Dancing With the Cranes

Dr. George Archibald dances with Tex, who thinks she's his girlfriend.
International Crane Foundation

Meet Tex (the Whooping crane in the photo) and her dancing partner, Dr. George Archibald. Dr. Archibald is also an ornithologist and founder and past Director of the International Crane Foundation (ICF). So why is he dancing with a Whooping crane?

This female whooper named Tex was the lone female Whooper at ICF in 1981, one of only 109 surviving Whooping cranes in the whole world. She hatched a the San Antonio Zoo in Texas in 1967. But Tex had health problems that necessitated hand rearing. As a result she imprinted on humans. Tex did not meet another whooper until she was transferred to the U.S.G.S. Patuxent Center as a subadult. In years of effort to pair her with a male Whooping crane, Tex never laid a single egg. She preferred displaying to her human keepers rather than to her handsome mate, Canus. This was a big problem. How could Tex help her endangered species increase their numbers if she didn't want to mate?

A Bright Idea
In 1975 Tex came to a new home at ICF in Wisconsin. ICF's Dr. Archibald had an idea. His hope was that he would try to develop a pair bond with Tex. To do this, he would perform the spring courtship dancing with her. If successful, this would induce her to lay eggs that would be fertilized by artificial insemination. Dr. Archibald moved in with Tex for several months in 1976 and established a firm pair bond with her. Dr. Archibald regularly danced with Tex, and Tex thought she was his girlfriend. He followed Tex's lead in the wing-flapping cha-cha of crane courtship. The next spring, she laid the first egg of her life, at age 10. But the egg was infertile. They tried again the next spring and produced a fertile egg, but the chick died just before hatching. In 1979 Tex's egg was soft-shelled and broke. Finally, on May 3, 1981, Tex laid a fertile egg!

Whooping Cranes Dance

by Heather Ray
Watch It Now


Gee Whiz! It Worked
Tex's egg was removed from her nest and replaced with a fake Sandhill egg. Her real egg was tended with extreme care by experts, and Tex's chick "Gee Whiz" hatched on June 1. His name is a tribute to Dr. George Gee at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center for his work in captive breeding of Whooping cranes. Gee Whiz carried the hope of continuting Tex's genetic line, as her parents were dead and she had no siblings. As of this writing (Fall 2000), Gee Whiz is alive and feisty at the ripe age of 18. His mother, Tex, was mourned after being killed by a raccoon in June of 1982, just three weeks after Gee Whiz hatched. Gee Whiz is the father and grandfather of many captive cranes. Some of his offspring are now living in the wild in Florida as part of the nonmigratory Florida flock of whoopers. Another became a member (#419) of the tiny reintroduced Eastern flock in the hatch year 2004 cohort!

More About the Crane Dances
A pair of whoopers generally mate for life IF they are successful at mating and raising chicks. Cranes are a lot like people in this way: they'll stay together as long as things are going well. When a whooping crane wants to mate or bond with another whooper, its crown becomes bright red. The crane struts around in a high-stepping march and shows off its beautiful plumage. The crane tries to "invite" another bird with its body language. Ruffling its feathers, growling, stomping its feet, and tossing its head in various displays is the "come on." If another crane is interested, it will mimic the first crane's movements. Then the two will dance side by side. Eventually the two cranes will create a duet with a sequence of calls that lasts between 15 and 40 seconds. This duet is called a unison call. Its purpose is to release tensions and help the two birds bond. When whooping cranes prepare to mate, they leap, bow, run around, and throw sticks in the air. Cranes are famous for their dancing.

The dancing actually affects a crane's biological rhythms. The dancing stimulates the crane's hormones in preparation for mating. In Tex's case, dancing with Dr. Archibald prepared her hormones for artificial insemination. Because Tex wasn't interested in mating with another Whooping crane, this was the only way to get her to lay a fertile egg.

More About Dr. George Archibald
Dancing with Tex was just part of the work Dr. Archibald did to help the foundation's effort to increase dwindling crane populations. Dr. Archibald is a member of the U.S. Whooping Crane Recovery team and the world's leading expert on cranes. He is also the founder of the International Crane Foundation (ICF) in Baraboo, Wisconsin. ICF is one of a few places in the U.S. that has a captive breeding program for whooping cranes. Dr. Archibald's work is admired and respected all over the world. He was awarded the World Wildlife Fund Gold Medal for his work, and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands appointed him to the Order of the Golden Arc.

Dr. Archibald stepped down from being Director of ICF November 1, 2000. Now he raises funds, participates in field research, and writes. In an article he wrote for National Geographic, Dr. Archibald quoted naturalist Aldo Leopold, who treasured the joyful noise of cranes in flight. Aldo Leopold said, "When we hear his call we hear no mere bird. We hear the trumpet in the orchestra of evolution." We can be grateful that the work of Dr. Archibald and other dedicated people are helping this trumpet continue to call.

Try This!
  • Would you like to read more about Dr. Archibald's work with endangered crane populations in other parts of the world? See "The Fading Call of the Siberian Crane" in National Geographic, May 1994.
  • Learn more about Gee Whiz and his descendants by visiting the websites of the International Crane Foundation and Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. (Search "Gee Whiz.")