Cracking the Code:
Banded Cranes Tell Their Story

"April 13: 2 whooping cranes seen on migration over Ward County, North Dakota, 3 miles south of Makoti. Color-banded silver on the left and blue on the right leg."

Wouldn't it be amazing to know "who" was seen in Makoti, North Dakota? After all, each individual whooper has its own incredible life story.

Thanks to Wally Jobman (retired, USFWS in Nebraska), you CAN "meet" a migrating whooper! Wally sent us all the sighting records for one of his favorite banded cranes. Scientists use this kind of raw data — carefully collected observations and records — to piece together the stories of cranes' lives. It takes a bit of detective work and a lot of curiosity to figure it out. It often results in more questions than answers. But that's what science is all about! We're eager to give you the same challenge and adventure in making sense of raw data. What kind of story will you piece together from Crane RwR-B's sighting data? Before you rush to read the banding data, here's more about the banding program and RwR-B:

Cracking the Code
Wally explains, "The whooping crane color-banding program was conducted between 1977 and 1988. No birds have been banded since 1988. Therefore, most of the banded birds have bands that are difficult to identify because they're faded, broken, or missing. A lot of valuable information has been collected from banded birds, such as whether the birds use the same sites each migration, the stability of the pair bonds, and the establishment of territories on the nesting and wintering areas.

The bird whose sighting records you will study has been observed more often than the other color-banded birds. It has been a very productive bird. It was banded as a chick at Wood Buffalo National Park prior to fledging. All bands were made of plastic and placed above the bird's knee (tibio-tarsus joint). RwR means red-white-red: the bird has a 3-inch wide red band with white horizontal stripe in the middle on its left leg. The letter B means the bird has a 3-inch wide blue band on its right leg. At the time of this writing, the only band remaining on this bird is a silver USFWS band on the right ankle.

Try This! Digging Into Data
How old is RwR-B? You'll find out when you read the banding data (link at bottom of page). How long will it live and continue to breed? Wally replies, "I would guess that 25 years is probably about the maximum age for a wild bird, and I believe one bird in captivity lived to be 28. Cranes will likely be productive to the end of their lives."

Tips for looking at the data:

  1. Divide into cooperative groups. Using a highlighter, mark the "highlights."
  2. Record questions you have. Try to answer the questions below.
  3. Gather information by reviewing the highlighted data before you draw conclusions.
  4. Try your own ways of "organizing" the data. For instance, you might read through the data and list the different chicks seen with RwR-B. Draw the bands if it helps you.
  5. NEVER give up! It might take a little time, but we guarantee that you will quickly start to "see" some fascinating facts and ask your own great questions. Remember that this is what scientists must do each time they face a collection of raw data! Good luck, crane scientists. Have fun!

Questions to Consider As You Read the Data:

  • How old is RwR-B?
  • How many times was RwR-B seen?
  • With how many different individuals was RwR-B seen? How many were chicks?
  • During what summer (year) did RwR-B produce its first chick?
  • When was RwR-B's nest first observed? Do you think it was RwR-B's first nest?
  • How many young have been produced?
  • For how many seasons does RwR-B seem to stay with a chick?
  • How long was RwR-B seen staying with chick G-Y? With YbY-Y?
  • Which period of time shows no record of chicks produced?
  • "Most chicks make the spring migration all the way back to Canada's Wood Buffalo National Park with the parents. But once in a while, the parents and chick will separate during migration or even on the wintering ground." Which sighting is an example of this?
  • What questions do you think the scientists still have, even after collecting all of these years of data? What questions do you have?

Band Data from Whooping Crane RwR-B

National Science Education Standards

  • Ask a question about objects, organisms, events.
  • Use data to conduct a reasonable explanation.
  • Think critically and logically to make relationship between evidence and explanations.
  • Scientists use different kinds of investigations depending on the questions they are trying to answer.
  • Scientists develop explanations using observations (evidence) and what they already know about the world.
  • People have always had questions about their world. Science is one way of answering questions and explaining the natural world.
  • Plants and animals have life cycles that include being born, developing into adults, reproducing, and eventually dying.