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

Crane #12-11

Date Hatched

May 14, 2011



Egg Source

Species Survival Center, Louisiana

Leg Bands

(Attached after reaching Florida)

Left Leg Right Leg
(VHF radio transmitter)

Temporary/migration band: red

  • 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
The youngest in the group, #12-11 was hatched in a sort of fragile state. She had trouble breaking out of the egg, so needed help to hatch (an unusal event). Even after hatching, #12 still seemed weak and fragile, explains Geoff. The chick is small, even for her age, and a bit funny looking. "Her down fuzz didn’t grow in right in parts along her body, especially her head. It almost looks like she has scars all along her head (which might be, possibly from the eggshell pushing against her). For the longest time, she had to be tube-fed and had to take meds. Behaviorally speaking, she had trouble recognizing her surroundings, and had trouble responding to the puppet when she was being fed. In short, she looked to me like she might go to sleep and never wake up."

But then she began getting stronger every day, making progress, and then eating on her own." She’s still a puny, funky little chick, but the handlers admired her determination as the days passed and the chicks slowly came together as a group.

Despite being the flock’s littlest sister, she does not let herself be intimidated by #8, the big bully and thug. Geoff said, "I’ve seen her pace the fence behind 8-11 and act like she wants to climb it and get to his side, too. But this sort of hooplah is no good," worries Geoff, and #8 was a real danger—not only to #12 but to all the other chicks too.

She was transported in a private plane to White River Marsh, Wisconsin on June 28 with the rest of the Class of 2011.

Notes from "Flight School" at White River Marsh in Wisconsin:
"Back at Patuxent, little #12 was a spunky gal who wasn’t afraid to stand up for herself," recalls Geoff. "But ever since she came to White River Marsh, she’s seemed a little more timid and reserved. She’s never one of the birds at the front of the crowd anymore, and always gingerly pecks at the puppet and costume. But then again, if you were in an unfamiliar pen, with so many birds, all of whom are way bigger than you; wouldn’t you lose some of your spunk?" But Caleb and Geoff didn’t give up on her. On the day of our first morning training session in Wisconsin, #12 was the only chick who didn't exit the pen. Caleb and Geoff guided and led her out the door, where she was able to hook up with the rest of the flock. As days went on, she continued to need a little guidance getting out the gate.

By August 1 after a few days of no training due to rain, Geoff said, "Even #12 is just as eager as the rest of the birds to start training when the trike taxied on the grass past the pen. There are still days when she needs to be escorted out, but those days are becoming fewer."

"All the birds seem eager to follow the aircraft. Whether they’re flying, or just catching ground effect, I can count on roughly eight or nine of them flapping after the trike," said Geoff in early August. Soon they should be able to climb higher and keep up with the trike. But by mid August, #12 was still one of of 6 or 7 birds who still were not getting airborne behind the plane. This group usually slammed on their brakes and stayed on the runway as soon as the trike lifted into the air. They'd rather "chill" at the end of the runway than take off and follow!

It was a joyous day on August 21 when she, the youngest b irds, lifted off to join three strong cranes flying past with Richard's trike. By the end of August she was taking off with the ultralight. On the August 27 flight, #12 stayed airborne with #2, #4, and #6—who are the best fliers in the group! She's a great little bird and really making progress.

September 8, 2011
Image: Geoff Tarbox

Crane #12-11 flies with pilot Richard on Sep. 17, 2011.
#12 flies in the "sweet spot" with pilot Richard on Sep. 17
Image: Heather Ray
#!2 accepts a grape

Female #12 soon became one of five birds the pilots could always count on to follow the trike. The pilots felt sure that they could’ve flown these five for miles and they’d all keep up. In early September, #12 was still a top follower, while two of the other top birds began to lag or dawdle. She consistently took off, or caught up, to go the distance. Go, TWELVE!

