LDWF reminds hunters to watch for Whooping Cranes

The following is a press release from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries News:

Nov. 10, 2011 -- As waterfowl hunters prepare for opening day of the regular duck season in the West Zone this Saturday, and the East Zone on Nov. 19, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) reminds them to be alert for some new residents in our marshes and fields.

In February, 10 juvenile whooping cranes were released at White Lake Wetland Conservation Area as the first step in re-establishing a self-sustaining whooping crane population in southwest Louisiana.  Four of those original birds have survived, and another 16 whooping cranes are scheduled to be released in early-December of this year.

Although the original 10 birds were released in Vermilion Parish, the birds have frequently inhabited surrounding parishes including Acadia, Cameron, Calcasieu, Jefferson Davis, St. Martin and Evangeline, and have roamed over an area reaching from southeast Texas to West Feliciana Parish.

With the duck and goose season opening in most of these areas, local hunters should welcome the opportunity to see this magnificent bird while hunting, and as always, "positively identify your target before you shoot."  Although whooping cranes in Louisiana are considered an "experimental, non-essential population" under the Endangered Species Act, they are still protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and can NOT be pursued, harassed, captured, or killed.

Waterfowl hunters should be accustomed to seeing large-bodied, white birds with black wing-tips, such as white ibis, white pelicans, and wood storks, which must be distinguished from the legally-hunted snow geese.  Whooping cranes are equally identifiable as they stand at an impressive 5 feet and have a wingspan of 7-8 feet. Easily identifiable characteristics of whooping cranes in flight include black wing tips and fully extended neck and legs. Photos of the cranes can be seen on the LDWF website at http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/wildlife/whooping-cranes.

Southwest Louisiana was once an important part of the whooping crane's winter range, and until the mid-twentieth century, was the home of the last resident whooping crane population.  The reintroduction of whooping cranes is a long-term commitment by LDWF with the goal of establishing at least 130 individuals, including 30 nesting pairs; basically a population capable of surviving for 10 years without additional restocking.

LDWF asks experienced hunters to take the time in the field to educate young hunters and improve their target identification skills to distinguish game birds from non-game birds.  A whooping crane sighting can add to the outdoor experience for outdoorsmen and women of all ages and hunter vigilance can assist the department's efforts to restore this unique species in southwestern Louisiana.

For more information on LDWF's whooping crane re-introduction, contact Sara Zimorski at 337-536-7292 or szimorski@wlf.la.gov.