Whooping Crane Migration Update: April 6, 2012
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Whoopers are rushing north to reach the nesting grounds in this unusual spring of early migration. That is, all but the nine crane-kids that followed ultralight planes from Wisconsin to Alabama. This male shows something females look for when picking a mate. How does a Whooping crane choose a lifetime mate?

This Week's Update Includes:

Image of the Week
Male Whooping crane displays his brilliant red crown.
Photo: Eva Szyszkoski
Hey, Good Lookin'...  
News: All Along the Migration Trail

Crane-kids in Alabama: Still There
From the release site in Alabama, crane monitor and pilot Brooke Pennypacker was still counting nine youngsters as of April 5. When will these youngsters leave? WILL they leave? Will they find their way back to White River Marsh in Wisconsin? We're staying tuned!

Nests in Wisconsin!
Most of the Eastern Migratory Population (EMP) has completed migration in 2012's warm spring. See the life history (bio page) of your favorite crane to find out where it is now. Exciting news: A few of this flock's pairs of breeding age have already built nests! Everyone is hoping for a successful nesting season so the new eastern flock can build its numbers. We'll watch the 2012 nesting season unfold as we explore more about crane territories and nests in our next report.

Western Flock: Lea Reports From Canada
Beautiful weather has brought an early spring to Saskatchewan with some species of birds arriving a few weeks earlier than in recent years. Whooping crane migration through Prairie Canada has, too, been slightly earlier than normal. The few birds we know to have crossed into Canada include a group of four confirmed late March in southwestern Manitoba. It is not unusual for birds to be seen in this part of Manitoba as they enter Canada and begin to angle northwest towards the nesting grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park (WBNP).

A Whooping Crane marked [banded] with a GPS transmitter as a juvenile in summer 2011 in WBNP has arrived in Saskatchewan. On March 25th the bird arrived in the southeast corner of the province and stayed for 6 days. Then it flew 300 km (about 190 miles) to the central part of the province, where it stayed for 2 days. Its most recent move was again 300km to the southern edge of the boreal forest. Unfortunately we were not able to see the bird as it passed through the province to confirm if it was migrating with its parents. Click the photo "Leaving Mom & Dad" for more.

This weekend a spring storm is expected to move into Saskatchewan from the United States, bringing with it several centimeters of snow. Migration will be put on hold while the storm moves through. The large-bodied Whooping Cranes should weather the storm well; they are accustomed to fluctuations in spring weather conditions on migration and in their first few weeks on the breeding grounds in Canada. I'll have more news in the next report; the cranes will soon be home, ready for important work on the nesting grounds!

Class of 2011 roosting in Alabama
Photo: Sue Braun
Not Migrating Yet
Pair #707 and #38-08 (DAR) from the eastern flock
Photo: Sue Braun
First Nesters!
Page about Lea Craig-Moore and the nesting grounds in Canada
Meet Lea Craig-Moore
A family in flight
Photo: Klaus Nigge
Leaving Mom & Dad
Explore: Choosing Mates for Life

Unlike robins, who select a mate after reaching their territories and are together for just one season, or hummingbirds, which don't spend time together at all, cranes choose a mate for all seasons. They choose a mate they can count on winter, spring, summer, and fall, one who will travel with them from the Gulf Coast all the way up to their breeding ground, one who will stay with them through thick and thin, harsh weather or balmy.

Some cranes pair off more quickly than others, but once the bond is formed, it's hard to break. It takes time and effort for cranes to form a new bond. What do they look for? How do they decide? Who picks whom? Put yourself in the place of a crane as you explore:

Subadult group on the wintering grounds

Photo: Klaus Nigge
Pairing Up Yet?
Pair in courting and dancing
Photo: Sue Kersey
Pick Me! Pick Me!
Research: Mates for Life...Always?

Whooping cranes normally mate for life. Are there ever exceptions? When Journey North asked biologist Tom Stehn that question, he answered with an interesting story. See what the "Pipeline Flats pair" shows us about the connection between good pairing and crane survival.

Crane mates dancing to reinforce their pair bond
Photo: Sue Kersey
Pairs Dance: Why?
Migration Map: Two Flocks, Two Fyways
See migration progress of both flocks — ALL the world's migratory Whooping cranes — live on our MapServer as confirmed sightings are reported. Thanks to citizen scientists, ICF tracker Eva Szyszkoski, and Martha Tacha of the USFWS.
Migration Route of Western Migratory Population Migration route of Eastern Migratory Population (EMP) Whooping Crane Map
Western Flock
Migration animation
Eastern Flock
Migration animation
The Next Whooping Crane Migration Update: Posting on April 20, 2012.