By Ben Orcutt - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- The white-naped crane breeding program at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute continues to thrive with the recent hatching of two chicks.
The rare chicks were born on May 12 and May 14 at the CBI's 3,200-acre campus just south of Front Royal. Formerly known as the Conservation Research Center, the CBI operates under the auspices of the National Zoo with a purpose of protecting and preserving endangered species.
CBI bird keeper Chris Crowe said Wednesday that the new white-naped chicks were born to the same parents, 21-year-old Amanda, who was artificially inseminated, and a 17-year-old male white-naped crane that doesn't have a name.
Crowe, 34, said it is especially rewarding "just seeing us get a chick from birds other zoos weren't able to breed. The parents were sent here specifically to us so we could do [artificial insemination] and breed them. Once they reach maturity at 2 or 3 years of age, they'll be paired with other birds to mate and they'll either be sent to another zoo, or we will receive potential mates for them."
White-naped cranes are indigenous to Asia, China, Russia and Mongolia, with only about 5,000 in the wild, Crowe said.
"Within the U.S., there's 60 total white-naped cranes," he said.
The CBI has six pair of adult male and female white-naped cranes, Crowe said. Over the past eight years, the CBI has been successful in producing nine chicks through artificial insemination.
The new arrivals are being raised by different adult pairs.
"One of the pairs is experienced and the other one, it's their first time, so we did have to watch them closely and make sure they would take proper care of it and luckily they did," Crowe said.
The parents take care of feeding the young, Crowe added.
"We give them extra food," he said. "We cut up baby mice and worms in pieces that we give throughout the day to the parents and the parents will feed the chick on their own. So we just make sure they have enough to feed them."
Crowe said it will be a while before the sex of the chicks can be determined.
"What we'll have to do in a few weeks is just take a blood sample, and that'll get sent away for DNA, and that'll tell us the gender," he said.
The white-naped cranes normally can fly, but those at the CBI are held in check.
"What we do to prevent them from escaping is trim the feathers on one of their wings just to keep them off balance enough so that they can still mate because the male has to balance on top of the female, but they can't just take off and fly off," Crowe said.
A white-naped crane can grow to be about 5 feet tall, Crowe added.
"They're very pretty birds," he said. "They're very charismatic. They do a lot of displays. The courtship consists of dancing and jumping up and down. They're just very attractive birds to be around."
Crowe said he feels he's developed a bond with the white-naped cranes that he's been entrusted to care for.
"I think over the years they've gotten to know me and they do feel comfortable around me, but when they have chicks, they don't let me get too close. It takes a lot of observation to see if they're breeding and to watch their behavior. Most of the time it's mowing and weed eating, but just a lot observation and a lot of patience."