The value of a bird

So is a whooping crane worth one dollar or is it worth $10,000, or more? Someone who kills a bird or other animal officially listed under the Endangered Species Act may be fined up to $100,000 and sentenced to a year in jail. But the whooping crane killed in Indiana was a bird of a “nonessential experimental population.” These birds are raised at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and the Internal Crane Foundation. Subsequently they’re taken to the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin, taught to follow ultralite aircraft as they learn to fly and led by ultralites to Florida in the fall. It’s an attempt to establish an eastern population of whooping cranes. Raised in captivity, led by ultralite aircraft to a winter grounds in Florida, these birds return on their own to Wisconsin in spring and eventually, it is hoped, they will mate, nest and raise young, then adults and young will migrate to Florida for the winter.

Whooping cranes and other endangered species are protected by law and because they are rare. Whooping cranes, in addition to being few in number, are striking birds, over four feet tall with a long neck and legs, white with red on the forehead and up onto the top of the head. Once they nested from northern Canada into the northern prairie states of the U.S. and some of the Gulf Coast states. The northern birds migrated south in fall and all of them wintered along the Gulf Coast.

Today naturally occurring wild whoopers nest in Wood Buffalo National Park, northwest Canada and winter along the coast of Texas in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.  Every winter thousands of people visit the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge hoping to see a whooping crane.

Capitalizing on the number of people who visit Texas to see whooping cranes in winter, the nearby town of Port Aransas has a Whooping Crane Festival every winter.  People who attend can hear lectures about whooping cranes, see videos and they can take a  boat ride into the waters of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge where they are almost certain to see whooping cranes, usually one or more families, each family a pair of adults and an immature.

A federal judge in Indiana assigned a value of one dollar to whooping cranes. A federal judge in Texas assigned a value of $10,000 and a judge in Kansas assigned an even higher value. Motel owners, restaurant owners and souvenir shop owners in Port Aransas, Texas undoubtedly agree with the higher assessments since their businesses flourish in winter when visitors come to the area to see whooping cranes. There are other people, I’m sure, who wouldn’t care if the whooping crane became extinct.

So what is a whooping crane worth? Carrying the question further, what are the swallows and warblers feeding on insects worth, the sparrows and finches eating and scattering seeds, vultures providing roadside sanitation, hummingbirds pollinating flowers, hawks preying on mice and other small animals, robins eating wild cherries and passing the seeds, blue jays burying acorns. Aside from such practical considerations, what’s it worth just to be able to see a whooping crane or any other bird?

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