Sylvan Heights Bird Park Dedicates New Home for Endangered Whooping Cranes

Sylvan Heights Bird Park Dedicates New Home for Endangered Whooping Cranes

May 5, 2023

SCOTLAND NECK, NC – On Friday, May 5th, Sylvan Heights Bird Park dedicated its newest exhibit for endangered Whooping Cranes in memory of pilot and conservationist Deke Clark. Clark was among the first to fly with Whooping Cranes as a volunteer for Operation Migration, a conservation initiative that aimed to restore wild Whooping Cranes to areas of their historic range by teaching them a migration route using ultralight aircraft. Representatives from Operation Migration and other global conservation organizations gathered at Sylvan Heights to remember Clark’s legacy and reflect on their experiences flying the Eastern migration route with the cranes.

Representatives from Sylvan Heights Bird Park, Operation Migration, and other international conservation organizations gather at the new Whooping Crane aviary.

The Whooping Crane aviary was generously sponsored by Clark’s life partner, Rebecca Cohen-Pardo, and provides park visitors with a view of one of the world’s rarest birds. For the park’s pair of Whooping Cranes, the new aviary provides a spacious and natural habitat.

The Whooping Crane, North America’s tallest bird, was narrowly rescued from the brink of extinction. Once widespread throughout the continent, habitat loss and unregulated hunting decimated Whooping Crane populations in the late 1800s. By the 1940s, only 16 individuals remained. Habitat conservation and hunting regulations have allowed the remaining wild population of Whooping Cranes to rebound, but these charismatic birds have disappeared from much of their historic range, prompting several reintroduction projects.

In 1993, the first successful reintroduced Whooping Crane population was established in Florida’s Kissimmee Prairie. A second reintroduced, non-migratory population in Louisiana is boosted each year by the addition of young, captive-reared birds. In 1999, the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, or WCEP, launched efforts to re-establish an eastern migratory flock of Whooping Cranes. Led by ultralight aircraft, captive-reared chicks were taught a historic migration route. By 2020, the eastern migratory flock was estimated at 80 individuals, and the total wild population is estimated at 500-600 birds. Current recovery efforts focus on helping these reintroduced flocks become self-sustaining.

“We’re honored to showcase these important birds and share their incredible conservation story with park visitors”, said Brent Lubbock, Director of Operations and Development at Sylvan Heights Bird Park. “The Whooping Crane demonstrates how conservation programs, like habitat protection and reintroduction, really can save a species”.

About Sylvan Heights Bird Park
Sylvan Heights Bird Park is a non-profit organization, whose mission is “to advance conservation of waterfowl and wetlands, to act as a local educational resource for avian biology and wetlands ecology, and to serve as an international center for avicultural training and research.” Sylvan Heights has the largest collection of waterfowl in the world and is the largest bird park in North America.  The Bird Park is a unique facility with continentally-themed exhibits that offer visitors views of over 2,000 birds, including some of the world’s most endangered waterfowl and other birds. Contact the Park by calling 252.826.3186, emailing  or visiting

Whooping Crane at Sylvan Heights Bird Park
Sylvan Heights Bird Park’s Executive Director, Mike Lubbock, welcomes guests to the dedication ceremony.
Park visitors view one of the ultralight aircraft used to fly with Whooping Cranes
Conservation experts presented Whooping Crane information and stories to attendees