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These 'eggs' are spying on whooping cranes to boost survival
Published in 10-4-2019
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NEW ORLEANS (AP) Scientists are using fake eggs to spy on whooping cranes in hopes of learning why some chicks die in the egg, while others hatch.

Data gathered by the spy eggs could help biologists in Louisiana and Canada preserve the endangered long-legged birds, which have made a tenuous rebound after dwindling almost to extinction in the 1940s.

"It's a fascinating way of spying on endangered species' reproduction in a way that allows us to assist in the recovery," said Dr. Axel Moehrenschlager, the Calgary Zoo's director of conservation and science.

The Calgary Zoo lent eight of the spy eggs, more properly known as "data loggers," to Louisiana researchers.

The Louisiana wildlife biologists swap the egg-shaped data loggers, which Moehrenschlager said are encased in a plastic polymer, for one of the two eggs that many cranes lay. The real eggs come to Audubon Nature Institute 's Species Survival Center in New Orleans, where they're incubated until they're nearly ready to hatch ... or not.

Then the biologists in Louisiana swap the real eggs back into the nests .

The electronic data loggers use infrared connections to transfer information to nearby computers. It's sent for analysis to scientists in Calgary, where the only remaining wild natural flock of whooping cranes is based.

Whoopers are the tallest birds and rarest cranes in North America. They stand about 5 feet (1.5 meters) tall, with black-tipped wings that span nearly 7 feet (2.1 meters).

Overhunting and habitat loss cut their numbers to 21 in the 1940s, but with some help from humans the number had risen to about 850 at the end of 2018.

Louisiana is home to 74 whooping cranes in the wild.

"We've got some pairs that haven't been successful, and we want to see if we could see what might be going on with...