Finding the "Sweet Spot': On September 17 crane #12 had a long solo flight near the wing of Richard's ultralight plane while pilot Joe flew several attempts with the other birds. Being so close to the wing, she discovered that she could get a free ride on the air current off the planes wing. This is called the sweet spot, and theh pilots hope all the birds willl get the chance to fly close to the wing and get the benefit of gliding instead of always flapping. Richard said she was able to fly for about a half hour before landing. "In fact, if it wasn't for deteriorating air conditions forcing us to land, there's no doubt she could have kept going."

A week before migration Caleb admitted that #12 was his favorite. He calls her “my little baby girl 12-11”. Says Caleb, "She’s the runt of our cohort in size and age (but she’s also the cutest). When she was barely a foot tall she was throwing caution to the wind and challenged any bird she could. There were even a few times when we watched apprehensively as she challenged 8-11 through the fence. (This was when there was still hope for 8-11 to stay in the cohort.) At the same time she was a little aggressive ball of down. She had a thing, as I’ve mentioned before, about sitting as close to us costumes as possible. It melted my heart.

"My little baby girl 12-11 has changed her attitude a lot since coming to White River Marsh. She has turned into one of the — if not THE most — submissive birds of the group. In fact, she is constantly in the crane ‘Cower’ posture except when she’s soaring above the trees. She still likes to come up to us costumes and nibble gently when she’s not badgered away by her fellow colts, and I usually have to go out of my way to make sure she gets a grape (which I always do. See photo at right). All in all she’s definitely become a quiet little girl."

Migration departure week: Geoff sums up crane #12: "The flock's kid sister. When we first got her, I didn't think her chances were too good. She was puny, even for a chick her age, her neck looked funny, and I believe she needed constant tube feeding, which is never a good sign. But she got better a few days later and was making as much progress as the rest of the chicks were. She was still a bitty little thing compared to rest of the flock, even to this day. But what impressed me was that she was a little box of firecrackers. When we first socialized her, she wasn't very intimidated by the birds we were pairing her with. I remember her staring down a couple of her siblings while at Patuxent. Even more impressive, she was the only bird who wasn't afraid of the big bad #8. She shot him as many dirty looks through the fence as he did to her. Ultimately, 8-11 was still the more dominant bird. But #12 still hung in there longer than some of the others did. However, that all seems to have gone away now. Perhaps it comes from being surrounded by nine other birds bigger than her. It could come from 1-11 being a jerk, but 12-11 is now the submissive bird. The spunky little Napoleon from Patuxent is now pretty shy and timid, even around the costume. She's usually the one whose grape gets stolen.

"Even though she's unassertive on the ground, she's pretty assertive in the air, and she is one of our more reliable fliers. And unlike #6 or #10, she hasn't quit on us at any point. She's not going to challenge #2's and 7's supremacy any time soon. But as long as she has some place where she can climb a few notches in the hierarchy is aces with me."


First Migration South, Led by Ultralight Airplane:

Crane #12-11 left White River Marsh SWA on her first migration on October 9, 2011. She was one of five in the Class of 2011 to take off with Brook's ultralight, and one of only three to go the 5-mile distance to the first stopover on Day 1 despite bumpy air. Find day-by-day news about the flock's migration and read more about #12-11 below.

Crane #12, like #4 and #10, gets her deworming medicine inside a grape, since she wont' touch a smelt with a 10-foot pole. (Cranes usually love to eat smelt, a tasty small fish, in which the team puts de-worming medicine so the cranes will get their meds.)

Oct. 22, Day 14: After being stalled several days by un-flyable weather at Stopover #1, Crane #12 was one of only four birds that flew to Stopover #2 with the ultralight. The others were crated and driven.

Oct. 28, Day 20: True to her reputation as one of the best, crane #12 (along with #3) stuck with Brooke's ultralight the whole flight today, even after #7 turned around and left them.

