Meet the Whooping Crane Class of 2015
Hatch-year 2015 of the Eastern Flock
Back to Meet the Cranes 2015

Whooping Crane Chick #2-15
Operation Migration

Crane # 2-15
Date Hatched May 5
Gender Female

Temporary legband: Black

Left Leg Right Leg


Personality and Training: Chick #2 hatched from an egg removed from the nest of #27-06 DAR and #26-09.

At first she was a real homebody and did not want to leave her safe, familiar run. She was a "crybaby" on her first tours outsides to see the water, the foot baths and pen, peeping in alarm most of the time. Some days she would not even follow Brooke to the field to try. She had a short attention span and was easily distracted by moving grass or leafs fluttering down from the trees. Keeping her focused on the trike was a challenge and training her took more time that the other birds. By May 31 she was like a different bird, running to the circle pen, eager for the training session. She began to calm down and do really well! By migration time in September, she was a leader!

Crane #2 on May 30 learns to follow the trike
"Ground School" Training
Operation Migration

July 2 was arrival day in Wisconsin for the six young cinnamon- colored Whooping cranes. None of the birds showed any signs of stress from their airplane trip-in-a-box from Maryland where they hatched. They happily explored their new surroundings for "Flight School."

Here's Crane #2 on July 4, first in line as the young chicks flapped, hopped and ran after the wingless aircraft in their first days of "Flight School."

Crane #2 leads in flapping after the trike.
Trying to Fly
Operation Migration

Costumed Doug Pellerin stands behind Whooping crane #2-15 as she exits the enclosure for training on July 22. See how tall she is!



Crane #2-14 is getting tall!
Getting Tall!
Image: Deb Potts

By the end of July, the colts are strong enough to fly close to the surface but not yet able to climb. "So our daily exercising consists of a high-speed taxi down the length of the runway while the birds fly beside us," explains pilot Joe Duff. One day #2-15 was airborne for an extra 2 or 3 minutes after the others got their exercise flying from one end to the other!

"We also have early morning visitors," tells Joe. "As soon as they hear the engine approaching. Sub-adult Whooping cranes #4-12 and #3-14 fly in to see what is going on." Here, one of the young cranes chases off the older one!

#1-15 on July 22
Who's the Boss?
Deb Potts
By mid August all six young Whooping Cranes were airborne! By the third week in August they were flying for over 20 minutes at a time, doing really well as a group. To keep them busy during their non-flying hours in the large pen, the team put chunks of watermelon in the pen for the young birds to peck at and play with. They loved it!
Young cranes like watermelon!
We Love Watermelon!
Doug Pellerin

Ready! By September, Operation Migration pilots reported that all six birds are doing incredibly well—a big contrast to last year’s cohort at this time. They said, "No doubt about it, this cohort is ready to migrate!" The target departure date has been set for September 20th.

Crane #2 has become one of the group leaders. "She is often first out of the gate and inevitably the first to find the sweet spot of the wing," notes pilot Joe Duff. "Lately she is getting comfortable in the air and has started challenging the aircraft by speeding ahead and taking the lead. I have had leave the others behind several times to chase her and re-assert the dominance of the aircraft as leader of the flight. Once she gets tired she will tuck behind the wing again, while we wait for the others to catch up. Before long though, she is back out front. She has grown into a fine, strong bird, eager to fly and test the limits of her ability and our authority. She is still my favorite."


Training flight September 9, 2015
September 9, 2015
Operation Migration

Delays: The departure didn't happen on September 20th because crops still covered the fields where the first stopover sites would be! The cranes continued to train on good-weather days, performing well—as usual. They were fogged in on the new target date of September 26th and again Sep. 27.

In the meantime, the team works hard to think of fun things to keep the cranes from being too bored. This photo shows #1, #2 and a third young crane attacking a sunflower for the seeds to eat!

Crane #2 was first to start getting her adult voice.

