Meet the Class of 2012 Whooping Cranes
Hatch-year 2012 of the Eastern Flock

Back to Meet the Cranes 2012

Baby crane #4-12
Photo: Operation Migration
Crane #4-12
Date Hatched April 30, 2012
Gender Male
Left Leg Right Leg
(VHF radio transmitter)


Personality and Training: Crane chick #4-12 is the oldest and one of the biggest in the Class of 2012, yet he started out meek and nervous.

During flight school in Wisconsin, he was the most likely chick in the group to wander off, need coaxing out of the pen, or attempt getting over the fence into the marsh. He often wanted to wander off the runway instead of joining in training. The costumed pilots and ground crew spent extra time with him in hopes he'll become a loyal follower. By July 10 crane #4 was running and skipping behind the taxiing ultralight as he began trying to fly. By July 15 he and all the other birds were flapping and chasing behind the ultralight. On July 30, when the weather cooled, #4 and the others finally found out what their big wings are for: They lifted off and flew behind the ultralight, down the training strip and back. It was a day to celebrate!

Crane #4 was flying well, but one thing worried the team: He breathed through his open mouth, as though tired and panting. No matter how quickly he gets tired, there's no questioning his loyalty to the trike. Even if he gets tired and lands on the runway, he'll try to catch the trike as it passes by—even if he usually has no luck doing it. Brooke points out, "The bottom line is he's really got some serious heart, and in the end that's what separates the cranes from the herons."

We're cheering for you, #4!

Crane 4 with new leg band

Images: Operation Migration
Crane 4 on September 19, 2012
Compare crane #4 with crane #10 on September 17.

Fall 2012:

Day 1, September 28: All six young cranes in the Class of 2012 successfully flew all 19 miles on the first day of their journey south! They made it to Stop #2 in Marquette County, WI.

Day 4, October 1: Onwarto Stop #4, Columbia County, Wisconsin. All six birds stayed on Brooke's wing the whole way, despite headwinds. With new stuff to poke and prod, they dawdled along through the cornfield and it took Brooke and Richard 20 minutes to coax them into the pen.

Day 5, October 2: Another fly-day! Green County is the final stop in Wisconsin. Go cranes!

Day 9, October 7: Onward to Illinois! Crane #4 was late getting out of the gate for the take off, but he flew solo with Richard's plane from Green County, WI to Winnebago County, Illinois. Nice job, Richard and #4!

Crane #4 flies solo with Richard.
Image: Anna Saeman

Day 15, October 12: All six awesome birds flew the 55 miles to LaSalle County, IL. for a total of 175 miles flown so far.

It's a good thing they had pumpkins and corn for rewards for the next several days while unflyable weather kept them grounded at this stop.

Day 29, October 26: After 13 days grounded by headwinds or rain, the Class of 2012 got the right weather at last. Tailwinds helped them fly right over Stop #7 and on to Stop #8 in Piatt County Illinois. Today's 114-mile flight was the longest yet for #4-12.

Day 35, November 1: Woo-hoo! Crane #4-12 and three of his four classmates covered 119 miles in almost two hours of flying alongside Richard's plane. Once above the rougher air near the ground, they climbed to an altitude of 3,500 feet and soared right over their planned stop and onward to Wayne County. They're at the final stopover in the state of Illinois!

This triumph was followed by two days with no flying due to winds or rain.

Young cranes in the travel pen on a no-fly day.
Image: Operation Migration

Day 38, November 4: Crane #4 and his flock mates crossed another state border and flew the 45 miles to to Union County, Kentucky in 1 hour 11 minute

Day 40, November 6: Today's flight to Marshall County, KY put the team just 34.5 air miles short of the migration’s half way point! Crane #4 made the 1 hour 52-minute flight just fine!

Day 42, November 8: All five birds launched with pilot Brooke and flew the 53 miles across the state border into Tennessee!

Day 47, November 13: Skipped a stop and crossed the state border into ALABAMA! Today's flight was 177 miles!!

Day 49, November 15: They flew 58 miles to Chilton County, AL. "The birds enjoyed the flight, switching from wing to wing, flying ahead, dropping below, and dancing the skies with a great sense of jubilation," wrote pilot Brooke.

All five of the Class of 2012 fly to Union County KY

In the travel pen

Day 50, November 16: Whoopee for a great 46-mile flight to Lowndes County. Today #4 and #6 struggled at bit at the rear of the line, breathing with their mouths open at times, but they hung in there with Richard's plane and the other cranes. Just one more stop in Alabama!

