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Whooping Crane Migration Update: February 27, 2004

Today's Report Includes:

Whoopers in Flight.
AWhooping crane has a 7-foot wingspan. How do your arms compare?

Photos OM

Welcome to Journey North's Spring Whooping Crane Migration Season
We begin our spring season while the world's only natural flock of endangered whooping cranes is on the wintering grounds in Texas, and the tiny reintroduced Eastern flock is wintering in Florida. These two migratory flocks usually start migrating in April. Will this year's ultralight-led chicks find their way? When will they leave? Will the Aransas flock's timing be as predictable as in other years? We're all waiting to find out. Here's how you can prepare for the migration:

In the meantime, today's report will keep you busy! Get out your science journals, sharpen your pencils and get to know the world's wild whoopers.

Click to enlarge fo a look at the leg bands. Can you identify the birds by their banding codes?
Photo OM

Meet the Flock: Challenge Question #1
Are you ready to track the first-ever journey north for the newest group of "ultracranes?" Now's the time to get acquainted with them. Journey North keeps a chart on each cohort, updating it throughout their training and migrations. When you find the answers to the questions below, you'll know who you're tracking this spring. Start with this season's first Challenge Question after seeing:

Challenge Question #1:
"Which birds from the 2003 ultralight migration are now wearing satellite transmitters (PTTs)? Why do you think these birds were picked?"

(To respond to this question, please follow the instructions below.)

New leg bands. Photo OM

Ready, Set, Go! Ten Questions for You and Your Science Journal
Dig a little deeper with more fun quizzers about the new Eastern flock. You'll find the answers at Meet the Flock 2003 and at the charts for the other two cohorts:

  1. What do the 2003 birds that received satellite transmitters (PTTs) have in common?
  2. Which of the 2003 birds flew every mile behind the ultalights, without ever dropping out or turning back?
  3. How many miles of the first journey south did Crane #303 miss? Why?
  4. Which 2003 bird was first to attain her adult voice? How many have their adult voices now?
  5. Which is the only crane from the 2002 cohort that did NOT return to Wisconsin in spring 2003? Where did she spend the summer? Why do you think she did this?
  6. Who do you think is the dominant bird in the 2003 cohort? Why?
  7. Which 2001 male has been living at the pen site with the 2003 chicks and bossing them around?
  8. Which member of the 2001 cohort has not been seen for months, and cannot be tracked?
  9. How did one of the 2002 flock's members die last summer?
  10. How many birds in the reintroduced Eastern flock will make the journey north this spring?

The winter pen site at Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Florida.
Photo Richard Urbanek

Florida Photo Journal: Challenge Question #2
At dusk on Feb. 7, crane #214 glided into a landing at the winter pen site in Chassahowitzka. She left her previous location in Madison County to return to the site of her first winter in Florida. But a trio of near-adult cranes aleady shared the pen site with the sixteen 2003 chicks, and the older birds didn't exactly put out the welcome mat for #214. In fact, #105 chased her. He once got close enough to pull out some feathers! ICF biologist Marianne Wellington is one of the two crane experts monitoring the cranes this winter. She can spot #105 even without binoculars because his white feathers are dirty from so many crouch-threats in the mud as he lies in wait to chase after #214. Marianne hears many more unison calls from the trio of older birds since #214 showed up.
What else have the youngest members of the Eastern flock been up to all winter? Take a photo tour of the Chassahowitzka pen site with us:

Then come back and answer. . .

Challenge Question #2:
"Why have the 3 near-adult cranes in the pen site been doing more unison calling since latecomer #214 showed up?"

(To respond to this question, please follow the instructions below.)

Biologist Tom Stehn

Tom Stehn Reports: A Wonderful Year for Whoopers
Each year for 22 years, biologist Tom Stehn counts the whooping cranes of the main flock on their wintering grounds at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. Winter is the only time of year when it is feasible to get a total count of the flock. Even then, the cranes are spread out over 35 miles of the Texas coast, and it takes Tom nearly 8 hours in a small airplane flying back and forth across narrow widths of salt marsh in order to find and count all the cranes. He plots the birds on aerial photographs that help him avoid counting the same bird twice. This year, Tom starts his first report to us with these wonderful words:

Dear Journey North,
2003 was a great year for whooping cranes!

As you read Tom's good news, answer these questions:

  1. How many chicks were fledged in the Aransas/Wood Buffalo wild flock last summer?
  2. How many more whooping cranes exist now in the natural migratory flock than last year? Than in the previous record high set four years ago?
  3. Why is it so significant that 2 chicks fledged from 8 nests in the Florida non-migratory population last year?
  4. What is the survival rate (percentage) of whooping cranes that have made the migration to Florida by following ultralight planes?
  5. What happens to the chicks hatched by captive whooping cranes?

How to Respond to Today's Challenge Questions:

IMPORTANT: Answer only ONE question in each e-mail message.

1. Address an e-mail message to: jn-challenge-crane@learner.org
2. In the Subject Line of your message write: Challenge Question #1 (OR #2).
3. In the body of EACH message, give your answer to ONE of the questions above.

The Next Crane Migration Update Will Be Posted on March 12, 2004.

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