Sunday Reading: The Strangely Moving Love Story of a Man and His Chick

Sunday August 19, 2018 Written by Taz


Employers tend to discourage workplace romances. But zookeeper Chris Crowe’s bosses were delighted when a spark developed between him and one of the Smithsonian Biology Institute’s most promising recruits, an elegant and unlucky-in-love white-naped crane named Walnut.

The tale of Walnut and Crowe is relayed with tender humour in this recent Washington Post article. As writer Sadie Dingfelder explains, Walnut was likely coddled by a well-meaning human when she was young, resulting in her “imprinting” onto humans – in laymen's terms, seeking people for mates rather than birds. Cross-species imprinting isn't unheard of, but Walnut's human-fever was stronger than normal; she'd actually killed two of the male cranes the Smithsonian had tried to match her with.

This posed a problem for the Institute, which was looking to breed endangered white-naped cranes to boost their numbers. The solution: get Crowe to woo Walnut by offering her dead mice (a standard flirting technique for cranes, apparently), then artificially inseminate her so she can have some chicks of her own.

The trick worked well – perhaps even too well. To date, the pair has bred five chicks – a union so prolific by crane standards that the authority in charge of America’s captive population has said that, at least for the time being, they don’t need any more eggs from the couple. Even so, Crowe still tends to Walnut whenever she’s feeling spry. “It’s not exactly fun for me,” the article quotes him as saying. “But it keeps Walnut happy.” Unfortunately for Crowe, the relationship seems far from over. Cranes mate for life, and those kept in captivity can live up to 60 years. “If she’s still here when I’m eligible for retirement, I won’t be able to leave,” he says. “I’d feel like a jerk.”

Read the full story here.

Photos: Lexey Swall, Washington Post