Program that started in 1967 to restore population of bird involved a young student whose columns you can read here every week

The lead sentence says it all for most folks. 

“The largest captive breeding program for Whooping Cranes (Grus americana) is closing after 51 years.” 

But I guess I am not most folks, because the closing of this “project” means much more to me. You see, I was there at the very beginning.

I began my higher education at West Virginia University in the fall of 1965. During the spring and summer of 1967 I applied for and was hired as a “summer temp” employee at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, and was assigned to the “A-Farm” area. I had no idea what that was, but soon found out it was a cutting edge research facility with a mission of saving many species of wildlife that were threatened with extinction.

Wow! When I stepped through the gate at the A-Farm that first day I was overwhelmed. There were scores of sandhill cranes in nearby pens, a giant cage full of snail kites, another ever bigger cage with a dozen or so Andean condors, and several smaller pens housing masked bobwhite quail, and then another large cage filled with a half-dozen bald eagles.

I was in heaven.

Then, just a few weeks after my arrival, a special shipment arrived. Twelve large whitish eggs were placed in incubators in a special building. And the first whooping cranes, in the first captive breeding project for these magnificent birds, soon hatched. 

There were only 42 whoopers alive in the wild in the entire world at that time. Critically endangered hardly described their situation. But we were going to do our best to see that they survived as a species. And today there are approximately 442 birds in the wild and 161 in captivity across the U.S. That, in my opinion, is real success, all things considered.

Today the captive breeding flock at the Patuxent facility has 75 adults which form at least 29 breeding pairs. Approximately 40 eggs are laid each year by the flock. The biological technicians at Patuxent raise 30 chicks a year, the majority of which join the non-migratory flock in Louisiana.

But this project is now obsolete. Other breeding projects across the country are enjoying far better success. So the funding for this $1.5 million program has been cut from the Fiscal Year 2018 Federal budget. Officials are confident that, even with the closing of this program, the species recovery will continue.

This captive flock will be moved to a variety of different locations, and breeding programs will continue at those locations. The whooping crane propagation program was part of a broader public-private initiative in the United States and has been used as a model of wildlife restoration for threatened and endangered species.

That is why I have included this information here. I am proud to say that I was there at the beginning back in 1967.

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The DEC has put out suggestions for preventing conflicts between people and coyotes. Since just about anyone could encounter this kind of situation in just about any environment from urban and suburban to very rural, these tips are worth reviewing. 

The trouble is that conflicts with people and pets may develop as they forage almost constantly to provide food for their young. 

It is a troublesome fact that the eastern coyote, which enjoys six months of total protection in this state, is now found just about everywhere in NY from rural farmlands and forests to populated suburban and urban areas. Fortunately, coyotes try to avoid people as much as possible.

It is important that the coyotes’ natural fear of people be maintained, so here are those tips:

Watch all outdoor pets and keep them safe from coyotes and other wildlife, especially at sunset and at night. Small dogs and cats are especially vulnerable to coyotes. 

It is a good idea to remove brush and tall grass from around a home to reduce protective cover for coyotes. They are typically secretive and like areas where they can hide and watch for potential food. 

It is also a good idea to remove unintentional food sources that would attract coyotes and other wildlife such as garbage, pet food, and even bird seed. 

And remember that, if you do have a coyote problem, contact your local police department and/or a DEC regional office for assistance. This is especially important if you notice that a coyote is exhibiting “bold” or aggressive behavior and appears to have little or no fear of humans. 

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This next item is a little sensitive, and a little tricky, and downright embarrassing to write about. But it also points up the ridiculous lengths some “researchers” will go to (or stoop to) in order to keep on receiving their own paychecks. This also proves they have no shame if you ask me.

First of all, did you know that most birds have no genitalia? That sure is news to me, but it is clearly stated in a new study from an article from the prestigious magazine, “The Auk.” However, also according to that article, male ducks are known for their long, spiraling (wee-wees), which have evolved through an ongoing cat-and-mouse game with females. (Hey folks, I can’t make this stuff up.)

Here is the bottom line. The article “looks at whether these impressive organs are affected by the social environment — that is, whether male ducks that face more competition from other males who grow bigger (wee-wees). While this appears to be true for some species, in others the relationship between social environment and (wee-wee) growth is more complex.”

The article continues with, “Patricia Brennan of Mount Holyoke College and her colleagues tested their hypothesis in two species: Ruddy Ducks, which are very promiscuous, do not form pair bonds, and have relatively long (wee-wees), and Lesser Scaup, which form seasonal pair bonds and have relatively short (wee-wees).”

Enough of this malarkey, and I won’t bore you with their “scientific findings.” Suffice it to say that whoever paid for this study did not get their money’s worth. 

And I still do not care how long a duck’s (wee-wee) is, socially or otherwise.

Len Lisenbee is the Daily Messenger’s Outdoor Columnist. Contact him at