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Experts suspect peanuts caused sandhill crane kill
BY MICHAEL PEARCE
The Wichita Eagle

Biologists say a field of moldy Texas peanuts led to the death of about 
100 sandhill cranes at the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.

Dave Hilley, refuge manager, said his staff noticed indications 
something was wrong on March 9.

Several cranes appeared weak and off-balance. An abundance of predators 
was another indication.

"We had a lot of eagles about that time, and we noticed five different 
groups of eagles feeding on carcasses on the Big Salt Marsh," Hilley 
said. "We got out our air boat and ATVs and searched where the cranes 
had been staying."

They found about 40 carcasses, and evidence where about another 60 
sandhills had been scavenged by eagles and coyotes.

The condition of the live birds clued biologists they may have been 
suffering from some kind of paralysis from poisoning.

Hilley's first concern was that the birds had ingested something toxic 
at Quivira, which could pose a threat to other birds yet to migrate 
through central Kansas.

Not so.

A check showed many of the birds had peanuts in their digestive systems. 
Buffalo Lake, in Texas, a popular stopover for migrating sandhills, is 
in a peanut farming area.

"With the south winds we've been having, it's quite possible they could 
have easily made it up here from Texas in one day," Hilley said. "It 
would take a while for the toxins from the peanuts to effect the cranes."

Samples from some of the dead Quivira cranes were sent to a federal lab 
in Wisconsin, to verify the toxic substance. Hilley expects the results 
soon.

Texas biologists were notified of the problem.

"Usually with something like this, they just try to get rid of the 
peanuts," Hilley said. "They can plow them under and that usually cures 
the problem. Unfortunately, by the time they do that the birds are sick 
or dying."

Hilley said it's possible endangered whooping cranes could also die from 
eating the same toxic peanuts.

Fortunately none have been recently seen in the Buffalo Lake area. If 
some migrated in, Hilley said Texas biologists would probably spook them 
from the area around the suspected peanut field.

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