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14 young whooping cranes making a new home in Louisiana; experimental flock now up to 40

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GUEYDAN, Louisiana — Fourteen young whooping cranes have a new home in Vermilion Parish as part of an ongoing project to re-establish the endangered bird in the marshes of southwest Louisiana.

The cranes, raised at facilities in Maryland and Wisconsin, were delivered Thursday to their new home at the White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area near Gueydan.

The only natural and self-sustaining wild flock of whooping cranes migrates between Texas and Canada. Another flock has been taught to migrate between Wisconsin and Florida. This flock is planned to stay year-round in southwest Louisiana.

The new birds bring the wild flock in Louisiana to 40 birds, the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries said.

"As we prepare to enter year five of this project, I encourage the public to continue to support our biologists in this effort by observing these birds from a distance and reporting any sightings of injured birds or anyone attempting to harm them in any way," Secretary Robert Barham said in a news release Friday. "We are fortunate to have a number of private landowners who have assisted us by working with our staff when the cranes roost on their property and I thank them for their participation."

Whooping cranes disappeared from the Louisiana landscape by 1950, the victim of habitat loss and hunting. The last sightings of the cranes in Louisiana were in the White Lake area, where a project began in 2011 to reintroduce one of the rarest and largest birds in the world, growing up to 5 feet tall with a 7-foot wingspan.

A total of 64 cranes have been brought to Louisiana since the project began, but 24 have died, some from predators and others from bullets.

"We are pretty pleased with the survival," Sara Zimorski, a biologist with the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, told The Advocate (http://bit.ly/15TwH9C).

Some of the birds from earlier introductions are just now reaching the age where they might reproduce, she said.

"I think this will be an interesting spring because we have several pairs that could produce eggs," Zimorski said.

A pair of cranes laid eggs earlier this year — the first documented in the Louisiana wild in seven decades — but the eggs were not fertile.

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