NEOSHO–Jeff Richards was hunting deer north of Neosho Monday night when he heard what he thought might be an injured hunter calling for help. When he went to investigate, he was amazed to find a pair of whooping cranes.
Whooping cranes are endangered, with fewer than 500 left in the wild. They also are spectacular, with wingspans exceeding 7 feet, white bodies and striking red-black-and-white heads. In addition to being a hunter, Richards apparently is a naturalist, too. He knew immediately what he was seeing and called the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) office in Neosho with the news.
Jeff Cantrell, a conservation education consultant for the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) hurried to the site and was stunned to find an adult crane and a juvenile with a leg band and a radio transmitter. The two birds were feeding contentedly in a crop field amid Canada geese and crows.
“I got to watch them for an hour or so and share the observations with some avid and budding birders in the area,” said Cantrell. “What a wonderful opportunity for everyone. We witnessed lots of fascinating parental behavior, foraging, and some hopping/dancing almost. When they flew off in the mid-morning they finally called for us. It was truly a heart stirring moment.”
Whooping crane sightings have been a rarity in Missouri for more than a century. MDC has records of two separate sightings of a single bird at Mingo National Wildlife Refuge in 1958, a pair in Jackson County in 1970 and another single bird at Stockton Lake in 1996. The most recent sighting was of a group of four to eight whooping cranes mixed in with a flock of sandhill cranes in Bates County in October 2010.
MDC asks that anyone who sees a whooping crane report it to the nearest MDC office.