Meet the Class of 2011 Whooping Cranes!
Hatch-year 2011 of the Eastern Flock

Crane #6-11

Date Hatched

May 8, 2011



Egg Source

Calgary Zoo, Canada

Leg Bands

(Attached after reaching Florida)

Left Leg Right Leg
(VHF radio transmitter)

Temporary/migration band: green

  • 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

Chick #6 hatched on Geoff's day off. He had already grown, been moved into his own pen, and started getting exercised outside when Geoff met him. "By the time the week was up, he was taking care of himself like a big kid," said Geoff. "I guess you could say he’s pretty sharp and self-reliant if he was able to fend for himself so fast. In fact, almost none of the other chicks that hatched after him learned to eat on their own that soon. However, he still gets scared if something unexpected rears its head. He was pretty scared when he heard the trike the first few times, so Brooke and I had to work extra hard to keep him calm. When we took him out there the second time he seemed much calmer. I think he knows how to acclimate to scary stuff like a trike engine. He just has to be braced for it first." The first day Brooke and I took the chicks to the big pen that was flooded in the middle, I could only get #5 to get his feet wet. But it didnt' take him long to change. By the third trip to that pond, seemed to spend the most time of the bunch as he casually swam to the middle and all around.

July 19: chasing the trike!
Photo: Richard van Heuvelen

Notes from "Flight School" at White River Marsh in Wisconsin:
He arrived in Wisconsin on June 28 with his Class of 2011 flockmates — ready for flight school! He made progress in following, flapping, running, and later, lifting off the ground for short, low distances.

The chicks are really picking up following and flying behind the ultralight as it taxies down the grass strip. On July 26th, the team had a brief scare with #6-11, who looked as if he had hurt his leg in the fencing that separates the mowed grass training strip from the tall marsh grass. He refused to put any weight on the leg. He stood perfectly still, holding up his right leg for several minutes. The team was worried! But within a few minutes #6 was walking and then playing in the wet pen as if nothing had happened. Caleb said it was probably the crane equivalent of hitting a funny bone, but it scared the humans!

August 16: flying higher!
Photo: Doug Pellerin

September 8, 2011
Image: Geoff Tarbox
October 5, 2011
Image: Tom Schultz

By August 1, none of the colts were able to take off with the trike quite yet. But #6 (along with #2 and #4) try to follow the trike as it gains altitude. They usually end up looping around and going in for a landing, but real progress came during the Aug. 11 training. On that day both #5-11 and #6-11 were confirmed to fly with the plane. Both birds completed a large J-shaped flight path. After crane #2, #6 and #4 are the best fliers. Then, on August 19, #6 outflew them all. On that day he flew higher and farther, with Richard flying the trike, than all of the other cranes in the Class of 2011!

He's always among the top five fliers but in early September he didn't keep up with the trike as well as usual. Geoff said it was because he was having too much fun grubbing in the dirt the runway." I’ve seen him run around with clods of dirt in his beak every now and then," reports Geoff. The pilots hope he gets back to his better habits soon!

Migration departure week: Geoff sums up crane #6-11: "This fella's probably one of the biggest birds in the pen. You'd think a bird as big as him would have no trouble establishing himself in the pecking order. But, you'd be wrong. When I see him squaring off, he's usually the one backing down, even to the younger birds like 9-11 or 10-11. This might his make him a gentle giant, but I wouldn't say it makes him one of the more submissive birds. He just doesn't get into as many confrontations as you think he would.

As for effort, he applies himself off and on. I can remember a week or two in the summer where it was always him, 2-11, 7-11, 10-11 and 12-11 who would take off. Then a week later, he's back to milling on the ground with everyone else. Thankfully, he's back to flying with the trike in these past few training sessions. Seeing the costume isn't the high point of his day like it is for 5-11, but #6 doesn't shy away from it like #4 — or act hostile towards like #9. For the most part, I'd say he's a middle-of-the-road kind of guy. That makes sense, as he's in the middle of the chicks' ages."




First Migration South, Led by Ultralight Airplane:

Crane #6-11 did not make it to the first stopover on Day 1 or Day 2. Instead, he (and the other 4 males in the class of 2011) had to be crated and driven after they didn't stay with the ultralight plane on Day 3. Find day-by-day news about the flock's migration and read more about #6-11 below.

Team members get ready to capture and crate Crane #6-11 to the next stopover after he dropped out of the flight.
Photo: Operation Migration

Day 19, October 27, 2011: So far, crane #6 has dropped out of every flight and been crated/driven to the next stopover. Today he dropped out again. He also took two other birds flying with him. He was crated and driven to Stopover #3. The other two birds took off again with the ultralight and reached Columbia County by air. Is Crane #6-11 a bad influence? It's beginning to look that way!

Day 28, Oct. 28, 2011: Richard was losing altitude trying to keep #6 with him when it came time to fly over a highway. Rather than lose one bird in unknown territory, Richard landed with his five birds and sent the GPS location to trackers in thevan. Within minutes they arrived and put #6 in a crate again for the drive to the Green County, WI stopover.

Day 29, Oct. 29, 2011: HOORAY! Crane #6-11 flew his first entire leg of the migration today! Even better, every one of the 9 birds flew the distance on this wonderful day.

