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George Archibald: Dances with Cranes

by Scott Weidensaul
Late Summer 2009

“The whooping crane is doomed to extinction,” the noted ornithologist Edward Howe Forbush predicted flatly in the early 1900s – and there was precious little to suggest otherwise.

This magnificent bird – tall as a man and white as a snowdrift, with inky wingtips and a splash of crimson on the crown – had once nested from the Canadian parkland to the tallgrass prairies of the upper Midwest and perhaps as far east as the Carolinas. In winter, its brash, trumpeting call could be heard from the Chesapeake south to the Gulf Coast and Florida. But reckless gunning had reduced the cranes to a pitiful few dozen by the 20th century, and even with the dawn of wiser policies toward endangered species, the whooper teetered on the brink.

But George Archibald never bought that gloomy assumption. “I’m an optimist,” Archibald says simply. As a PhD student at Cornell in the 1970s, the Nova Scotian began working with cranes, many species of which were close to extinction.

About the Author
Scott Weidensaul is the author of more than two dozen books on natural history, most recently Of a Feather: A Brief History of American Birding. An active field researcher who studies the migration of owls and hummingbirds, he lives in the mountains of Pennsylvania.