For the first time, a pair of endangered whooping cranes have produced a chick in captivity without the help of humans.
The rare bird was born April 27 at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel and has grown to 3 1/2 feet and 8 pounds, officials of the center said yesterday.
The birth announcement was delayed until the center was sure the chick would survive.
Coaxing the whooping cranes to reproduce naturally in captivity has been difficult, because researchers haven't known what the birds need for normal mating, said Kathleen O'Malley, an animal caretaker who is raising the newborn.
Researchers speculate that pens large enough to accommodate crane-size wingspan made the difference for this couple.
By the 1950s, hunters had depleted the population of whooping cranes to only 15 to 17 in the United States and Canada. In addition, their natural habitat -- marsh lands -- were being dried up and used for farming. But today there are about 150 "whoopers" in the wild and about 50 in captivity. The Patuxent center has 35, which have been producing chicks with artificial insemination since 1975.
The new whooping crane will be released into the wild in November or December in Florida.