"Fab Five" Released to Freedom!
December 14, 2012
Weekly Updates

After the Fab Five young Whooping Cranes spent two and a half weeks of down time in the pen, the team from Operation Migration announced: "It’s over. The training is done, the migration complete, and we can let these birds be wild."

The final steps began on December 7. That's when the five juvenile Whooping Cranes at St. Marks NWR got their health checks and leg bands with color codes (see their bio pages) that now identify them for life.

On December 11, the gates to freedom were opened at last. They flew circles around the pen until they got distracted by fiddler crabs and snails in the muck. The "costumes" led them on a tour of their new four-acre, enclosure to show them the salt water pond, the feeding shelter, the water bubbler, the oyster-shell roosting bar in the pond, another feeding shelter. Then came the good part: First #4, then #11, then #5, #6, and finally #7 took to the air. "They each did their aerial NASCAR followed by landings of such grace and precision they could qualify as performance art," said Brooke.

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 get used to becoming wild. During the day, they can come and go as they please. The enclosure's four acres cover an area about size of four football fields. The top is wide open, but the sides are circled by a fence ten feet tall, with electric wire all around. Each night this first winter, the costumed helpers will play the crane call to summon the birds back to the safety of their enclosure. The cranes will roost in one of the ponds, safe from predators while they sleep. Each morning they will take off to freely explore the marsh and learn the ways of the wild. The team calls this routine a "gentle release" into the wild.

We'll keep you posted with summaries, photos, and updates to each crane's life history page during this winter. Now, let's celebrate their freedom!

Newly banded Class of 2012 at St. Marks NWR in Florida
Photo Operation Migration


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Migration progress as of Nov. 12, 2012
Fall 2012 Migration
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Journey North is presented by Annenberg Learner.
Partial funding for this news update has been made possible through Operation Migration by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Southern Company through the Power of Flight Program.