Whooping Crane 06 by Joe Bischoff

Whooping Cranes @ the Wildlife Park

Whooping cranes will be highlighted during the month of December at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. 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.

The Park will be presenting a Wildlife Jeopardy program on Whooping cranes on Saturday, December 17, 2016 from 12:00 pm to 12:30 pm in the Park’s Discovery Center (formerly called the Children’s Education Center). This program is   presented by Barbara Cairns. She uses a 20-question format and invites visitors, young and old alike, to test their knowledge about this endangered species. Her goal is to have each person learn at least one new thing about Whooping cranes. Hand-outs will be provided.

Barbara Cairns presents Wildlife Jeopardy monthly at the park. This month will feature Whooping Cranes.

Park admission applies. Displays on Whooping cranes will be on exhibit in the Park’s Visitor Center on US 19 and in the Discovery Center throughout the month. Special activities on this species will also be available all month in the Discovery Center.

Wanda Easton from Tampa, Florida will present an Operation Migration program on Thursday, December 22, 2016 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 this 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.

Whopping Crane 04 by Ralph Bischoff.

The Endangered Whooping Crane

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.

Closeup of a Whooping Crane by Ralph Bischoff.

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 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 ride 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.

Celebration of Lights at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is an annual holiday event. For 2016, there will be a synchronized lights how 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 Saturday, Dec. 17 through Christmas Eve, Saturday, Dec. 24, and again on Monday, Dec. 26, 2016. 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 Sunday, December 25, 2016.

The Celebration of Lights will feature a spectacular, synchronized light and sound display in the Garden of the Springs by Sebastian Hawes. Joe Dube 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.

Christmas Lights 2010, 007, © William Garvin

A donation of $5 for adults and $2 for children ages six through 12 is suggested. Children age five 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) 628-5445, ext. 1002, Mondays through Fridays. As you can see, we have a lot planned for December, and we encourage you to visit Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park and learn more about the endangered Whooping cranes and enjoy our events. For more information on these events and exhibits, please call Susan Strawbridge at (352) 628-5445, ext. 1002.