Nov. 20, Day 43: After 15 down days, the birds and trikes finally got to fly again! Crane #6 blasted out of the pen and flew the 59 miles to Piatt County, IL.

Dec. 11, Day 64: Headwinds made today's flight to Franklin County, Alabama a long, tiring one. After 2.5 hours of flying, crane #6 didn't like the spot. He stuck with Joe's plane when Brooke and his birds dropped down to land. Joe did another low pass, pretending he was going to land so #6 would drop down and land too, but still #6 refused. He followed Joe's trike as it climbed again. He ignored the brood call that Brooke was playing from the landing spot below. For 15 minutes he flew with Joe's airborne trike as Joe led him back and forth past his flockmates in hopes he'd land. Then Richard and his five birds arrived. That's when #6 flew to Richard's wing, even as those five birds dropped down to land! Crane #6 circled for another 15 minutes (30 minutes total!) before he finally gave up and landed.

February 4, 2012: The nine cranes in the ultralight-led Class of 2011 became the first to finish their migration in a road vehicle. They were crated at the travel pen in Winston County, Alabama and driven to Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge to finish the winter and learn to be independent. Banding took place February 8. Brooke will watch over them as they slowly become wild and free. Check this bio page for further news in the life of of crane #6-11!

Spring 2012: First Unaided Migration North:
The nine cranes in the ultralight-led Class of 2011 ALL began their first journey north together from Wheeler NWR in Alabama on April 12 at 11:00 a.m. Three of the birds (#4, #7, and #9) are wearing PTT units so they can be tracked by satellite. GPS data showed they roosted the first night only 10 miles from their journey south stopover site in Union County, Kentucky. On their first full day of migration they covered about 231 miles and made it to Gallatin County, Illinois. PTT data indicate an April 15th daytime location in Wayne Co., IL for Whooping crane #9-11. Were they all together? Data from the same evening have cranes #4 and #7 at a roost location in Bureau County, IL. "It is possible that the nine cranes are still traveling as a group, however, we have no way of confirming this," said Operation Migration's Heather Ray. They did not travel April 16. By April 19 tracker Eva confirmed: The 9 ultra-light birds have split into at least two groups. When ithe birds were closer to their 'home" at Wisconsin's White River Marsh, signals from cranes #6-11 and #3-11 were picked up near #4-11, whose PTT signals April 20 put her in southern Columbia County, Wisconsin— a short distance south of White River and very near to the third migration stopover used on the Journey South. Hooray!

Whooping cranes 3, 4, 5 and 6-11 traveled together. The group of four arrived in southern Columbia County, WI., approximately 40 miles south of the White River Marsh SWA on April 20, eight days after departing the Wheeler NWR where they wintered. WELL DONE! By May 14 (photo below) they had not moved much and were still together. Hardly any sign remains of their rust-colored chick feathers. On May 31 a citizen scientist sent a photo of the four of them, still together, in Green Lake County, WI. This location is less than 3 miles from where they took their first flights with Operation Migration's aircraft last summer.

Cranes 3,4,5, and 6-11 after completing their first spring migration back to Wisconsin

Fall 2012: Migrated south to Wheeler NWR in Alabama.

Spring 2013: Completed migration back to Wisconsin on March 29 together with #3, #4 and #5 from his 2011 cohort. Here he is with female #15-11 (DAR) in mid-April, near White River Marsh where he trained with the ultalights for his first migration south.

#15-11 and #6-11 back in Wisconsin
Image: Renny Stephen.

Fall 2013: Migrated south to Wheeler NWR in Alabama.

Spring 2014: Completed migration to Dane County, Wisconsin by March 19, with #15-11 DAR, 17-07, 7-12 and the young DAR 59-13 (Latke). They all left Wheeler NWR in Alabama on March 5 and made their way north. The four older birds left the juvenile #59-13 in Dane County on March 21 when they continued to Necedah NWR.

Group of five Whooping Cranes, including Latke, after completing spring migration to Wisconsin.
Image: Eva Szyszkoski, International Crane Foundation

Fall 2014: Cranes #6-11/15-11 DAR and #38-08 DAR moved from their summering territory in Wood County, WI, to a staging location in Marquette County, WI by September 28. They left on migration on Oct. 30th or 31st, and wintered at Wheeler NWR in Alabama.

Spring 2015: Cranes #6-11 and 15-11 DAR returned to Juneau County, Wisconsin without their pal #38-08 DAR, who remained behind in Wheeler County, Alabama until she finally was seen with them back in Wisconsin in August.

Fall 2015: Cranes #6-11, #15-11 DAR and #38-08 DAR were first seen on their wintering grounds at Wheeler NWR on November 20, 2015. They stayed at Wheeler until December 5, 2015, when they moved to McNairy County Tennessee for the rest of the winter. They were first reported back in Wisconsin on March 8.

Spring 2016: Crane pair #6-11 and #15-11 DAR were seen on a nest on March 30 by Wisconsin DNR pilot Bev Paulan and again a renest on May 6, but hatched no surviving chicks this summer.

Fall 2016: Crane #6-11 was not seen when his mate #15-11 DAR arrived at Wheeler NWR on Nov. 13, but they are still watching for him. He was last seen by Operation Migration's Brooke Pennypacker on September 9, 2016, in Wood Co., WI with female #15-11.

Spring 2017: Male #6-11 is missing.


Last updated: 6/6/17
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