N.W.T. whooping crane death investigated

An investigation is underway is see if the death of a whooping crane was caused by an injury sustained when researchers tagged the bird earlier this summer.

Juvenile bird sustained a cut while being captured by researchers

Whooping cranes migrate to N.W.T.'s Wood Buffalo National Park from the southern United States. (Kathy Willens/Associated Press)

An investigation is underway to find if a whooping crane in Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories died because of an injury it received while being tagged for research.

The manager of resource conservation in the park, Stuart Macmillan, said the whooping crane was injured when researchers captured it earlier this summer.

Whooping cranes are an endangered species and there are only 300 of the birds in the wild.

Over the past three years, juvenile whooping cranes in the park have been captured and fitted with transmitters for monitoring. Researchers tagged the bird with a telemetry device meant to track its migration route from Wood Buffalo park to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas.

"It suffered a laceration under its beak and this occurred during the part of the process that the team on the ground is approaching the crane and trying to capture it," Macmillan said.

"As you'd expect, a crane chick that can't fly will try to run away and evade capture and we think it was during this time it created this laceration on its lower mandibles with one of its claws," he said.

The researchers said a veterinarian administered antibiotics at the site and the crane exhibited natural behaviour after it was released.

Macmillan said it was a couple of days later while tracking the bird that they noticed it had stopped moving.

"We went out with helicopters, recovered the body of the crane and then we sent it to the Canadian Co-operative Wildlife Health Centre in Saskatoon," he said.

"And that's where a pathologist will examine the crane and hopefully will be able to determine what exactly contributed to the crane's death."

If it did die because of injuries it sustained during capture, Macmillan said Parks Canada will review its protocols.

This is the final year of the program to tag and track the birds.