Watching a few birds from the observatory at Wheeler Wildlife Refuge teaches much not just about the birds, but about humans.
Easily visible from the enclosed building are five whooping cranes, about 1 percent of those that survive in the world. They are majestic birds, a brilliant white next to the thousands of darker Sandhill cranes that are their partners in migration.
More than 10,000 whooping cranes populated America before Europeans settled here.
Humans devastated them, sometimes directly through hunting but mainly through habitat destruction. By 1938, only 15 adult whooping cranes were left. Extinction seemed imminent.
But humans do not just destroy, they nurture. The federal government and private organizations came together in a desperate — and many thought futile — effort to save the birds.
A trip to the observatory, located at the Wheeler visitors center on Alabama 67 just east of Target, provides insight into a remarkable bird and into the remarkable species that drove it to the brink of extinction — but now is helping to save it.
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