Spring 2017 News
Looking Back 2001-2015

A New Generation
May 30, 2017 by Jane Duden

Several new Whooping Crane chicks are in their first month of life in Wisconsin, with more coming. The parent-reared Class of 2017 is hatching. The juveniles are wandering far and wide. We watch and hope!

Tiny chick #24-17, held in hands for weighing on May 22, 2017
Captive-born Whooping Crane chicks will become the Class of 2017
Operation Migration, May 22, 2017

Eastern Flock  

Class of 2016: Homebodies and Wanderers
They're on their own and we're glad that tracking devices show the travels of last summer's juveniles. While two of them stay close to their Wisconsin counties, one remains in Tennessee and one in Illinois. The others came home, but then took off to explore. Their tracking signals have come from North Dakota, northwestern Indiana and Illinois. Where next?

Hello, New Wild-born Chicks in Wisconsin
So far, five new chicks have hatched to wild pairs in the eastern flock and soon more babies joining the scene! Twelve active nests are being monitored at this writing. Those nests are mainly the re-nests of crane pairs whose first eggs were removed by biologists just before the Black flies hatched in April. The hope was that those pairs would nest a second time after the Black flies have lived out their short lives as biting adults. The cranes cooperated, and those eggs will be hatching any day now. Everyone has their fingers crossed that many of this season's chicks will live to fledge, migrate, and eventually become parents themselves.

Hello, Class of 2017 Parent-Reared Chicks
As of May 22, seven fluffy Parent-Reared (PR) chicks were on the ground at Maryland's Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. You recall that WCEP will be concentrating on Parent-Reared cranes in efforts to grow the new flock. These chicks will be raised by captive crane pairs at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and at Wisconsin's International Crane Foundation. They will be transported by aircraft to the Wisconsin release sites near wild adult Whooping Cranes in late August or early September, before they learn to fly. The older cranes will become the guide birds, replacing the pilots and aircraft that led the way from 2001-2015. Scientists hope more of this year's chicks will be adopted by older crane alloparents than the single adoption in the Class of 2016. Operation Migration's Joe Duff adds:

"This year, WCEP hopes to release up to 15 or so parent-reared birds in the fall. We also planned for a costume-reared (CR) cohort of 6 to 8 Whooping Cranes for raising this summer at White River Marsh in Green Lake County, Wisconsin to increase the numbers so the population can grow beyond the numbers lost annually to natural causes."

Nest Cam Sees All
Remember crane pair #3-14 and #4-12 on their celebrated nest in White River Marsh? On May 8th at 7:20 pm, the Nest Cam video feed showed the pair doing all they could to chase away another intruding crane from their nesting territory. That's when a determined and hungry coyote lurking nearby pounced on their nest and ate the precious eggs, due to hatch in the next day or two. The pair returned to the site the next day. Now we watch and wonder: Will they try to re-nest this season? Operation Migration's Joe Duff comments:

"We all knew the numbers were against that pair. Only two birds, still young and inexperienced and at least a season or two from normal breeding success age. Still, they did a great job. They were dedicated and vigilant and gave every indication of being good parents. They have learned valuable lessons and next season there will be more pairs like them until the numbers begin to work."

W1-17 is fed by Dad
Beverly Paulan, Wisconsin DNR
Dad Feeds W1-17
W1-17 is the Eastern Flock's first wild-born chick of the 2017 season.
#24-17 with adult "parents" at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Maryland
Colleen Chase
PR #24-17 with Adults

PR #24-17 is one of this year's Parent-Reared (PR) chicks now at Maryland's Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.

"The adult Whooping Crane parents vocalized their displeasure when we into their pen to get the chick for weighing. See the tiny chick behind the feeder?" said Colleen Chase of at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center

Whooping Crane Nest Cam
Nest Cam

Operation Migration hopes to raise enough money to get five GSM remote tracking units for the parent-reared Class of 2017.

Fundraising Campaign for Whooping Cranes

Naturay (Western) Flock Update  

The Whooping Cranes that winter at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Gulf Coast are the world's only remaining natural flock of wild migratory Whooping Cranes. In spring they rush 2,500 miles north to Canada, hurrying to nest and raise young in Canada's vast Wood Buffalo National Park during the short northern summer.

After decades of habitat loss and unrestricted hunting, this flock grew from a mere 15 birds in 1941 to more than 300 birds today. These cranes represent over half of all Whooping Cranes on this continent! They're just now reaching their nesting grounds and starting a new generation. Good luck, cranes!

How Many Cranes?
The most recent official figures come from an October 2016 report issued by Wade Harrell, Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator, US Fish & Wildlife Service and Mark Bidwell, Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator, Canadian Wildlife Service:

"In winter 2016 (Dec), the peak population size of the Aransas/Wood Buffalo flock on the primary wintering grounds was estimated as 329 and additional birds were located outside the survey area. This was a record high estimate for this Whooping Crane population. By the end of 2015 there were approximately 145 birds in reintroduced populations and 161 birds held in captivity."

Why is having multiple populations on different migration routes so important? It cuts down the chance that such things as a disease outbreak, disappearing coastal habitat, drought, oil spills, or bad weather in a given area may wipe out the entire population.

We eagerly await the results of each nesting season. Whooping cranes are back from the brink of extinction thanks to intense captive-breeding programs and protection under the Endangered Species Act. Journey North congratulates and celebrates all the dedicated people who work to help this iconic species survive and thrive. May their success continue far into the future!


Whooping Crane Family
Whooping Crane Flocks


Whooping Crane Family
Whooping Crane Family
Klaus Nigge
by permission of USFWS