Photo: Operation Migration
Meet the 2003 Whooping Crane Chicks!
Hatch-year 2003 of the Eastern Flock

Crane # 309 (9-03)

Date Hatched




Date Arrived in Wisconsin


Permanent Leg Bands

W/R/W (left)
*NEW COLORS in Nov 2008.
  • Read about the naming system, birth place in Maryland, release site in Wisconsin, over-wintering site in Florida and leg-band codes.

Personality and History

Personality Characteristics: Most independent of this cohort. Strays farthest from trike during taxiing sessions. Small female but soon was dedicated to the aircraft and followed everywhere. Brian called her a super forager: "You could drop that bird in the middle of a city and she'd find something to eat!"

First Migration South: Flew all but about 18 miles with the ultralight planes. Little did they know that, at least until 2008, she would become a wandering female. Read her history to see what we mean!


Photo Richard van Heuvelen, OM

Spring 2004: Began first migration north at 9:33 a.m. March 30, 2004 in a group of eight 2003 flock mates (301, 303, 305, 309, 312, 316, 318, 319). They were flushed from their roost by curious people intruding too close. The cranes took off into the darkness. That, plus a strong west wind, pushed them to the east side of Lake Michigan. On April 9 the group separated south of Celina, Ohio. The group of five (309, 301, 305, 318, and 319) was stymied by being on an unfamiliar side of Lake Michigan and they spent summer in Michigan.

Fall 2004: Began fall migration from Mason County, Michigan, on Nov. 7. with #305, 309 and 301. Perhaps spooked by seeing the death of their flock mate #305 on Nov. 13/14, crane #309 (with #301 and #318) moved northward the next day to Georgetown County, South Carolina. After several short northward flights, the three began moving south. They were found in Jones County, North Carolina on Nov. 20, where they spent the winter.

Spring 2005:
Began migration from Jones County, NC March 30 with #301 and #318. But these 3 cranes again got lost. The three were confirmed in Ontario, Canada — east of Lake Huron.
On May 8, #309 was alone on the northern shore of the St. Lawrence River, northeast of Lake Ontario, just across the U.S. (New York) border. She was seen leaving the area on that morning after a one-night stop. She was next spotted in west central Vermont on June 9. The WCEP tracking team hoped to catch her if she stayed there, but she flew away on June 30th. The flooded fields where she'd been staying were drying up, so it's not surprising that she left. She was next reported on August 11-13, 2005 at a wet hayfield in Lewis County, New York. (Her wayward flock mates #301 and #318 were successfully captured June 30 in Michigan by WCEP trackers and flown by aircraft to the Wisconsin Wildlife Refuge and released.)

"She's an important bird to the program, and if we leave her where she is we eliminate any chance there is that this bird will mate," said OM pilot Joe Duff. "She's a good, wild bird, certainly independent. The only problem is she happens to be a little lost."

Fall 2005: She was reported again on October 27, 2005 near her last sighting in northeastern New York. And then—HOORAY!—reported Dec. 9 on a farm in Beaufort County, North Carolina. She was still there on December 12. Because #309 has had trouble migrating, she was captured on Dec. 16, 2005. See what migration team member Mark says about #309.

Dec. 16, 2005: #309 is coaxed, captured and moved to Florida by truck
The wary #309 eventually got close enough to Sara and her corn so Sara could grab her and push her into a crate. They replaced her non-working radio transmitter, added a PTT, and then released her in Madison County, Florida among other whoopers and sandhills.
Richard van Heuvelen (OM) and Sara Zimorski (ICF) capturing #309.
Photo Richard Urbanek, USFWS.

She was released in a cattle pasture in Madison County because yearling females #419 and #420 were there and might be a good influence. But the two yearlings threatened and chased #309. She then flew to an area with one whooping crane (#415) and more than a thousand wintering sandhill cranes. Here's hoping #309 finds and remains with other whooping cranes at least long enough to form a pair bond with a male.

See the map of 309's migration travels Fall 2003-Fall 2005.

On January 14, 2006, #309 went to the pen site at Chassahowitzka NWR. She joined the '05 chicks in the main pen on Jan. 21, 2006. Crane #309 is a very submissive bird. She appears thrilled to have some friends again, and never bothers the younger birds.

