Parent-Reared Whooping Cranes
by Heather Ray, Operation Migration
September 28, 2017

Each young crane has a unique legband color combination, which allows the tracking team to identify them.
Heather Ray

Parent-reared Whooping crane chicks arrived in Wisconsin on September 12th. Each chick has a unique legband color combination, which allows the tracking team to identify them.

September 28, 2017

In the first update of the season we talked about the Costume-Reared (CR) Whooping cranes, which are at White River Marsh in Green Lake County, WI. A quick update on that group of seven cranes:

In the past couple of weeks they’ve been staying out overnight occasionally AND the pond that they are roosting in is a favorite spot for two older, experienced Whooping cranes. The older cranes are two males: numbers 5-12 and 30-16. We know for sure that these two spent the night with the Costume-Reared crane chicks on three occasions! So the chicks now know there are other Whooping cranes in the area and the Operation Migration team is hopeful cranes 5-12 and 30-16 will be good teachers for these younger cranes.

Now onto the Parent-Reared (PR) Whooper chicks – This group has been raised by “parent” cranes, which are adult Whooping cranes in large enclosures at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and the International Crane Foundation. This year Patuxent provided eleven PR crane chicks and the International Crane Foundation raised one.

Whooping crane pairs are given plaster eggs that look just like real Whooping crane eggs. They can’t tell the difference and they begin incubating these fake eggs. Meanwhile, inside a nearby building and in an incubator, the real egg containing a growing Whooper chick is being cared for by humans. Once the chick inside breaks through the egg shell (this is called pipping), the real egg is carefully carried out to the enclosure where the adults are sitting on the dummy egg.

The real egg is switched for the dummy egg and mom (or dad) settles back down to resume incubation duties. About 24 hours later, the chick inside the egg has worked its way out of the shell and the first thing it sees is a real mom and dad Whooping crane!

The parenting instinct kicks into gear and the adults begin to provide natural food items for the youngster and communicate with it by purring, just as they would in the wild. They also teach it that water roosting at night is important. Here's an article you can read to learn more:

Question: Why do you think spending the night roosting in water is important?
Occasionally, caretakers and staff at the captive facilities must enter the crane enclosure to check the health of the chick and weigh it to be certain the adults are providing enough food and it is gaining weight. The adult cranes don’t like this and do everything they can to defend their chick from humans.

Health exams must be done though, so, once the chick is captured, the staff work quickly and efficiently to examine the young crane and return it to its parents as quickly as possible.

This year the PR chicks began hatching in mid-May and some didn’t hatch until June. This is the reason that all of them could not be transported to Wisconsin for release at the same time. Some were just too young and had not yet developed their primary feathers, which are needed so they can fly.

The first group of five PR Whooping crane chicks arrived in Wisconsin on September 12th. As soon as the airplane containing their crates touched down they were carried to an air-conditioned van and then driven to White River Marsh where the team was waiting to place their permanent legbands on them. Then they were released into a temporary holding pen at White River Marsh.

Over the next few days all five were released in marshy areas where other adult Whooping cranes are known to roost each night. The reason for releasing them near roost areas is so they will be protected until they learn how to fly better – remember, they have spent their entire lives until now in an enclosure. They need a few days to learn what those big flappy wings are for!

Parent-reared Whooping Crane
Heather Ray

See how Whooper chick 24-17 is flying just above the grass?
In time, he’ll feel confident to fly much higher!

On September 25th, we released the young PR Whooping crane that was raised at the International Crane Foundation. His release site is in Winnebago County, Wisconsin, his number is 72-17, and his nickname is Amethyst. This location was selected because a PR Whooper from last year has been spending the summer there.

Along with legbands, each crane gets a VHF transmitter which emits a silent signal that only a special receiver can detect. Each VHF transmitter can be heard by dialing in a unique radio frequency (number) for that specific crane. Sometimes, when I’m monitoring them, I feel like a secret agent spy ☺

Take a look at this video. Do you hear the beep? What is the frequency for this bird, which happens to be PR Whooping crane #24-17?

On October 2nd the remaining group of six PR Whooping cranes will arrive from Patuxent. Just like the first group, they will be banded and placed in a temporary pen until each of them is released.

When you combine the Costume-Reared cranes we talked about in the last update with all the Parent-Reared Whooping cranes in this update, how many young-of-year Whooping cranes are being released into the Eastern Migratory Population this year?

In the next update, we’ll let you know how all of the 2017 released cranes are doing – stay tuned!

Heather Ray
Operation Migration