Gone South - and Not
by Heather Ray, Operation Migration
November 29, 2017

Migration is complete for some cranes, others are still en route, and others are being coaxed to leave Wisconsin. What can be done to encourage young cranes to begin their first migration? Brooke Pennypacker and Colleen Chase came up with a plan.

Whooping Cranes

Adult cranes #5-12 and #30-16 have arrived in Florida — but without the 7 costume-reared chicks they were hanging out with in Wisconsin!
Jon Chandler

November 29, 2017

Responding to Cues
In our November 10 update, we discussed the cues birds take notice of when it’s time to head south for the winter – food, temperature and wind direction. It seems many of the Whooping cranes in the Eastern Migratory Population (EMP) took notice and are either already at their winter territories, or are well on their way. There have only been 4 or 5 days that have been rather chilly here in Wisconsin, but winds were from the north a few times over the past couple of weeks and most of the Whooping cranes and Sandhill cranes have taken advantage of this to help push them south.

Traveling with Sandhill Cranes?
The map below includes the locations for cranes that have remote tracking devices. See the two lines that are the farthest south? The one in Central Florida represents Parent-Reared whooping crane #72-17 (Amethyst). The red line from Wisconsin to the southernmost tip of Louisiana is crane is #30-17, another Parent-Reared crane from this year.

We don’t know for sure if they flew to these areas on their own, or if they followed Sandhill cranes but we do know that while they were in Wisconsin, both of these young cranes were associating with large groups of Sandhills.

Migration Map
Operation Migration and Google Earth

On the Florida Wintering Grounds
We also have two Whooping cranes at the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge already! This is the location Operation Migration used to lead Whooping cranes to when they still had cranes follow their aircraft. Refuge Manager Terry Peacock notified us last Saturday that adult cranes #5-12 and #30-16, pictured above, were IN the large open-topped pen.  Keep in mind this enclosure is 4 acres in size and contains two large freshwater ponds suitable for roosting. These two adults can come and go as they please and probably don’t even realize they are in what we consider a “pen.”

What About the 7 Chicks?
But wait – adult cranes #5-12 and #30-16  are the ones that had been hanging out with the seven costume-reared cranes. The Operation Migration team had hoped would guide those seven younger cranes south with them!

Calling and Calling
Operation Migration’s Colleen Chase reports #5-12 and #30-16 began calling and calling to the younger cranes November 9th before they took to the air – circled several times to gain altitude and began heading south – without the chicks following them. Since then, the two other adult pairs in and around White River Marsh have also left – without the chicks. It was time to come up with another plan.

Coaxing Cranes to Migrate
The group of seven Costume-reared cranes have been raised together since they arrived in Wisconsin on June 21st. They are a very tight-knit group and perhaps aren’t open to allowing insiders into their established social structure. The decision was made to break up that social order. Brooke and Colleen set up a temporary pen in a field the cranes had been using to forage during the day and the next morning, Brooke put on his costume to, hopefully, entice one or two of them to get within grabbing distance.

The plan worked and two cranes were captured. Crane #3-17 and #7-17 were placed inside crates and were driven south to a location close to the Wisconsin River where there were still hundreds of Sandhill cranes. Two days later, these two cranes migrated south! They flew close to 200 miles and are now in Fulton County, Illinois.

Five Remain
The remaining five Costume-reared cranes were still back at White River and still not showing any signs of heading south so two more were captured and released along the Wisconsin River just yesterday. They are #4-17 and #6-17 and, once they were released, these two went out to join the Sandhill cranes so we hope they will follow their smaller, gray cousins south as well.

No Need to Rush
The weather in Wisconsin is still fairly warm (in the 40’s) so there is no immediate rush. And there are still other Whooping cranes left in Wisconsin also! Whooping cranes #38-17 and #39-17 are still in Dodge County and #68-15 is in Sauk County. They’ll all be fine until their roosting areas freeze over – that’s when it’s important they head south.

Over and out…

Heather Ray
Operation Migration