kind in the nation.
For decades, scientists have worked to breed and raise them on a sprawling chunk of land in Laurel, surrounded by thick, lush trees.
"One of the programs involves teaching these birds how to migrate," says French. "It's wonderful to see them out in the wild when they're reintroduced."
Today, there are about 500 whooping cranes in the world.
That is a big improvement, however there is still a lot of work to be done.
"They're still almost extinct," says French. "We're nowhere near out of the woods yet for this population in the wild."
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