Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



White-Naped Cranes

April 23, 2013

SCBI-Front Royal is celebrating the hatching of a white-naped crane chick! The biological parents of the chick, Alex and Amanda, were unable to breed naturally because Amanda was hand-raised and is partially imprinted (socially bonded) with people. Both birds are genetically valuable, so SCBI scientists performed an artificial insemination. They then transferred the egg to the care another crane pair, Brenda and Eddie, who had successfully raised chicks years ago. This chick hatched April 14, and keepers report that Brenda and Eddie have proven to be excellent surrogate parents.

Sixteen white-naped cranes currently reside at SCBI-Front Royal—more than 20 percent of the North American captive population. Thirteen chicks have hatched in the past 8 years.


On May 12 and 14, 2010, two rare white-naped cranes hatched at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) in Front Royal, Virginia.

The biological parents of these chicks are named Amanda and James. Amanda and James imprinted on people as chicks and had not bred successfully before they arrived at SCBI. However, Amanda was already paired with a crane named Alex. Since cranes mate for life, we would not separate the established pair. Instead we used artificial insemination to breed Amanda and James. Since Amanda and Alex had never raised chicks before, we left them with one fertile egg and gave the second fertile egg to a more experienced pair of cranes named Abigail and Ray.

The 2010 hatches bring SCBI’s white-naped crane flock to 12 birds, which is 20 percent of the entire captive flock in North America. SCBI has also produced seven chicks in the last five years, which is the most production of any zoo. All of those chicks came from adults other zoos were unable to breed.

December 2010: The Cranes in Winter

Crane with a snowy bill.

Cal and Bill turned seven months old this December, and they are thriving. Though they still stay close to their parents, both juveniles have become more confident and will now approach their keepers for treats. Their wild counterparts would now be migrating south for the winter. It is thought that the shortening days of fall alert the cranes to instinctively begin their migration. Wild cranes need extra muscle and reserves for their migration and they will begin to eat more food prior to beginning their journey.

A life in captivity does not stop our captive cranes from responding to the changing day lengths and putting on weight prior to their natural migration periods. Wild white-naped cranes migrate from their breeding grounds in China, Mongolia, and Russia to their wintering grounds in southeastern China, Japan, and the Korean Demilitarized Zone. Migration is a perilous time for cranes, which must travel thousands of miles while contending with habitat loss, human disturbance, illegal shooting, and predators.

Cal and Bill will stay outside during winter because their species is well adapted to the cold and snow that they encounter on their wintering range in the wild. When we get a significant snowfall our cranes need pathways shoveled throughout their pens. Cal and Bill will stay with their parents until early next year. Wild cranes are forced out of their parents’ territory before the spring breeding season and then begin flocking together with cohorts of the same age. Since they were not raised together, we will initially house the two brothers in adjacent pens to monitor their compatibility. Because they are the same age we expect them to get along well and be able to live together in the same pen. Once they’re old enough, both males will be paired with females either here at SCBI Front Royal or at other zoos to help conserve their species through captive breeding. White-naped cranes are a critically endangered species and Cal and Bill have a bright future saving their species.


Read past updates