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Whoopers swoop back from brink

A record number of whooping cranes are preparing for their spring migration, and the big birds seem to be making a comeback from near-extinction, the government says. The main flock, now numbering 78 -- two birds larger than last year -- will make the 2,600-mile trip from the Fish and Wildlife Service's Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas to Canada's Wood Buffalo National Park , officials said. Seventeen more whoopers, transplanted with their "foster" sandhill crane parents, will fly north from New Mexico.

Wildlife officials think about half of the main flock are active breeders. They predict a population jump in coming years "unless something unforeseen happens or unless most [newborns] are the same sex."

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The service said there is now a record number of whooping cranes, with nearly 100 in the wild and 24 in captivity, up from 15 in 1941. Part of the success lies in experiments involving transplanting the whooping cranes into flocks of sandhill cranes. Officials said the sandhill cranes have successfully reared young whoopers as their own and have taught them the migration route to New Mexico.

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