Los Angeles Times

Rare crane couples caught on camera hatching, losing eggs


A wetland nature reserve in northeast China's Heilongjia­ng Province on Sunday released the rare footages of two separate hooded crane couples, recording their life from hatching to losing the eggs.

Located on the northweste­rn side of the Lesser Khingan Mountains Forest Region, the Dazhan River Wetland National Nature Reserve is home to many large waders, including the hooded crane.

The hooded crane is a wild species under first-level state protection, listed on China's red list of endangered animal species. It is evaluated as "vulnerable" on the Internatio­nal Union for Conservati­on of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

Researcher­s set up infrared cameras in the woods to record the life of hooded crane couples. One of the crane couples settled in a part of the nature reserve and laid two eggs. In the footage, the couple would accompany each other every day and hatch alternatel­y. If it went well, they would meet their newborns for the current year in 30 days, during which the parents had to protect their eggs from various kinds of vicious neighbors.

"Animals like the roe deer would just glance and pass by the crane nest. And birds like the yellow wagtails, who usually have a family with several babies, would take their little birds away and leave without disturbing the cranes when passing by. These are good neighbors," said Guo Yumin, professor with Beijing Forestry University.

However, the camera later recorded heartbroke­n scenes when the little eggs became an easy meal for a brown bear, leaving a mess and empty eggshells for the poor couple. Sad story had also happened to another hooded crane couple in the reserve, whose two eggs were eaten by a cunning crow, the notorious killer of bird eggs in the forest.

"As soon as the adult cranes move away a little, the crows would fly down and peck the eggs. When the cranes found that the eggs are no longer hatchable, they will give them up and leave further away. That's when the small-billed crows would peck the eggs into pieces and eat them up," Guo said.

Guo explained that in nature, one of the main reasons for the slow growth of the crane population is the harassment of their vicious neighbors during their growth process, even with the protection of human beings.

"About 20 years ago, the total number of hooded cranes was 9,100. The population has increased to 16,000 or 17,000, almost two times that of two decades ago. But the growth is still very slow, to be honest," Guo said.

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