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Whooping Cranes and Celebration of Lights at the Wildlife Park in December

By Susan Strawbridge Posted on November 30, 2017

Whooping cranes will be highlighted during the month of December at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Later in the month, The Celebration of Lights will feature a spectacular, synchronized light and sound display in the Garden of the Springs by Sebastian Hawes.

The Endangered Whooping cranes

The Park is currently home to a pair of Whooping cranes, Peepers and Levi, who live in a natural habitat with a pond surrounded by grassy banks.

Wanda Easton, from Tampa will present an Operation Migration program on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017 at 1:00 pm in the Florida Room at the park’s Visitor Center located on US 19 in Homosassa Springs. She will discuss Operation Migration and their partnership with several government and non-profit organizations to form the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP). Under the WCEP umbrella these organizations work together to safeguard the rarest crane in the world. Easton has been a supporter of Operation Migration for many years and has worked with Whooping Cranes as a docent at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo.

Costumed humans help juvenile Whooping Cranes in Operation Migration. Image courtesy of Operation Migration.

The magnificent Whooping crane (grus Americana) is North America’s tallest bird measuring 52 inches tall with a wingspan of 87 inches, and a weight of 12.8 pounds. They can live 20 to 25 years in the wild.

The Whooping crane is considerably larger than the more common Sandhill crane. Its distinctive white plumage is accented with black primaries, a bright red crown, and a heavy, dull yellow-colored bill. Juveniles are white with a rusty red head and neck and have rusty red feathers over the rest of their bodies.

Whooping cranes are also one of the most endangered birds in North America. In 1941, only 15 individual cranes remained on the Texas coast, but through conservation and management programs this flock has slowly increased to over 150 individuals.

American ornithologist and environmentalist Robert Porter Allen achieved worldwide attention for his rescue operations of the Whooping crane in the 1940s and 1950s. Public education along with management and protection programs are resulting in increasing populations in Idaho and in Florida.

The Operation Migration program is currently leading this year’s seven young Whooping cranes from Wisconsin to Florida following ultralight aircraft with costumed pilots.

Whooping Crane 06 by Ralph Bischoff
Whooping Cranes perform elaborate mating dances. Image courtesy of Ralph Bischoff.

Whooping cranes perform elaborate displays to attract mates. Both males and females jump up and down, bobbing their heads, flapping their wings and calling loudly. They are also excellent flyers using wind and thermal gusts. If they catch a strong gust of wind, they can glide on it for a distance without flapping their wings.

Their song is a piercing trumpet-like ker-loo ker-lee-loo. It can be heard for more than 2 miles. This volume is possible as a result of a 5-foot-long trachea coiled within the keel of the breast bone.

The Whooping crane’s diet consists of fish, frogs, small mammals, mollusks, crustaceans, corn, other grains, as well as, roots of water plants. These birds favor marshy habitats and travel in family groups.

Christmas Celebration of Lights begins December 19

Celebration of Lights at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is an annual holiday event. For 2017, there will be a synchronized light show to music. All funds benefit the Friends of Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park organization. Image courtesy of Joe Dube.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, along with the Friends of Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park, will host its annual Christmas Celebration of Lights, a nine-evening event, from Tuesday, Dec. 19 through Christmas Eve, Sunday, Dec. 24, and again on Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2017. The park will open at 5:30 p.m. on these evenings and remain open until 9 p.m. The Celebration of Lights will be closed on the evening of Monday, December 25, 2017.

The Celebration of Lights will feature a spectacular, synchronized light and sound display in the Garden of the Springs by Sebastian Hawes. Nills Anderson and Vicky Iozzia will host and present special appearances by our nightly entertainment. Holiday lights, decorations, music and refreshments will create the perfect setting for this holiday wonderland. The Wildside Café will be offering a selection of refreshments. The Friends of Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park, Inc. will also be selling popcorn in the Garden of the Springs.

A donation of $5 for adults and $2 for children ages three through 12 is suggested. Children age two and under are admitted free. For our visitors’ convenience, transportation will be provided by tram from the Visitor Center parking lot on U.S. 19 to the West entrance on Fishbowl Drive. For more information, call the park office at (352) 628-5343, Mondays through Fridays.

We have a lot planned for December, and you are encouraged to visit Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park to learn more about the endangered Whooping cranes and enjoy our events.

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