Oct. 29, Day 21: Crane #12—and all nine other birds in the Class of 2011—flew the distance today! It's the first day of the migration for the whole group to go the whole way. (The class is down to nine because missing crane #2-11 turned up with a big flock of wild sandhills.)

This is crane #12 in January, 2012.
Crane #12 in January 2012.
Image: Caleb Fairfax, OM

Day 43: Nov. 20, 2011: Crane #12-11 took off with her flock mates after 15 down-days, but she didn't fly more than a few miles before dropping out. Trackers located and boxed her up for the drive to the Piatt County Stopover.

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 #12-11!





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. On April 25 it was learned that #12 is traveling with #7 and #10! That means she went from Houston County, Minnesota, corrected her course to move further east to eastern Marquette County, Wisconsin, and then to Columbia County, approximately 27 miles south of White River Marsh on April 21. Hooray! In early June, this group of thre was reported in neighboring Marquette County, WI— approximately 11 miles from their former pensite, and right on the migration route between the first and second stopovers made on their aircraft-led journey south.

Fall 2012: Crane 12-11 migrated and spent winter iin Colbert County, Alabama.

Spring 2013: Completed migration to Wisconsin on March 29 with #7-11 and #10-11 In mid-April she was seen in possible nest-building behavior, on a territory with male #10-11.

Fall 2013: Crane 12-11 migrated from Adams County, W after November 12 (likely Nov. 22) to Wheeler NWR in Alabama. She had arrived there by 12 December. She wintered at Wheeler with several other birds including #5-11. Trackers do not know exactly where and when she paired with #5-11, although it seems likely that they did pair at Wheeler NWR during the winter.

Spring 2014: Completed migration to Juneau County, Wisconsin, and was already with #5-11 when found in Juneau County, Wisconsin on March 28. She nested with with male #5-11. The nest was still active as of April 30 but failed in May.

Fall 2014: Departed Juneau County, WI on migration with #5-11 the week of Nov. 10-16. They wintered at Wheeler NWR, Alabama.

Spring 2015: Completed migration to Juneau County, Wisconsin and nested with mate #5-11. The nest was still active as of May 4, but no news of nesting success this spring.

Fall 2015: Completed migration to Wheeler NWR in Alabama, with a stop at Goose Pond in Indiana on the way south.

Spring 2016: Crane pair #5-11 and #12-11 returned to Wisconsin and were observed by pilot Bev Paulan on March 30 near their nesting marsh in Juneau County, Wisconsin. On May 5 Bev confirmed the hatching of their chick, W4-16! She photographed their fresh hatch with Mom and Dad:

Parents #5-11 and #12-11 with their new chick May 6, 2016

Bev again saw the chick and mom on her survey flight when the chick was 10 days old:

#12-11 and chick, age 10 days

By June 1, chick W4-16 was no longer alive.

Fall 2016: Crane pair #12-11 and #5-11 were chosen as prospective alloparents when the parent-reared Class of 2016 chicks were released in September. Sure enough, they appeared to be forming a bond with PR 33-16, who was still with the pair as of Oct. 18. It was a big surprise when, just two days later, PR #33-16 appeared to have started southward migration—alone! Pair #12-11 and #5-11 had completed migration in December to Wheeler NWR in Morgan Co, AL.

Spring 2017: Crane pair #12-11 and #5-11 returned to their Wisconsin territory in Juneau County and were nesting by early April. They hatched two chicks, one day apart, Apr. 30/May 1. The chicks were the first of the season for the eastern flock.

#5-11  and 12-11 with newly hatched chicks in early May, 2017
Beverly Paulan, Wisconsin DNR Pilot

Chick W1-17 with parents #12-11 and #5-11, seen from the air on May 12:

W1 with parents, see from the air on May 12, 2017

W2-17 died, but W1-17 was still doing well at about 40 days of age when seen on Bev's June 8 flight, but had disappeared by her June 15 flight. Sadly, no chicks to fledge this summer for this pair.

Last updated: 7/3/17

Back to "Meet the Flock 2011"