Rare crane hatched at Smithsonian Institute

A hooded crane chick recently hatched at The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal. The crane's sex will be determined in the near future and is one of only 26 hooded cranes in captivity. Courtesy photo

The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal has successfully hatched a hooded crane chick. The species is native to Northern Asia and Southern Russia with fewer than 8,000 surviving in the wild, said Chris Crowe, crane keeper at the institute. The chick was hatched on June 14 but was made public Thursday after biologists were sure it would survive.

The crane’s hatching, which was done by way of artificial insemination due to an injury to his father, means there are now 26 hooded cranes living in captivity. The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute first received their breeding hooded cranes in 2011.

“We do artificial insemination,” Crowe said. “The wild ones breed fine, it’s just an issue of captive ones. Since there were so few in captivity in the United States, we acquired the species in 2011 to try to build up the captive populations.”

Crowe explained that the 26 captive hooded cranes are part of the species survival plan, in which a captive population would be released into the wild should the wild population of the animal disappear. Crowe said this program exists for all endangered species, including the hooded crane whose numbers are dangerously low due to habitat loss. The habitat that is most threatened is the migratory crane’s wintering grounds in Japan.

“The main habitat they’re losing is the wintering habitat. In Japan they have artificial feeding stations to make sure the cranes have enough food to survive.”

The hooded crane is one of 15 crane species in the world. They grow to be roughly three feet tall and are omnivorous, feeding on a mixture of fish, seeds plants and some small mammals, Crowe said.

The chick, the sex of which will be determined via blood test in the next few weeks, will be used to further the program that led to its birth once it reaches the proper age.

“When it’s able to breed at two or three years of age, it will be paired up with another bird for breeding,” Crowe said. “We don’t know yet if it will stay here or go to another facility or not.”

Contact staff writer Nathan Budryk at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or nbudryk@nvdaily.com