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Record number of whooping crane chicks born this year in Wood Buffalo National Park

A record 63 whooping crane chicks were born in Wood Buffalo National Park this year — an encouraging sign for conservationists who continue to monitor the rare birds' long, slow climb back from near-extinction.

4 sets of twins included in record 63 chicks this year, up from previous high of 49

A photo from the 2017 fledgling survey shows a pair of whooping crane twins, which sport a brownish hue. The pair was one of four sets of twins born this season. (Parks Canada/J. McKinnon)

A record 63 whooping crane chicks were born in Wood Buffalo National Park this year — an encouraging sign for conservationists who continue to monitor the rare bird's long, slow climb back from near-extinction.

The impressive birth rate blows away the previous high of 49 fledglings, set during the 2006 season.

Sharon Irwin, a resource management officer with Parks Canada, said that hopes were high during a spring survey when they found 98 nests. The fledgling count is done later in the summer during a flyover, where spotters search for fledglings near where the nests were pinpointed earlier.

"We had high hopes that the conditions would stay good over the summer," said Irwin. "I guess it was probably after day two of the survey — we had really good numbers — that we realized we were going to beat the record."

Four sets of twins were born during this season, the highest number since 2010. Multiple chicks from the same nest often don't survive in one birthing season, due to the scarcity of resources. 

"It means that conditions were good, that there's plenty of food," Irwin said. "The ponds were full in the spring, and when we went out there in early August they looked pretty normal."

Though Irwin is pleased with the progress the crane population has made in Wood Buffalo, she said that there are "lots of hurdles" to overcome for the fledglings to make it through their first year, including a fall migration to Texas. 

"There's lots of development down there," she said. "Hopefully there's room for them."

However, she said she believes Wood Buffalo National Park — the largest national park in Canada — offers lessons for governments looking to protect endangered species.

"We need more large protected areas like that to ensure rare species like this can survive," she said. "Even more common species."

with files from Joanne Stassen, Loren McGinnis

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