African crane draws stares on Whidbey Island

Pam Headridge submitted the best of several pictures of the grey crowned African crane seen recently on Whidbey Island. - Photo courtesy of Pam Headridge
Pam Headridge submitted the best of several pictures of the grey crowned African crane seen recently on Whidbey Island.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Pam Headridge

Bird watchers and some North Whidbey residents have been a little dumbfounded by a recent visitor to Dugualla Bay Heights.

A grey crowned crane, a spectacular 3-foot-tall bird originating in Africa, has been spotted in the lagoon area, sometimes hanging out with Canadian geese. A number of people have sent photos of the stately creature to the Whidbey News-Times.

“It’s definitely out of place,” said Steve Ellis, Whidbey Audubon president.

Ellis explained that exotic birds from Asia have accidentally found their way to Whidbey in the past, but there’s no way that a crane native to Uganda could have ended up on an island in the middle of Puget Sound without help. He said the bird may have escaped from a sanctuary somewhere, or perhaps it was someone’s pet. There’s a rumor that someone on Whidbey had a pair of cranes.

The crane obviously found a food source in the wilds of Whidbey. Yet Ellis said the biggest threat the crane may have to face is the upcoming cold weather. He said he’s not sure whether it will be able to survive.

Still, Ellis said people should probably just leave the bird alone to give it the best shot at pulling through.

According to the International Crane Foundation website, the grey crowned crane lives over a large range in eastern and southern Africa. The species remains common over much of its historic range, but faces increasing threats to its habitat.

Crowned cranes also lived in North America and Europe during the Eocene period. But they are not cold hardy, so it is believed that they only survived in African as the earth cooled.

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