Young cranes pass some time getting sunflower seeds from the flower.
Sunflower Seeds: Yum!
Operation Migration

Sep. 30: Migration Begins! Pilots call these birds the Super Six because they are such great followers—not a rebel or maverick among them this year. They easily flew the five miles to the first stopover and landed right next to the trike. They all stood at attention, heads up, eyes wide and moved closer to the aircraft as the only thing familiar in a strange new environment. The plane taxied close to the travel pen and the birds stopped chasing grasshoppers to obediently go inside. Crane #2 was second in line and then they all came in.

The Journey South is underway: Good luck, dear cranes!



The Super Six flying with the aircraft
Sep. 30: Migration Begins!
Operation Migration

October 25, 2015: Day 26 of the migration brought the flight into the first stop in Illinois but Crane #2 made the last five miles in a crate. Why? Leading the way, she disrupted the flight with her usual tricks of changing positions and mixing up the other birds. But when she tried the end of the line, she got tired and dropped out. Once on the ground with Brooke and his plane, she seemed panicked and stayed so close to Brooke's aircraft that he had to push her away just to taxi. She cried constantly until he took off again. But she stayed so low that she had a brush with a powerline and scraped her beak. Brooke landed again and she made the remainder of the trip in a crate. Luckily, her injuries are very superficial and it all ended well, with the other five birds locked onto Joe's wing to a good flight and safe landing.

November 7, 2015: Day 39 of the migration started with #2-15 being boxed up and withheld from flying with her group. The pilots suspected she was distracting the rest of the cohort and the others would fly better without #2's shenanigans. She peeped and protested in the crate, and the other five birds seemed bothered that she was missing. They refused to cooperate and pilot Brooke finally landed with them to regroup. That's when let #2 out and tried another takeoff. In the end, Crane #2 was the only bird to fly the entire 57 miles to LaSalle County, Illinois!

Nov. 8: Crane #2-15 was taken out of the cohort to fly alone with Joe and get a lesson in who's in charge. Joe said, "When #2 pulls her antics and tries to lead the aircraft, there is not much you can do." He used the flight to Livingston County, IL to challenge and teach her. At first she was desperate to get with her flock mates flying with Brooke, but as Joe led her farther ahead, she settled in—and seemed to get the point to let the aircraft lead.

Nov. 9, 20, 22: Nov. 9 was the third fly-day in a row! All six took off together and flew to Piatt County, Illinois. They were grounded there by wind or weather delays until Nov. 20, when #1 and #2 challenged each other for the lead. They flew again Nov. 22, and also Nov. 24 when they entered Kentucky.

Cranes  #1 and #2 challenge each other for the lead.
Nov. 20: Challenge for Lead
Operation Migration
Class of 2015 flying to Cumberland County, Illinois
Nov. 22: Last Stop in Illinois
Peter Weber

Dec. 15: The cranes crossed into Alabama. Winston county of the first of three stops in this state.

Dec. 18: An attempt to advance on Dec. 18 was turned back in very rough air. They had only three flights in the whole month of December because of undependable weather.

The persistent south winds have delayed the migration many days. The team took a week off for the holiday break and returned Dec. 28th. The weather wasn't flyable for the cranes and planes until January 3rd!

Class of 2015 on Dec. 15 flight
Dec. 15: Last flight of Dec.
Operation Migration

January, 2016: Migration continued, slowed by weather delays and crane behavior challenges. They flew on January 3, 11, 13th and 14th. Crane #2 often challenged #1 for lead position, or peeled off and took other cranes with her. To avoide this aerial warfare, she was crated and several times, i including Jan. 14th and 24th, in hopes of giving the other five a chance for a smoother flight. She has missed some of the "mental map" that would guide her return migration, so the team is hoping she will behave and fly the rest of the route with them. She was back in the air with her cohort for the January 30th flight over the border into Florida! One flight to go, and everyone hopes she is part of it!

Five cranes with aircraft leader on Jan. 13, 2016
Flight Without #2, the Bully
Operation Migration

February 6, 2016: The migration came to a strange ending on Feb. 6, 2016. Instead of being guided the final 24 miles to their new winter home by aircraft, the Class of 2015 arrived in crates. With no decent weather ahead and not wanting to delay the migration any longer, the team felt it was the best decision. This photo journey lets you go along on the final day. They will be supervised from a distance by pilot Brooke Pennypacker until they take off on their first unaided migration north this spring.

