Whooping Crane Migration Update: April 20, 2012
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The first Western cranes are close to their Canadian nesting grounds 2,400 miles from Texas. Eastern cranes have 17 nests in Wisconsin. When can we expect those eggs to hatch? The nine ultralight-led crane-kids began—and may have completed—their journey north! What DON'T you know about territories and nesting?

This Week's Update Includes:

Image of the Week
Whooping crane incubates eggs in the nest.
Photo: Klaus NIgge
When's Hatching Day?
News: Migrating or Home!

Eastern Flock: News from Wisconsin
Ultralight-led Cranes Migrate!

For weeks, all eyes have been on the nine young crane-kids led south by ultralight planes. On April 12 the nine departed Alabama together on their first unaided journey north. They split into two or more groups during migration, and may be back in Wisconsin as you read this! Not quite a year old, they are too young to pair up or breed. They will wander, hang out, and have fun on the summer breeding grounds. Well done, Class of 2011!

Breeding and Nesting Underway
The rush is on for cranes of breeding age (4 and up). They want to get back to defend their chosen summer territories. They must get nesting underway in order for the chicks to be ready for fall migration. At least ten active nests were found by aerial search in Wisconsin this week. Three were abandoned earlier. Ten more pairs could possibly nest. Hopes are high for baby chicks!

Western Flock: In the Flyway
Every year by April 20 all the Whooping cranes have left their wintering grounds. Martha Tacha of the USFWS said, "The migration started unusually early this year, and there is still more to come!" As of Friday, April 13th, all of the 29 whooping cranes carrying GPS transmitters had left Aransas NWR in Texas. The Western flock was spread out from northern Texas to northwestern Saskatchewan in Canada, within just three good flying days of their nesting grounds. Extensive strong storms from Oklahoma through South Dakota kept them from making progress last weekend, but now eager observers have eyes on the skies in hopes of seeing whoopers pass overhead. See Journey North's MapServer to read the latest sighting reports. Through which states and provinces do the whoopers of the Western flock pass on their 2,400-mile migration to Northwest Territories and the breeding grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park?

Cranes in Canada: Lea Reports
Whooping Crane migration is in full swing here in Saskatchewan! We have had the first flush of arrivals in the province and have birds spread from the SE prairie to the NW boreal. Family groups have been seen in a number of locations. Young cranes are learning the preferred stopover sites from their parents as they migrate.


Young crane on wintering grounds at Wheeler NWR
Photo: Eva Szyszkoski, ICF
Wintering Grounds Tally
Whooping crane nest
Photo: Brian Johns, CWS
Find the Nest
Aerial view of a nest with a crane standing on it.
Photo: Brian Johns, CWS
Bird's Eye View
Aerial view of two cranes changing turns at sitting on the nest
Eva Szyszkoski/ICF, with aerial support from Lighthawk
Taking Turns
Crane turns eggs with its bill.
Photo: Klaus Nigge
Turn, Turn, Turn
Explore: Territories and Nesting
In summer and winter—on breeding grounds and winter feeding grounds—Whooping cranes defend a territory. An average territory on the Texas wintering grounds is about 450 acres. They defend 450 acres of marshland because it has their winter food supply.

By April 20, the whoopers are all gone, rushing 2,400 miles northward to Canada and their nesting grounds. In Wisconsin right now, too, cranes are returning to or claiming and defending territories.

Will a crane pair need larger territories when there's a new chick to feed? How do they defend their territories? Wildlife technician Lea Craig-Moore gives us the scoop on summer territories and nesting from her Canadian Wildlife Services headquarters in Saskatchewan.

Whooping crane standing guard

Photo: Brian Johns, CWS
Standing Guard
Research: Will Black Flies Spell Doom?
Win a few, lose a few: That's the story of every nesting season. But for the small eastern flock nesting in Wisconsin, the scorecard has been more losses than expected. At Necedah NWR, the culprit could be tiny black flies. They hatch and then bite and pester the cranes right off their nests before eggs can hatch. Biologists are doing careful research to uncover reasons for nest failure. They want to know if black flies spell doom for nesting season at Necedah NWR. How can they find out? Read about their research

Nest site with decoy for  black fly research.
Photo: WCEP
Bites vs. Babies?
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 FINAL Whooping Crane Migration Update: Posting on May 4, 2012.