Spring 2017 News
Looking Back 2001-2015

Restless and Moving
February 27, 2017 by Jane Duden

A few restless Whooping Cranes in the eastern flock have already started moving north, including one juvenile from the Class of 2016!

Whooping crane with beak open and tongue showing
An agile tongue and stretchy throat help cranes fuel up for the migration ahead.
By Laura Erickson

Where Are They?
On February 21, parent-reared 71-16 became first in the Class of 2016 to start moving northward! She flew from south central Indiana to Jasper County, in the northwest corner of Indiana (see map). What will she do next, and when? Meanwhile, the other eight juveniles in the Class of 2016 are still on their scattered but suitable wintering grounds:

  • two in Tennessee
  • two in Arkansas
  • two in Alabama
  • one in Florida
  • and one in Georgia with alloparents—all surviving well.

In this transition year, we'll depend more on signals from the birds' remote tracking devices than on trackers in the field to announce the moves.

Two subadult cranes from the Class of 2015 also moved further north last week, as did hundreds of Sandhill Cranes. Early signs of spring!

Reward Sign for Whooping crane Shooting

Growing and Changing
The youngsters get their adult voices in winter. Their rusty-colored chick feathers are replaced by pure white ones. A young crane's rusty forehead and crown slowly change to the adult's bare, red-skinned crown with black bristles by the time the crane is 350 days old. The few remaining rusty-tan feathers mixed with the pure white ones signal a bird's youth and help protect the young crane around adult cranes. The adults are very territorial, but they cut the youngest birds some slack. Adults are less likely to be vicious if the youngsters wander into their territory when they complete spring migration.

Fueling Up
For the young cranes led south by aircraft the past 15 years, time on the wintering grounds ranged from 55 days to 126 days. There's still plenty of time to fuel up for the journey north. A crane's throat can stretch and expand as it swallows fairly big chunks of blue crab, whole mice and whole frogs. A crane's rather short tongue moves up and down (but not side to side) to help push food from the front of the beak "down the hatch."

By mid March, many more Whooping Cranes should be heading north to Wisconsin. The youngsters found their way south. Will they find their way north again too?