First a flock of birds were found dead in Arkansas and Louisiana, now three dead whooping cranes are found in Calhoun County.
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources says hunters found the three endangered birds just west of Albany on December 30th. They say a landowner reported that the cranes had been living in the area for a few weeks.
"The Georgia Department of Natural Resources along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife are conducting an investigation into the suspicious death of the three cranes," says Ranger First Class Ben Roberts with the Georgia DNR.
The cranes were a part of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership project to reintroduce the species to the eastern United States.
"The whooping cranes are one of the most critically endangered bird species in the United States," says Chehaw Zoo Director Kevin Hils.
Hils says there are two main migration paths for the whooping cranes. The flock of 150 to 200 that fly south from Wisconsin make a stop in Southwest Georgia and are typically juvenile whooping cranes.
He says planes with Operation Migration have flown alongside the endangered birds to help them learn the path.
"They know where mountain ridges are, they know where water ways are; it's just like you driving down the corner and knowing where you need to turn left," says Hils.
He says he suspects the birds found in Calhoun County were a part of this flock of young cranes.
The Georgia DNR is calling the crane deaths suspicious, but Roberts says it's not primarily because of suspected foul play, but because they found three dead cranes and not just one, which is uncommon.
"It's very unusual to find three birds in one given area and that's kind of the sad thing of the whole process," says Hils.
Hils says whooping cranes can run into electrical wires or be hit by lightning during migration, but usually that only happens to one, not three cranes.
"Was it somebody that took a pot shot? Was it poison? It won't take them (DNR, U.S. Fish and Wildlife) long to understand. They're very good about following the necropsies and finding out what happened with the bird" says Hils.The Story Continues Below.....
DNR says they are results of the autopsies of the dead cranes should be completed in two weeks. Until then, they encourage anyone with knowledge on what happened to the whooping cranes call them.
"They're trying to get some reward money, getting word out to get somebody that has information or knows who may have done it," says Roberts.
You can contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with information at 404-763-7959 and dial extension 233 to speak with Special Agent Terry Hasting.