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Two Rare Crane Hatchings at the Smithsonian Mark a Victory for Science and Conservation

Two rare white-naped crane chicks hatched at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Va., May 12 and 14. The hatchings of the two chicks validate the National Zoo’s continued success in breeding some of the most genetically valuable cranes in the North American White-Naped Crane Species Survival Plan.

“Both hatchings give a much-needed boost to the captive population of the endangered species,” said Chris Crowe, bird keeper at SCBI. “The Zoo has produced more offspring than any other institution, in the past eight years, and we are truly committed to advancing the species.”

SCBI bird staff specializes in producing offspring from cranes with behavioral or physical impediments to natural breeding. Four of the last five white-naped cranes sent to the Front Royal campus were older birds with behavioral or physical problems, which meant other zoos were unable to successfully breed them. In two cases, SCBI received the most genetically valuable white-naped cranes in captivity. 

The biological mother of both chicks was artificially inseminated after she laid her first eggs at the end of March. The eggs that successfully hatched were laid April 10 and 13. The incubation period ranges from 28 to 32 days. The first chick hatched on day 31 and the second on day 32.
SCBI has successfully produced 9 genetically valuable white-naped crane chicks in the past eight years as a result of artificial insemination.

The first chick is being raised by an experienced pair of white-naped cranes, and the second chick is being raised by first-time parents that include the biological mother.

The Zoo’s science and conservation efforts have directly increased the genetic viability of the white-naped crane captive population by capturing genes that otherwise would have been lost forever. Due to the expertise of the Zoo’s staff to preselect the gender of the chicks, the sex ratio in the population is no longer skewed. As a direct result of being able to selectively produce only females over the past several years, under the Species Survival Plan, no egg sexing on this year’s eggs was required. The gender of both chicks is unknown at this time. 

White-naped cranes are large birds that typically stand 4 feet high and weigh about 12 pounds. They are mostly dark-grey with a white hind neck. Destruction of its native wetland habitat in Asia (China, Russia and Korea) has dramatically decreased white-naped crane populations in the wild to an estimated 5,000. SCBI currently has 12 cranes; there are approximately 60 cranes in the North American White-Naped Crane Species Survival Plan.