Meet the New 2006 Whooping Crane Chicks!
Hatch-year 2006 of the Eastern Flock

Crane # 615

Date Hatched

May 21 , 2006



Date of Photo: June 17, 2006

Egg Source: PWRC

Permanent Leg Bands

Weight 9/06/06: 6.1 kg 
  • Read about the naming system, hatch place in Maryland, release site in Wisconsin, over-wintering site in Florida, and leg-band codes.

Personality and History

Migration Training: He came to Wisconsin for flight school on July 6 in cohort two, the 5 chicks in the middle birth order. On July 18, after two days off in hot weather, he was eager to follow the trike during training. But instead of going back into the pen after the flight, he jumped the fence and ran off to the swamp! When Marie rushed into the swamp to get him, he happily followed her back to the pen. Did he get scared by himself in the swamp?

By July 28 it was clear that Mr. #615 has a mind of his own. He joined his cohort mates on the first run, but took off for the marsh on his own instead of staying with the group. After the rest of the birds finished training, 615 finally came out of the marsh and got some private lessons from Joe. His flight instructors hope he will pay better attention tomorrow!

By August, the chicks were so eager to fly that they often forgot to wait for the trike. Charging out of the pen, they take off before the pilots have a chance to get moving. That happened on Aug. 7 with #615, who took off and promptly landed in the swamp. He came out right away, though, and joined his group for training. Two days earlier, pilot Bev said, "Training ended on the same note it always does, with #615 wandering away into the marsh. Brooke and I waded in after him, and after a lot of coaxing, we finally got him back on the runway and into the pen. Boy, that bird is independent!"

On September 29, Bev had to play "Swamp Monster" to scare #615 into flying with the trike instead of landing in the swamp. Bev's Swamp Monster act worked, and 615 joined the others and flew several more circuits. On October 1, all 18 cranes charged out of the pen and flew well for at least 20 minutes! Migration is only a few days away.

First Migration South
: Chick #615 left Wisconsin for his first migration on October 5th, 2006. He flew the whole first leg of the journey and landed safely at Stopover #1! Read day-by-day news about the flock's migration to see what happens.

Oct 14: To entertain the birds when they were stuck 4 days at Stopover #2, the team gave them some corn cobs. See the photo and Marie's comment about #615!

Oct. 23: The trackers were put to the test soon after takeoff today! News about 606, 608, 615 and 618 landing in the field came through the radio shortly after departure from Stopover #3. With the exact location of these chicks provided by top cover pilots Don and Paula, trackers Bev and Sara went to the the birds right away to secure their safety. They were crated and driven to Stopover #4.

Nov. 3: Chick #615 was the culprit who led the other birds out of formation several times in rough air today. He caused a lot of worry and trouble for the pilots, trying to keep the birds on course. Finally, Chris zoomed in and picked up the independed chick and flew alone with him. Richard said, "Without #615 I found the birds much more eager to follow and we really picked up the pace." What do you suppose #615 had in mind?

Dec. 18: #615 is causing more worry. Today he disappeared! The birds were reluctant to fly and four of them dropped out on the way to the last stop between them and their layover pen. #615 was the only one not found. He was last
seen thermalling (rising and soaring upwards on currents of warm air, as cranes naturally do in the wild) with about 2 hours of daylight left.The team hopes he found a safe place to roost. They will continue the search tomorrow, the day the migration will FINISH.

Dec. 19: The team and flock took off without the missing #615. The 17 birds landed at the layover pen and will stay there until early to mid-January when they will take their last flight a few more miles away to the chicks' usual winter pen at "Chass" NWR. By midmorning today, trackers were airbrorne to search for the radio signal of #615. Today's air and ground search was unsuccessful, but the team is confident that he'll be found and reunited with his flock.

Dec. 20: FOUND! Top cover pilots Don and Paula took one more turn looking for #615 and found his signal! Looking down, they saw several small lakes. Sure enough, there was 615 tucked away in a remote area on one of the lakes. They radioed Richard (who was tracking on the ground about an hour behind them) the location and said #615 seemed to be waiting patiently for someone to come for him. Richard found the spot within an hour. He put on his costume. Then, out of sight of the van, he turned on his vocalizer. Chick #615 flew over and landed next to him as if to say, "It's about time someone showed up!" After a ride in the van, he's with his flock mates at last!