Project leader Joe Duff assures us that being trucked this short distance will not hamper their ability to navigate back to Wisconsin in the spring. The Class of 2015 is the final cohort to be taught their migration route by costumed pilots in tiny yellow airplanes.

Feb. 6: #2 leads
Operation Migration

The young cranes were banded with tracking transmitters and their lifetime color codes on Feb. 9. Crane #2 is one of the two cranes wearing a PTT for tracking.

February 14 was FREEDOM DAY, when their costumed caretakers pulled open the gates to the top-netted pen and released the birds to freedom. Crane #2 was the last one to come out of the pen.

The birds can now come and go from the enclosure, learning to forage for their own food as they become wild and free.

How long will they stay on the wintering grounds? Stay tuned!

Crane #2 after banding
Feb. 9: Banding
Operation Migration
Spring 2016: First Unaided Migration North

Juvenile #2-15 began heading north March 22 with four older Whoopers (#5-12, 4-13, 4-14 and 7-14) from St. Marks NWR leading the way! Will she stay with them, and will it be long enough to pass the migration legs she made in a box? A March 22 PTT hit showed her over Henry County, Alabama—just over 100 miles from the St. Marks winter release enclosure in Florida. The group soon separated and #2-15 traveled with female #7-14 for a time, but then split off on her own—which she is fond of doing! She veered into eastern Indiana for several days. However, as of March 31, her GPS points put her in Iroquois Co, IL, back on the right course (hooray!). She next flew to Jasper County, Indiana, where she stayed put in lovely wetlands but adverse migration weather for about two weeks. She left Jasper County, IN on the morning of April 13 and flew to Boone County, Illinois. On April 16 she had reached Washington County, WISCONSIN. On April 17 a PTT hit for female #2-15 placed her northeast of the Wisconsin rectangle in Door County, Wisconsin. She was there until the third week in May, when she found her way back to a lovely wetland in Waukesha County, Wisconsin. By June she had wandered to in McHenry County, Illinois, where Jeff Fox of OM took this photo. She returned to Wisconsin and spent the rest of the summer and early fall in Walworth County.

northward migration progress map as of April 7 a.m.
Migration Map
#2-15 is shown by a yellow sunburst on the map
Fall 2016: Female #2-15 left Walworth County, Wisconsin on migration between Dec. 6 and 11. She was officially the first HY2015 crane to return to the winter pen location at St. Marks NWR in Wakulla County, FL. However, older cranes 4-13 and 8-14 promptly chased her away. She then retreated north to south Georgia. In late January she returned to the pensite at St. Marks but again the older cranes chased her away from "their" territory—so she's back in Georgia.
#2-15 is chased away from  the St. Marks NWR pen site by male #4-13
Chased Away
Brooke Pennypacker

Spring 2017: Leaving Georgia, female #2-15 appeared to have made a brief trip to St. Marks NWR in the Florida panhandle the morning of Feb. 17 before heading north. Her next satellite data hit was Lee Co., Alabama on Feb. 19. By the end of February she was in Jasper Co, IN and met PR 71-16 when they both chose the exact same stopover site. She left Jasper Co, IN and was with female #28-05 DAR in Marathon County, Wisconsin by March 19th. In a surprising turn of events, these two, both identified as females since birth, were seen sitting on a nest in Marathon Co. when Wisconsin DNR pilot Beverly Paulan spotted them on May 12! The team commented on this anomalous behavior and offered that either one of the genders is inaccurate, OR  these two (female) cranes are incubating infertile/un-viable eggs, OR a nearby bachelor male paid a visit. In June, the WCEP team members speculated that one or the other may be a male,with gender being wrongly identified from the beginning, but they did not reach agreement on this. The nest was checked five days after hatching would be due, and the eggs were gone. Perhaps, after all, they were just two females practicing nesting and incubation. (?)


Last Updated: 6/09/2017