Day 53, November 19: The team arrived safely in Pike County, AL this morning, covering 64 miles in 1 hour and 23 minutes of flying. Only 187 miles remain in this journey south!

Day 54, November 20: The Fantastic Five skipped over the first Georgia stopover and on to the FINAL Georgia stopover! They're in Decatur County, GA after flying 116 miles and passing the thousand-mile mark!


Five young cranes in flight with ultralight plane

Image: Sarah Jones
View from the camera mounted on the ultralight aircraft

Day 55, November 21: FLORIDA! Today's 43-mile flight brought them to Jefferson County, FL. Just one flight to freedom remains! No flight tomorrow, Thanksgiving Day.

Day 57, November 23: HOME! The journey south ended with today's 45-minute flight to St Marks NWR. Their ground speed was about 48 miles per hour, with a gentle tailwind push in smooth air. The flight was flawless. Next for the Fabulous Five will be health checks and their new leg bands and band color code. Well done, Operation Migration Team!

Landing in Jefferson County

Florida: Dec. 11, 2012: With health checks and banding completed Dec. 7, today the pen gate opened to finally free the young cranes!

Brooke and a team of helpers from St Marks and Disney’s Animal Kingdom will check on the birds several times a day as they slowly learn to be wild. Each night they will call the birds back into the four acre, open-topped release pen with its 10-foot-tall fences and electric wire. The cranes will roost in one of the enclosed ponds, protected from predators while they sleep. In the mornings they will again venture out into the marsh to learn the ways of the wild. Wearing his costume, Brooke will be there watching.

Florida: January, 2013: The Class of 2012 spends lovely time foraging in their pond. The crane farthest away, in the back of photo on far right, is a plastic decoy to "model" roosting in the water for safety. The cranes are getting good at hunting and eating blue crabs!
Five cranes in pond with costumed monitor Crane #4 is on the far left.
Florida: January, 2013: The cranes head to the pond to roost as it gets dark. Which of these two is crane #4? Click on the photo to see all five cranes.
Cranes #4 and #7 heading for the water to roost as it gets dark

Florida: February, 2013: Offering the puppet beak to the cranes allows the handlers to get a good close-up look at each bird to check if all is well.

The birds enjoy flying freedom!

On Feb. 3, crane #6 was killed by a bobcat. The other four chicks were spooked for a few days, and Brooke set up live traps to prevent further predation.

Whooping cranes and costumed handler with puppet Four flying Whooping cranes from the Class of 2012
Feb. 8-12: The four cranes dawdled a long time before finally going back in their pen for night roosting. With the recent bobcat scare, this worried Brooke! On Feb. 9 all four birds were gone when Brooke came in the morning. He searched, but found no sign of them until Feb. 10, when two (#5 and #7) had returned at sunrise. But #4 and #11 had still not shown up by Feb. 12. Have #4 and #11 begun their first spring migration? Winds have been right for migration, and many sandhill cranes have already headed north. Stay tuned!

Feb. 13: Great news! Crane #4 is back—but without #11. Brooke said that #4 appeared very tired. Had the crane come from a long distance away? That would also explain why trackers never picked up his radio signal, nor that of his companion #11-12, despite an expanded area being searched. Brooke wrote: "Arriving at the blind, we looked on as an obviously tired #4 busily readjusted to pen life with the help of #5 and #7, stopping periodically to aim a desperate stare far off at of piece of distance for something….perhaps #11, before finally falling back into the familiar rhythm of pen life and following his two flock mates out on to the oyster bar to roost for the night."

The three remaining members of the Class of 2012

March 10: The three were in their St. Marks pond this morning, but the pen was empty by evening, and again the next morning. Migration winds were favorable. Did they go? Stay tuned!

Images: Operation Migration

Cranes #4, #7 and #5 in March at St. Marks NWR The 3 cranes in the Class of 2012 just before they began spring migration
Spring 2013: First Unaided Spring Migration North
March 10: Cranes 4-12, 5-12 and 7-12 left the pen site at the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, Wakulla County, Florida on March 10. No sightings or reports until. . .

