HOMMAGE to the LAST WHOOPING CRANE IN COLORADO
For 18 years, one lone male Whooping Crane had flown with a large flock of Sandhill
Cranes that migrated back to the Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge in Southern Colorado
every spring from their wintering grounds in Texas. He never had a mate.
Several years ago on the 10 o'clock news between some mass murder and another car
wreck I heard a 10 second bite about this beloved Whooping Crane that did not come
back that spring. The end of a species in Colorado got no more attention than that.
I loved this bird and followed the stories about him for years. He was magic to me. He
was so famous down there that his much larger-than-life image, I found out later, is
painted on the side of a giant concrete silo outside of Monte Vista. When I heard the
news of his passing, I wept. I have always loved birds and have been a collector of
feathers-often road kill-for many years. I became obsessed with thinking of this bird: did
he die of a heart attack and fall from the sky or just lay down one night with his adopted
family and not wake up. I had dreams of him at night, of finding his feathers. Finally one
night I dreamed of him rising up, like the Phoenix, his spirit flying through the clouds to
a heavenly place. I knew I had to make an art piece honoring him and the last remaining
birds of his species which number only about 470 in the world right now--up from 16
back in 1941-42 when they were hunted to near extinction.
This collector's/jewelry box is that honoring piece. I wanted to portray him happy-they
are known to break out into spontaneous, hopping, wing flapping dance. I made him with
a family, as it should have been. The silver leaf lining the lid is symbolic of his spirit
rising up through the silvery clouds. And then the last footprint in the sand, symbolizing
the question for all of us: are they a dying species or is there hope for their future, and for
Currently there is only one self-sustaining population of migrating Whooping Cranes in
North America. They breed in Wood Buffalo NP in the Northwest Territories, Canada
and winter in Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in Texas.
While past attempts to establish Whoopers in Idaho failed, there are currently two
projects in the country that are re-establishing Whooping Crane populations. One of
these established flocks is a permanent, non-migrating, population in Florida close to
their historical grounds. Another flock has been established in central WI, at the Necedah
NWR. To re-establish a migration route that has genetically been lost, chicks are
conditioned to follow an ultralight aircraft from Necedah, 1200 miles, to Chassahowitzka
NWR in Florida. They return on their own in spring. As of 2006, this Whooping Crane
population had reached 60, with a world total of wild and captive birds at 470.
Whooping Cranes are the largest flying birds in North America, standing 5" tall,
weighing 14-17 lbs. with a 7-8' wing span. They are pure white except for black primary
wing tips and a red crested head. A black feathered streak comes off their bill which is
greenish-yellow in color. Chicks are born with blue eyes that change to golden yellow as
Go online to the International Crane Foundation to learn more.