Spring 2006: Left the "Chass" pen with chick #520 on March 27. She has never found her way back to Wisconsin on spring migration, but she now wears a PTT for tracking. On March 29-30, she and year-old #520 were still together in Tennessee, right on track for Wisconsin. But then came trouble. See what happened, and how #309 got back from New York to Wisconsin:

Fall 2006: Departed undetected in the Nov. 19 mass migration of 28 whoopers. Until then, she was in farm fields and wetlands in Monroe County, near the flock's Wisconsin summer home. She was still with #520 as they migrated south. On Dec. 18 the two completed migration to the Chassahowitzka, FL pen site. HOORAY! This is a BIG DEAL because it was the first successful unassisted migration between Wisconsin and Florida for BOTH of them. Crane #309 had gone to North Carolina the past 2 autumn migrations, leading #520 astray with her. (See details at the Slide Show link above.)

In Florida, #309 and male #407 left "Chass" on Dec. 20 and moved around a bit, mainly to Pasco County and Hernando County. They sometimes were quite close to houses (and that means people—not a good place for cranes). They landed briefly back at the Chass pen site on January 12, but then went back to Hernando County. They were often with #520 and sandhill cranes, and even with two of the year's Direct Autumn Release (DAR) chicks on Jan. 12.

Spring 2007: Began migration from Alachua County, FL on March 19 (with male #407). PTT readings indicated that the pair separated March 23 or 24 in Indiana. He went back to Wisconsin, but she didn't! She went to Michigan, New York, Ontario, and back to New York, her favorite state. (Her record of NOT finding her way back to Wisconsin on spring migration seems to be holding!)

On October 3 she was safely captured (again!) and brought back to Wisconsin by Sara Zimorski (ICF) and Richard Urbanek (USFWS). After a brief health exam, #309 was released on the refuge near a group of juvenile whoopers. The day after she was released she “stole” male #403 from another female (#W601) and the pair built two nests. They remained together during the summer and then migrated to Florida where they spent the winter. The WCEP team hopes that male #403 can convince her to return with him to Wisconsin in the spring — for the first time in her life! (Males are more reliable than females for returning to the area where they first learned to fly.) (She must have been happy to be with other Whooping Cranes again!)

Oct. 3, 2007: #309 is coaxed, captured and moved to from New York to Wisconsin by plane
Sara holds #309 as Dr. Richard Urbanek check 309 after bringing her back to Wisconsin. They put a hood over #309's head so she couldn't see the humans during the health check. It's easier for the people to work without wearing the hoods of their costumes.
Photo WCEP

Fall 2007: Crane #309 and male #403 (still together!) left Wisconsin on migration on November 27. They arrived safely at their old Chass pen site in Florida on Jan. 3! They moved with #313, 318, and 506 to Sumter County on Jan. 6. The next day the group of five cranes took off and separated in flight. But #309 stayed with #403 as they moved to Madison County. Scientists hope they will stay together on a territory all winter— and that #403 can convince #309 to migrate back to Wisconsin (instead of New York!) in spring for the first time in her life!

Spring 2008: Get ready! Wandering #309 and mate (#403) were tracked to their first overnight migration stop in Madison County, Florida, on February 28. They left the following day. They returned to Necedah NWR on March 27 and on March 30 were seen defending their territory against #213 and #218! HOORAY!! For the first time in her five springs #309 has completed migration to Wisconsin!!!! In more good news, #309 and #403 were observed April 9 sitting on a nest they made! This is #309's first time incubating eggs!

#403 and mate #309 defending their territory against #213 and #218 on March 30, 2008

Photo ICF Trackers

Aerial view of #309's nest on April 23

Photo Sara Zimorski, ICF
May 3 nest check: only eggshells

Photo Richard Urbanek, ICF

On May 3, #309 and her mate 403 were observed foraging together outside of their nesting marsh on the Necedah Refuge. "This was an indication that their nest had failed," said Dr. Richard Urbanek, "and on examination, only small eggshell fragments were found in the nest."

Fall 2008: Captured for transmitter replacement on Nov. 4. Began migration from Wisconsin on November 17, along with mate #403 and also #520. The pair (and #520) were still together When they reached Lafayette County, Florida in late December.

Spring 2009: Female #309 (with mate #403 and also crane #520) apparently began migration from Taylor County, Florida, between February 19 and 25. Mates #309 and #403 were confirmed on Necedah NWR on March 23 and already incubating eggs on April 8! This is the second spring in a row that #309 has made it back to Wisconsin, thanks to #403, who became her mate in 2007. An infestation of black flies had driven all the other nesting pairs off nests by April 24, but #309 and #403 kept sitting. However, their nest also failed; it appears that black flies made it impossible for them to keep incubating in comfort. Photos for spring 2009 below.

