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Whooping Crane Migration Update: March 10, 2006

Today's Report Includes:

Migration News: Two Early Chicks Heading North
Surprising everyone, two of last year’s CHICKS have already started for their summer home. Yes, they are Eastern flock birds migrating north to Wisconsin for the very first time. But these chicks were NOT part of the flock that followed ultralight planes south last fall. They are two of the four Direct Autumn Release (DAR) chicks, set free in Wisconsin last October to see if they’d follow older cranes south. That’s just what they did, and now two are following sandhill cranes migrating north.

Challenge Question #2:
“Why weren’t these chicks in Florida, like the other hatch year 2005 chicks?"

To respond to this question, please follow these instructions.

Twelve Others Underway: Check It Out
Every spring we follow the migration of the very same Eastern ultralight-led cranes we tracked the previous fall. This spring we will make a map to show the unaided journey north of our 19 young cranes. In total, however, there are now 64 whooping cranes in the flock. The oldest are almost six years old; this is their 5th migration. Whenever exciting events occur in any cranes in the flock we'll update each crane's biography and also include the news here. Which 12 whoopers are already underway?

Do you see the big bump on this chick's face? It's from an insect bite. He needed medicine for weeks!

Photo Sara Zimorski

Craniac Treasure Hunt: Get to Know the Flock
Which chick was not allowed to fly most of the very first ultralight migration because of his behavior? Last year, which female produced the first egg ever laid by cranes in the new Eastern flock? Which chicks were called Jumblies, Poe, Waldo and Maya? While we wait for migration to begin, get to know birds you’ll be following. Print our Craniac Treasure Hunt and see what you discover in the life-and-death survival stories of these endangered birds.

Cranes on the Wintering Grounds: What's Happening?
Aransas06_07What does this mean for the whooping cranes?

Western Flock
The 215 cranes are still on their Texas wintering grounds. But weren't there 216 last week? Tom writes us with sad news that explains it. Why is March such a critical month for the cranes? And what does Tom mean by "Nature has a system of "rewarding" the birds that leave at just the right time"? Get out your journals and find answers here!


Eastern Flock
In Florida, Mark Nipper reports sunny and warm weather. The chicks are flying around more each day. “The chicks are getting whiter and whiter every day, and their voices sound more and more adult-like. Chicks 506, 516, 521, and 524 have yet to lose their chick voices.

At dusk one evening last week, a small airplane circled the pen at low altitude for about 15 minutes, but otherwise no unauthorized human activity was observed within the restricted access area surrounding the pen.” Why do you suppose such care is taken to keep humans away from these whooping cranes?



Photo Tom Stehn
Try This! Count Western Cranes from the Sky
Last time Tom said, “I sometimes think that every white pelican, great and snowy egret for miles around flies to Aransas every week just to get counted. Throw in the occasional piece of white styrofoam trash washed up into the marsh along with white refuge boundary signs, and our eyes have much to sort through to find all the whooping cranes.”

Climb into Tom's airplane and see for yourself! How many whoopers can you count in Tom's aerial photo?
Click photo to enlarge. AFTER you've identified the whoopers, roll your cursor over the photo to see if you're right!
Try This! Identify Eastern Cranes by Banding Codes
Can you identify these cranes?
Click to enlarge and look at the leg bands for the colors.
Use the banding codes on the flock chart to identify the cranes!

Western Flock or Eastern Flock? How can you tell?

Discussion of Challenge Question #1
"Are the whooping cranes in this photo part of the Western flock or the Eastern flock? How can you tell?"

Students from four states answered WESTERN FLOCK, and that’s correct! But special congratulations to Marcus, who really nailed it by saying:

“I think the Cranes in this photo are from the Western flock, because I couldn't see a radio tracking band on any of their legs.”

Answers included comments about the feathers and the habitat that “looked like the Gulf Coast of Texas.” But the only way to be certain is the absence of leg bands with radio tracking devices. The wild flock is free of such “jewelry,” but every crane in the Eastern flock gets a leg band with aerial and transmitter. Thanks to all who took the challenge!

The Next Crane Migration Update Will Be Posted on March 24, 2006.

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