April 19: Migration Complete! The three arrived in Sauk County, Wisconsin on April 19, the same date as the very first ultralight-led crane kids completed their first solo migration in spring 2012! Cranes 4-12 and 5-12 apparently left that location by April 27th and wandered, but spent a great deal of time at White River Marsh training grounds, where they were in "Flight School" a year ago as chicks themselves. Click on photos for captions:

Cranes #4 and 5-12 July 29 at White River Marsh Cranes #4-12 and #5-12 watch the chicks training. #4-12 waits outside the pen of the Class of 2013
Image: Doug Pellerin Image: Doug Pellerin Image: Doug Pellerin
Fall 2013: Cranes #4 and #5 remained in Green Lake County, Wisconsin through at least October 2. They were not found there on November 8 and were next reported in Pulaski Co, Illinois, on November 15. On December 7 the two pals turned up at their former Florida winter home, right inside the pen awaiting the Class of 2013. On January 5, when the youngest cranes finally completed their migration to Florida, the two older cranes were standing guard outside the pen! Well done, boys!

Cranes 4-12 and 5-12 arrived at St. Marks NWR for winter, landing right inside the pen awaiting the youngest cranes to arrive with ultarlight planes.Image: George (Bert) Burton

Sub-adult cranes #4-12 and #5-12 are staying at the St. Marks pen site for the winter. The Class of 2013 allowed the two sub-adults to stay as long as the older birds let the younger ones be boss. The sub-adults are even allowed to roost at night with the chicks on the oyster bar (a raised area in built from a pile of oyster shells in the pen's pond)! The two sub-adults remained on St. Marks NWR at least through March 4.


Crane #4-13 chases sub-adult #4-12 in the pen to show dominance.

Spring 2014: Departed alone from St. Marks NWR the afternoon of March 21 on his journey north. Earlier, he "betrayed" his old constant companion of two years, #5-12, and chased him out of the area of the pen where the youngest chicks spend their first winter. He'd been at the bottom of the pecking order, and even little female #2-13, regularly gave him trouble. Crane #4-12 migrated north alone and was next reported in Green Lake County, Wisconsin, on April 2. By early May, he was seen again with his old pal #5-12. Hooray!


Male cranes 4-12 and 5-12 together in Green County, WI
Image: Doug Pellerin

Fall 2014: Cranes # 4-12 and #5-12 left Wisconsin on or after Oct. 30 and migrated to St. Marks NWR in Wakulla County, Florida, arriving on November 30.

Older cranes show up at #4's training session.
On October 6, pals #4-12 and #5-12 invaded the training strip at White River Marsh and cut the session short for the Class of 2014 in their final week of training before fall migration.
Image: Colleen Chase

Cranes #4 and #5-12 look at #2-14 defending her crane chow from them in December 2014.
Once again, #5 and pal #5-12 hung out at the St. Marks pen site where the Class of 2014 arrived for their first winter. On Dec. 24, #4-12 chased #5 away, which he also did last winter. Will the two get back together again? By mid-January, #4-12 was hanging out with #4-13, near the pen site.
Image: Colleen Chase

Operation Migration's crane handler Colleen took this great photo from December 29 of adult Whooping crane #4-12 chilling on the oyster bar in the release pen with the 2014 chicks. Click to enlarge!

Crane #4-12 has decided that he must defend ‘his’ crane chicks (the Class of 2014) . He chases away all others, including his former pal #5-12!

#4-12 with Class of 2014 at Florida pen site
"Guard" #4-12 & Class of 2014
Image: Colleen Chase

Spring 2015: He departed on spring migration on March 11 from St. Marks NWR with pal #4-13 AND young #7-14 from the Class of 2014! The three were tracked and photographed at their first stopover, a cornfield within 20 miles from Operation Migration's southern migration stopover in Decatur County, Georgia. PTT readings from #7-14 indicated roost locations in Morgan County, Alabama on March 16; Humphreys County, Tennessee, on March 18-20; Henry County, Illinois, on March 22; Whiteside County, Illinois, on March 24; Carroll County, IL on March 25—and 4-12 was still with her. They were back in Marquette County, Wisconsin, by roost on March 28th.

Crane #4-12 was hanging out with #5-12 and #9-13 near White River Marsh State Wildlife Area in Green Lake County on April 21st. He showed up with #5-12 to supervise when young #8-14, 9-14 and 10-14 were released on White River Marsh after being captured and relocated when they failed to find their way home on spring migration. He hung out with young #3-14 the rest of the summer, and their group also included 5-12 and 4-14 and three females 9-14 and 10-14. They often visited the Class of 2015 at the training site at White River Marsh.

Crane #7-14 on first migration stop with adults
Image: Colleen Chase, O.M.