Photo Heather Ray, Operation Migration
By April 24, 2009 this pair had the only remaining nest out of ten nesting pairs this spring. They "toughed out" the torment of black flies hatched on very warm days April 23-24. A new video camera kept an eye on the birds and their precious nest.
Everyone was hoping this pair could keep incubating their eggs, due to hatch around May 5-7.

#309 and #403
Nesting 2009
Photo Sara Zimorski

But the black flies were too difficult to put up with. The pair left their nest and moved through the woods, showing signs of discomfort: shaking their heads and rubbing their heads on their backs to try to get rid of the pesty black flies.

Photo Sara Zimorski
After the birds left on Sunday May 3 and showed no signs of returning to the nest, 2 fertile and viable ( still alive) eggs were collected from the nest and brought to ICF.Sara reported: "The eggs
looked good and were old enough that you could see them move when the
brood call was played for them. This is how we knew they were still
alive." (More below.)

With 309's eggs at ICF, Sara said, "By May 5, one of the eggs was peeping, meaning the chick had gotten into the egg's aircell and was getting closer to hatching. ICF isn't ready for DAR chicks so on May 6 one of our newer aviculturists, Kim, took both of #309's eggs plus a fertile egg produced at ICF to Patuxent WRC in Maryland. Those chicks (if they make it) will get to return to Necedah where two of them came from!" The pair re-nested, but their second nest failed June 14. What about the rescued eggs from the first nest? They hatched and became ultralight chicks #906 and 908 in the Class of 2009 ultralight-led flock!

Fall 2009: Crane #309 and mate #403 began migration from Necedah NWR, Juneau County, Wisconsin, on December 7. No further reports until January 20 when an airplane tracking survey found them at home in a swamp in Lafayette County, Florida. Crane #416 was with them. They were there on Feb. 16 but gone by March 4.

New Mom #309 with her two new babies on May 31, 2010. By mid-July only one chick survived. The chick was flying by the end of August!
Photo Richard van Heuvelen, Operation Migration/WCEP

Spring 2010: Migrating pair #309 (hereafter called #9-03 according to WCEP naming standard) and her mate #403 (hereafter called #3-04 according to WCEP naming standard) were reported in Richland County, Illinois, on March 9-16. They were back on Necedah NWR by March 20 and were seen on a nest during an aerial survey on April 5. The nest failed April 11 and they nested again April 29-30. The wonderful news of TWO chicks (W1-10 and W2-10) came on May 31! (It is likely that one chick hatched May 30 and the second on May 31.) OM pilot Richard van Heuvelen first saw the parents with two chicks when he flew over the refuge on May 31 to monitor nests for research purposes. Both parents appeared to be tending to the chicks. One chick (W2-10) disappeared between June 6 and 7. The parents and remaining chick (W1-10) remained in the general wetland area where they nested.

Most of the adult Whooping Cranes left on migration November 23, 2010. Only nine remain on or near the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, including the family #9-03 (#309), #3-04 (#403) and wild-hatched chick #W1-10.

Female #9-03 (#309) is now the most productive bird in the Eastern Migratory Population, with 3 of her chicks "out there" somewhere!

Fall 2010: The family group of #9-03 (#309), #3-04 (#403) and their wild-hatched chick #W1-10 began migration November 25 or 26. They were detected in Lawrence County, Illinois on December 3. The family completed migration to their previous wintering territory at Lafayette County, Florida and were found during an aerial survey on December 21. They were in Taylor County, Florida during a survey flight on January 13, 2011. Trackers tried a ground search of this location on February 9 but the area proved to be inaccessible by ground. The family was not detected on an aerial search of the area on March 11. They may be headed north!

Spring 2011: Parents #9-03 (#309) and #3-04 (#403) completed their migration north (with their juvenile, W1-10, who soon separated from the parents, as normal at this age) to Necedah NWR by March 21. The pair had two failed nesting attempts this spring. On April 30 two viable eggs were collected from the first failed nest to be incubated in captivity. The pair re-nested May 18. This nest failed May 28. Two eggs were rescued and transferred to the International Crane Foundation. No chicks for this pair to raise in summer 2011.

