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Crane Who Chose Zookeeper As Mate And Shunned Other Birds Dies At 42

Walnut, a female crane who famously rejected her fellow birds in favor of a human named Crowe, has died.

The white-naped crane died of kidney failure at age 42 last month, according to a Wednesday announcement by the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C.

In life, Walnut was more famous than the average crane because of her special relationship with zookeeper Chris Crowe, whom she seemed to consider her mate for close to 20 years.

The Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute has characterized Walnut as having a “crush” on Crowe, noting that she “never bonded” with other birds.

“She had chosen me as her mate,” Crowe told The Washington Post. “We were a big part of each other’s lives.”

Walnut, left, and would-be boyfriend Chris Crowe are seen at the Smithsonian's National Zoo in 2021.
Walnut, left, and would-be boyfriend Chris Crowe are seen at the Smithsonian's National Zoo in 2021.

Walnut, left, and would-be boyfriend Chris Crowe are seen at the Smithsonian's National Zoo in 2021.

The crane, whose parents were illegally captured from the wild decades ago, was intended to be part of a breeding program for her species, which is considered vulnerable. But her distaste for other cranes was an issue, since she had a tendency to attack prospective mates.

That put artificial insemination on the table, which is what ultimately led to Crowe and Walnut’s unique bond back in 2004. To gain her trust, Crowe started flapping his arms like wings and presenting her with food and nesting materials ― two moves that Walnut apparently found irresistible.

Normally, artificial insemination would involve two people forcibly holding down the crane. But once she caught feelings, Walnut “started doing courtship displays for me and she would actually solicit me to mate with her, and just stand there with her wings open,” Crowe told the Post.

Walnut is seen in an undated photo.
Walnut is seen in an undated photo.

Walnut is seen in an undated photo.

Walnut ultimately produced eight chicks. At 42, she also lived significantly longer than the median life expectancy for her species in captivity, which is 15 years, the National Zoo said.

In the zoo’s announcement, Crowe described his avian devotee as a “unique individual with a vivacious personality” who was an “excellent dancer” and “stoic in the face of life’s challenges.”

He added, “I’ll always be grateful for her bond with me.”

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