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

Back to Meet the Cranes 2012

Baby crane 11-12
Photo: Operation Migratio
Crane #11-12
Date Hatched May 9, 2012
Gender Female
Left Leg Right Leg
(VHF radio transmitter)


Personality and Training: In her first days of life, #11 was good at trying to escape, but being only four inches tall she was easy to catch. As the "littlest sister," she really loved being close to the costumed handler.

Pilot Brooke called her "an undersized little runt" when she arrived for flight school in Wisconsin. She liked getting treats for hanging around the ultralight parked on the grass outside the pen. Later, this youngest female came out of the pen and readily followed after the trike as it taxied down the grass training strip. Crane #11 became one of the most reliable for coming out of the pen without coaxing, and for following the trike without turning back. Brooke said, It looked like we might not hear much about this good little girl who always cooperated. But by late July, all she could do was frantically run after the trike as she watched her older penmates soar effortlessly and gracefully after the plane. Then, suddenly #11 replaced #10 as the "problem bird" that wouldn't come out of the pen. But wait. On July 31 she astonished the team by FLYING. She had so little loyalty to the trike that she took off into the marsh THREE times in a row. "I've never seen a bird with a rebellious streak like that," said team member Geoff. She does things HER way, but at last the team now knows she can fly!

By early September, Brooke described her this way: "It’s like she got bit by a hummingbird then injected with a lawn dart! She bobs and weaves all over the sky and now has the size to make her presence felt. You want to talk about attitude? She’s got it in spades!" Everyone is glad she got over whatever was bothering her before. GO #11!

The six cranes follow the ultralight on Aug. 15.
Image: Masako Pellerin

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). Whoopee!

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 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 #11-12. Well done!

In the travel pen with pumpkin to play with
Day 35, November 1: Whoopeee! Crane #11-12 and three of her 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!

Day 38, November 4: Crane #11 and her flock mates crossed another state border and flew the 45 miles to to Union County, Kentucky in 1 hour 11 minutes. They've completed 453 miles of their first 1101-mile journey south!

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 #11 made the 1 hour 52-minute flight just fine!

The five members of the Class of 2012 fly to Union County, Kentucky.

The photo shows #11 in the travel pen with Geoff on Nov. 7.

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

Julie wrote: Before today's flight, #11. She steps up to the pen wall (which is made of a wire mesh on a frame) and paces along the side where I stand and where the birds will be released. She is now impatient with being a prisoner and she shows it by striding along the pen wall and rubbing her beak across the wire mesh. Much like a prisoner in an old movie clanks his tin cup across the bars of his cell to show his discontent, the birds do the same with their beaks.

It usually starts with #11. She has taken over the mantle of “most eager to fly” since her classmate #10 died. This morning she got two of the other birds to join her. #4 and #7 added their clicks to hers and I soon had a small rhythm section going. Back and forth they pace only pausing to move out of #4’s way (he is still bigger than #11 and #7 so they move around him). In the background #5 was doing a short run, jump, flap to which #6 responded in kind.

Crane #11 with costumed Geoff in travel pen Nov. 7, 2012.

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.

Young Whooping Crane in flight

Day 50, November 16: Whoopee! A great 46-mile flight to Lowndes County, which leaves one more stop in Alabama! Cranes #11 and #7 battled back and forth for lead position, even cruising ahead for most of the flight. This made it harder for the last cranes (#4 and #6) to keep up. The humid air and the temperature of ~12 degrees Celsius also made it more difficult for the birds at the rear of the line, but they all made it and landed together with pilot Richard.

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.

Crane #11 with new legbands
January 2013: Brooke reports that #11 discovered her adult voice the first week in January. "No earthly entity, could have been more surprised than #11," reported Brook. "She stood in stunned disbelief" at the trumpet-on-steroids call that she sent forth across the marshes! Continuing his story, Brooke added: "Crane #5 just stood staring in shocked amazement, unable to utter a sound. A thought balloon containing the words 'What the …….?' rose slowly above his head. Crane #7, in her usual detached and aloof manner, casually turned to #11 and queried, 'Dearie, would ya mind pointing your cannon away from me.'" The five young cranes in the pond in January
Class of 2012 forages in the pond.
Class of 2012 takes off in flight to explore.
The young cranes head to the pond to roost as darkness falls.

Five Whooping Cranes walk in their pond.

Five young Whooping Cranes in a pond
Blue crab, a favorite winter food of Whooping Cranes

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 of them (#5 and #7) had returned at sunrise. They are still there, under Brooke's watchful eyes. Cranes #4 and #11 had still not shown up by Feb. 12. Have those two begun their first spring migration? Winds have been right for migration, and many sandhill cranes have already headed north. Stay tuned!

Feb. 13: Crane #11 is still missing, but her "very tired" getaway companion, $4, returned to rejoin flockmates on Feb. 13. The search for #11 resumed but there was no sign of her after that.

Four flying Whooping cranes from the Class of 2012
Fall 2013: Still missing.
Spring 2014: Still missing. She left the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge pen site in Wakulla County, Florida, on February 9, 2013. She was considered dead in mid June 2014 and removed from the population totals of the Eastern Flock.
Last updated: 9/20/2014