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

Back to Meet the Cranes 2012

Baby crane #6-12
Photo: Operation Migration
Crane #6-12
Date Hatched May 3, 2012
Gender Female
Left Leg Right Leg
(VHF radio transmitter)

Personality and Training: This free-spirited female 6-12 was at first "a silly little bird who could barely stay awake long enough to take a drink."  Proving how fast baby cranes change and develop, she soon was drinking off that water jug like there was a prize in it. The costumed caretakers noticed she had a few bad habits. Attacking the crane puppet was one. Refusing to follow the trainer was another. Sometimes she was mean and refused to socialize with the other birds. She wasn't interested in the costumed "parent," and her attention span was short.

Luckily, she started having more good days than bad ones and arrived in Wisconsin for flight school ready to learn. In fact, pilot Brooke calls her this season's turnaround player! At first she often lagged behind or followed last, but at least she followed. She just would rather do "her own thing." By July 15 all the birds were flapping and chasing behind the ultralight. On July 30, when the weather cooled, #6 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. Hooray — airborne! After that she got better every day. One morning in early September, Brooke had this to say:" This morning she blew right past the rest of the players off the right wing to take the lead, then looked over at me in the pilot's seat as if you say, 'Gimme what ya got!' That's the kind of character and grit the team is looking for as migration time gets closer. Way to go, #6!

Relaxing in the wet pen and investigating the brand new leg bands
Image: Operation Migration

Fall 2012:

Day 1, September 28: Migration begins! All six young cranes in the Class of 2012 successfully flew all 19 miles on the first day of their journey south! They passed right over Stop #1 and flew onward to Stop #2 (Marquette County, WI). Well done!

Day 4, October 1: Onward to 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 29, October 26: After 13 days stuck on the ground at Stopover #6 in LaSalle County, Illinois, the migration took off again today. Good tailwinds helped, but crane #6 dropped out. trackers located her and put her in a crate to finish the trip in a van while the other birds finished on their own wingpower, covering not one but TWO stops today!

Day 35, November 1: While her classmates covered 119 miles in almost two hours of flying alongside Richard's plane, young #6 didn't want to stay airborne and join them. Brooke tried and tried to get her to follow, but the air lower down was a bit turbulent and she headed for the ground and stayed there. She played with ice that formed in the water pans in the pen until she was crated and driven by road to join the other four birds. She rode 140 miles to Wayne County, the final stopover in the state of Illinois.

Crane #6 plays with an ice chunk from the water pan.

Day 38, November 4: She's back! Crane #6 flew the distance today, much to the relief of the team. Flight time for the 45 miles to Union County, Kentucky was 1 hour 11 minutes. Well done, #6!

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! Again today, crane #6 made the 1 hour 52-minute flight just fine!

All five cranes in the class of 2012, following the ultralight plane to Untion County, KY.
Image: Operation Migration

Day 41, November 7: With rain moving in, there's no flight today. This photo shows #6 taking a drink of water in the travel pen.

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.

Crane #6 takes a drink in the travel pen.

Young Whooping Cfrane in flight

Day 50, November 16: Whoopee! 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!

Five young cranes in flight with ultralight plane

Image: Sarah Jones

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!

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 legbands and band color code. Well done, Operation Migration Team!

View from the camera mounted on the ultralight aircraft

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:

Cranes forage in pond with the costume. Cranes Cranes #6, #5 and #11 head toward the pond to roost as darkness falls.
Foraging in the pond in the enclosure. "Landing gear" down, #5 and #6 return from a flight for exploring. They head for the pond to roost as darkness falls.

Florida: February, 2013: Offering the puppet beak to the cranes allows the handlers to get a good close-up look at each bird to ensure all is well. Crane #6 is getting checked in this photo.

February 3, 2013: A Bobcat killed Crane #6 in the early morning. Brooke arrived for the early pen check and likely scared off the bobcat right after the kill. The other four birds had flown off but their calls and vocalizations made it clear that something was wrong. Live traps were placed around the area to catch and relocate the bobcat if it returns.


Crane #6 and the puppet
Last updated: 2/4/2013