Meet the 2009 Whooping Crane Chicks!
Hatch-year 2009 of the Eastern Flock

Crane # 903

Date Hatched

May 4 , 2009



Date of Photo:

Egg Source: Patuxent WRC

Leg Bands

(Attached after reaching Florida)

Left Leg Right Leg
 radio antenna 

  • Read about the naming system, hatch place in Maryland, release site in Wisconsin, over-wintering site in Florida, and leg-band codes.

Personality, Early Training
Notes from the captive breeding "hatchery" at Patuxent WRC in Maryland:
903, age 12 days, gets some swimming exercise under the watchful eye of 'lifeguard' Barb Clauss.
Look at those long legs!
(Click to enlarge.)

Photo Bev Paulan, Operation Migration

"Little 903 loves water," said Bev. "He is the only chick that makes his “happy chick” sound (the trill), when he is swimming. We are swimming him twice a day, which we do with some chicks, to help strengthen potentially weak legs. Every time we pick up a chick, they scream bloody murder, peeping so loudly, it actually hurts the ears. Chick 903 is no exception until he sees the pool. We pick up and carry each chick to the pool, and 903 is the only one that actually calms down as we approach the water. As soon as we set him down, he starts to trill. Then he starts to bathe. At least he tries. He dips his head continuously, sometimes even getting his back under water. The first time I saw this, I nearly had a heart attack as his head disappeared under water. This is a regular thing with him, and I actually look forward to his daily swim."

On June 4 intern Trish said, "903 is huge now – up past my knee! I could see where his feathers are starting to grow in and he has these cute little Shrek-like tufts where his ears are."

Notes of Flight School in Wisconsin:
He was flown to Wisconsin with Cohort One chicks on June 25. When they were finally led into their new pen, he fell asleep. When he woke up he stretched his wings and took a bath. It looks like he'll like his new home just fine!

Cohort 1 FLYING Aug. 17 Photo Bev Paulan, Operation Migration

Like all the chicks in cohort one, he was flying by July 20, and he often needed a lot of coaxing to go back into the pen after flying a training session with the ultralight. On July 21 he flew at the height of the ultralight's wing! By early August cohort one was flying circles over the training areas. By early August 903 and the rest of the group were flying circles over the training areas. By mid-August they were flying larger and longer circuits. Crane 903 became a great flier and folllower—but in mid September, #903 often turned back after take-off. What is he thinking? He also is the last to come out of the wet pen when handlers check the birds at roost time. Maybe #903 prefers to be by himself.

On Sep. 26 he refused to stay with the ultralight when his cohort was led over to the site where the other birds have been together since Sep. 5. Finally, on Sep. 30 pilot Chris G. was successful in leading #903 and #911 over to complete the move so all the Class of 2009 is together at one pen site. That day, he flew again during a training session with his cohort mates.

Oct. 11: The team hoped to combine training with a flight to a remote part of the refuge where a travel pen was set up. The birds would be closer to their first migration stopover. But the birds had other plans! Only six followed the ultralights over and the others, including 903, wouldnt follow and ended up in various places. After Joe landed cranes 903 and 919, the two were crated up and driven in the tracking van to the travel pen where the team wanted the flock tonight. But only nine of the Class of 2009 made it today, and the others finally got rounded up and are back at their old pen for another day.

First Migration South: Chick #903 (and 14 others!) turned back to Necedah NWR when the Class of 2009 left on their first migration on October 16, 2009. They all had to try again the next day to follow the ultralights to the migration's first stopover site, where five flockmates landed on Day 1. Find day-by-day news about the flock's migration and read more about #903 below.

Oct. 27: Today chick 903 proved that he could be a good follower as he flew to Stopover #2 with six flockmates and Richard's ultralight. This photo was captured from the CraneCam soon after arrival of the seven "leaders."

Nov. 1: Hooray! 903 (and ALL the others!) flew the distance to Stopover #3. No crates needed!

Nov. 20: Crane 903, who has turned into a great follower, was one of ony four chicks who obediently came back when called on exercise day. The other 16 took off and didn't come back! The next day, the obedient four followed the ultralight to join their flock mates at Stopover #7.

January 20, 2010, Day 89: Migration complete for the "Chass 10:" #901, 903, 904, 905, 907, 913, 919, 924, 927, and 929! Male 903 flew all but 4 miles of this migration!

Photo: Sara Zimorski, ICF

Winter at Chass NWR: #903 is bossy. Winter monitor Eva tells about it: He challenged me for dominance by standing up tall and then jumping up high and raking forward with his toenails, trying to get me to back down. During one of his jumps he raked the top of my puppet head, which I was holding five and a half feet above the ground! I decided enough was enough. I chased him backwards until he eventually turned away, finally admitting he was not going to win THIS confrontation. He will probably try it many more times ahead.

Sara explains why you must pay close attention to 903's leg bands. Both 903 and 927 have RGR bands, BUT the transmitter and bands are on opposite legs, making each bird's code a unique and separate banding code. On which leg are 903's RGR bands?

Gone. In March, #903 disappeared. "He and the other chicks roosted with or near three of the 2008 sub-adults on the night of March 6th, but he did not return with them to the pen the next day," wrote Eva Szyszkoski, ICF Tracking Field Manager. "His radio transmitter signal could not be heard in the afternoon, and an airboat search was conducted that day. On March 8th, Tim Dellinger of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission searched the area for about two hours by plane, but with no luck. Another airboat search was conducted a day or two later but once again, nothing was found. It would be unusual for #903 to have migrated alone this early, and while we still have some hope that he may be alive somewhere, we have to admit that the chances of that are low. Even if he is no longer alive, it is unusual that we cannot hear his signal. Usually, even if a crane is killed by a predator, the bird’s transmitter still works and we are able to locate their remains."

Death. Early on March 17 Dr. Richard Urbanek confirmed that #903 had died. His remains were found near a marsh on eastern Chassahowitzka NWR. The radio signal of the missing bird was detected by Tim Dellinger, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, during a search flight March 16. the remains had been moved by scavengers, and signals were detectable from tracking aircraft as well as from nearest airboat access 0.5 miles from the site. The ICF/FWS Tracking Team found the remains scattered along some hog trails. They believe he was likely killed by a bobcat, although wild hogs might have helped scavenge the remains.


Last updated: 3/17/10

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