Fall 2011: Pair #9-03 (#309) and #3-04 (#403) began migration between November 23 and 27. They were next reported in Wayne County, Illinois on December 30 in a warm winter when many cranes in the eastern flock did not go all the way south.

Spring 2012: Female #9-03 (#309) and mate #3-04 (#403) were detected in flight March 15 with several other Whooping cranes as they headed north over ICF in Baraboo, Wisconsin—close to Necedah NWR. They returned and were found with a nest on April 7! The pair incubated 35 days before leaving the nest. Their egg never hatched, so there were no chicks for this pair in summer 2012.

Fall 2012: She was captured Nov. 5 (before fall migration) and her transmitter replaced before migration. Her original band colors remain the same.

Spring 2013: Female #309 (#9-03) and mate #403 (#3-04) completed spring migration back to Necedah NWR in Wisconsin on March 29. By mid April they were observed on a nest. Like all but one of this season's first nests, their first nest failed, but the rescued eggs were taken to ICF for incubation and hatched May 15 and 16. These became chicks #2-13 and #5-13 in the ultralight-led Class of 2013! In addition, this pair had nested a second time by May 31 and successfully hatched out baby #W3-13. Bev photographed the chick with one of its parents again on a July 23 aerial survey The chick was the only wild-hatched chick of 2013 to survived and fledge and start fall migration with its parents!

W-3-13, alive and well on July 23 with one of its parents.

Fall 2013: The family completed migration to the adults' previous wintering location in Wayne County, Illinois, by November 14, but their young colt, W3-13, was last observed alive during an aerial survey flight on December 11. As of January, the colt was presumed dead. The parents completed migration to Wheeler NWR in Alabama.

Spring 2014: Female #9-03 and mate #3-04 began migration from Wheeler NWR in Alabama sometime after 29 January. Two birds reported in Wayne County, IN, on 21 February are believed to be this pair. They arrived back at Necedah NWR on March 29 or 30. They soon were nesting but the nest failed in a bad black fly season.

Fall 2014: Pair #9-03 and #3-04 left Juneau County, WI, on fall migration between Nov. 6 and 9. They spent the first month or less at Wheeler NWR, Alabama and then moved to Wayne County, Indiana.

Spring 2015: Female #9-03 and mate #3-04 returned to Wisconsin in March. They were seen May 22 on a nest. Experts removed those eggs and one of them became ultralight crane #8-15! The pair re-nested and their second nest produced one (possibly two) chicks around June 2. One chick, W18-15, survived the summer and fledged! Gender was undetermined, and the family was too elusive to let the chick be captured and banded before fall migration.

Fall 2015: Family group #9-03, #3-04, and colt W18-15 were spotted November 10 in Wayne County (southern Illinois). A knowledgeable observer reported that if this year is like last year, the family may remain in the area as long as weather is milder and commute between there and Wheeler NWR in Alabama when weather becomes severe. Indeed, the family was observed in both locations as winter unfolded.

#9-03 with family on northern Illinois wintering groundsPhoto Leroy Harrison

Spring 2016: The family of female #9-03, mate #3-04 and chick W18-15 were spotted March 7, back in Richland County, Illinois. The family was in Wayne County, Illinois, as of March 21. The pair returned to Juneau County, WI where they and hatched new chicks W13-16 and W14-16. First seen May 28 and May 30 with the parents, the chicks did not survive the summer.

Fall 2016: Pair #9-03 and #3-04 migrated south and were seen at their wintering grounds in Richland County, Illinois, Nov. 11 and 12. During December, the pair were confirmed at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama. They use both wintering areas, depending upon the local weather conditons. Here they are in February, 2017, on their Illinois territory:

Pair #3-04 and #9-03 on their Illinois wintering groundsPhoto Leroy Harrison

Spring 2017: Female #9-03 returned to Necedah NWR with her mate #3-04 and they were incubating one egg on their nest by early April! It is likely that a second egg was laid soon afte this photo was taken. The photo shows male #3-04 taking his turn for incubating while his mate returns to the nest:

Pair #3-04 and 9-03 with nestDoug Pellerin, 2017

The pair re-nested and were incubating their second nest when seen on Bev Paulan's May 12 flight. On June 5 they hatched chick W14-17, who survived until about mid July.



Last updated: 7/19/17



Back to "Meet the Flock 2003"

Journey North is pleased to feature this educational adventure made possible by the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP).

Photo Richard van HeuvelenPhoto Richard van Heuvelen