#4-12 (age 3) flying overhead#4-12, age 3, June 2015
Image: Operation Migration

Fall 2015: Crane # 4-12 was still with the group of six from summer; they were on the move as of November: On Dec. 8, #4-12 arrived at St. Marks NWR in Florida, together with the youngsters #3-14, #4-14 and #10-14. Click on the map to see their migration path, and where they were blown too far east in mid November. Leader #4-12 did a great job of getting the 2014 youngsters to their winter home on their first solo journey south!

Cranes 4-12 and younger 3-14 have continued their close relationship since arriving at St. Marks. In the last days of January, they moved about 80 miles north. (They may have witnessed the predation of #9-14 and decided it was time to leave the area.)

Map showing 2015 migration path south
Detour and Arrival
Operation Migration
Spring 2016: Male 4-12 and female #3-14 stayed together through the winter. The two were at St. Marks NWR for a short time before moving north to Miller County, Georgia in late January. A PTT hit showed #3-14 migrating north (perhaps still with #4-12, who does not have a transmitter), reaching northwest Kentucky by March 8 after traveling 250 miles the first day and 180 miles the next. On March 16, a PTT hit indicated female Whooping crane #3-14 roosted just off the north end of the White River Marsh training site in Wisconsin! Male #4-12 was later confirmed with #3-14 and the pair stayed in the area with several other Whooping cranes. In September, two of the 2016 Parent Reared crane colts were released near this pair in hopes one or both might be adopted by the adult pair before migration.

Fall 2016: On October 7, it finally appeared that a new family was formed when #4-12 and mate 3-14 flew off to their roost location for the night with PR colt #30-16! Time passed and the new family was still together., and seemed to be the only "adoption" working as it was hoped to. The little family group is possibly together with male #4-13, who always showed a lot of interest in the young PR crane, and his new mate #8-14.

Alloparents #4-12 and #3-14, with young PR #30-16, were considered a firm adoption and still together Dec. 4 at White River Marsh in Green Lake County, Wisconsin. The family began migration on December 7 and reached Floyd Co, GA.

PR30-16 and alloparents #3-12 and #3-14 in Wisconsin in November
New Family (with PR#30-16)
Doug Pellerin
Spring 2017: Male 4-12 and his mate 3-14 completed migration back to White River Marsh in Wisconsin on the evening of March 21. The chick they adopted, Parent Reared #30-16, was in the marsh, too, but about 300 yards from the adults. "They likely chased him away now that they are back home," noted Operation Migration's Joe Duff. "That’s a good sign that they may breed this year and produce their own offspring. They taught PR30-16 how to migrate and to be wild, and maybe he taught them how to be good parents."

The Royal Couple (female #3-14* and male #4-12) made BIG excitement when their new nest was discovered in mid April on White River Marsh! It's the first nest at the marsh since the aircraft-led chick training was moved here in 2011—safely out of territory of the black fly species that feed on birds, causing so many nest abandonments on Necedah NWR.

The pair, both hatched in incubators, also had the good instincts to build an incredible, symmetrical and tall nest platform in an ideal location surrounded by water, deep in the marsh. When heavy rains in late April made the water rise, the pair pulled additional cattails and vegetation onto the platform. Operation Migration's Heather Ray said on April 27, "We’re hopeful their instincts will continue to guide this pair for another 10-12 days, which is when we anticipate a hatch (or two)." Watch it all on the nest cam!

A sad outcome was in store as video feed revealed the nest was predated May 8th at 7:20 pm by a hungry coyote.  The two eggs both were viable. Egg fragments were collected. The nest is surrounded by water. The video feed showed the nesting adults doing everything they could to chase away another crane that intruded into their nesting territory. As the pair was distracted in those efforts, a determined coyote lurking nearby was able to get to their nest and eat the eggs. The eggs were due to hatch within a day or two at the most. We were reminded again that nature can be cruel.

The pair returned to the site of the empty nest the next day. Now we are left hoping and wondering: Will they try to nest again this season?

#3-14 on left, #4-12 on right at Necedah NWR March 2017
The Royal Couple Returns!
Tom Schultz

Aerial view of White River Marsh's first whooper nest
1st Nest, White River Marsh!
Bev Paulan
Whooping Crane Nest Cam
Nest Cam
Operation Migration
4-14 (right) is chased away from the nest site of pair
Chasing Away Interloper
Operation Migration Nest Cam


Last updated: 5/10/2017