#615 in Florida
Photo Sara Zimorski, ICF

Jan. 12, Moving Day: Yesterday #615 (and 11 others) didn't want to follow the trike and made it only about halfway. They spent the night in a travel pen with others that had to be crated and brought to the same site. They are still 10 miles from the final pen. The next morning in calm air and clear skies, all 12 "late" birds took off with Joe's plane. Their final flight with the ultralight lasted a charming 18 minutes. They landed at their final winter home at "Chass," where six cooperative flockmates had arrived the day before. All but one bird landed immediately. It was #615! Joe flew circles with for this eager flyer for more than 10 minutes before #615 was finally persuaded to land. They're all safe at their final winter home at "Chass." Migration finally complete!

The Sole Survivor: Class of 2006 Ultralight-led Cranes
On Feb. 2, the team thought 615 died with the other 17 chicks when violent storms moved through central Florida during the night. (As protocol requires, all 18 birds were in the top-netted enclosure as a protection against the older whoopers visiting the pen site, but only 17 carcasses were removed after the storm.) Then radio signals from 615's transmitter were heard the night of Feb. 3 and again on Feb. 4 near the Chass pen site. Trackers went into action. Later that day, they saw him with two sandhill cranes about 20 miles north. The sole survivor of the ultralight-led class of 2006 is#615. After the stunning loss, it was a thrilling discovery and ray of hope.

How did 615 survive? No one knows. "One thought is that it was near a gate. .. in the pen and water hitting it sort of jarred it a bit, and the crane slipped out," said Jim Harris of ICF.

What will happen next? The bird is a bit young to be on its own, but managing 615 alone at the old Chassahowitzka pen site would not have been easy for workers or good for the bird, according to Sara (ICF). As for his first migration back to Wisconsin in a few months, Sara said, "He should know the way, but we'll keep a very close eye on him."

Captured. On Feb. 11, 2007, an update from trackers was posted by Liz on the Operation Migration Website: During the week, #615 kept company with both Sandhills and Whoopers. He was very active, flying from county to county. He kept returning to the Halpata pen site where the chicks stayed before moving to Chass. Because he was dry-roosting and therefore in great danger of attack, trackers decided to capture #615 and move him to safety. The Tracking Team divided the pen into two sections because #105 was also being held at the Halpata pen after being removed twice from Homosassa State Wildlife Park. Trackers moved #615 into the newly created half of the pen. Both birds are given food and fresh water and are being checked daily. Some people are calling #615 Maverick and some are calling him Houdini! The team is thinking about what to do next.

Set Free! On March 3, Bev and Brooke drove out to the Halpata pen to box #615 for release. (They had tried to release him two days prior by letting him out of the pen, but he just ran off into the woods and wouldn't fly. With all the bobcats in the woods, they couldn't allow him to stay there, so back in the pen he went.) When 615 was boxed up, Bev and Brooke drove to meet Richard in the same marsh where #615 had been flying when they found him after the storm; they figured it would be a good spot for him. Richard and Brooke carried the box to the edge of the marsh and released #615, who spent the afternoon exploring his freedom, flying around and seeming at home. What a strange winter for him! Now he is free at last. He was still on Halpata Tastanaki Preserve as of March 24. He was usually in a small wetland in a wooded area.

#615 in Florida, April 3, 2007

Photo Stacy Kerley, WCEP Tracking Team

Spring 2007: Chick #615 remained on HalpataTastanaki Preserve, Marion County, Florida. He was usually alone in small wetlands, openings in wooded areas, or near the pensite

On April 30, Operation Migration leaders announced: "It is with immense sadness we report that #615, the only surviving member of the Class of 2006, was found dead by Mary Barnwell (Southwest Florida Water Management District) earlier today." The remains were found on Halpata Tastanaki
Preserve, Marion County, Florida.

He had last been observed alive at this location during an aerial survey on April 21. He was alone and appeared to be hiding in thick scrub shrub in a small marsh NE of the Halpata pensite. This behavior was not normal, and he probably died shortly after that observation was made. He was not found during a ground search later that afternoon or in several searches later in the week, probably because of reduced radio transmission while he was on the ground. His radiosignal was again detected from the air during an aerial survey on 29 April, and his remains were found during a ground search the next day in inappropriatee habitat with thick cover.
Remains were sent to Dr. Marilyn Spaulding at the University of Florida's College of Veterinary Medicine for necropsy. She was not able to pinpoint a cause of death, but believed that predation was not a probable cause of death.There were clues that 615 may have been sick from eating metal.

Last updated: 5/8/07

Back to "Meet the Flock 2006"


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