These four chicks join a 95-crane-strong flock, only the second time in the program's history that captive-reared birds have become part of a migratory group. Childless wild birds will naturally take these chicks under their wing, the USGS conservation biologists say, and will lead the adopted chicks south during the October migration.
There are about 550 whooping cranes left, with roughly a quarter of those in captivity. Earlier in September, conservation groups sued the U.S. State Department over the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would cut through the whooping cranes' migratory path in Central America. Beyond habitat degradation, these birds are occasionally shot, despite their endangered species protection.
But all whooping crane news hasn't been so bleak: In April, wild whooping cranes laid eggs in Louisiana for the first time in close to a century.