The Story of Crane #9 [Hatch Year 2001]
Contributed by Jennifer Rabuck, Ranger at Necedah National Wildlife Center

Early Wing Injury
Before the new chicks left Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland, two of the cranes suffered wing injuries. Female Crane #9 and male Crane #4 were both treated for the minor wing problems.

When the flock arrived at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin, WCEP team members were hopeful about the birds' chance to "make the team." In captivity, recovery is difficult for cranes with this type of injury. They usually can't exercise and develop muscles that help control their wings. Being included in this study actually increases their chances of recovery; they are able to exercise and strengthen their wings by flying almost daily and using those muscles.

Flight School Goes Well, Until. . .
It appeared that things were working out for the two birds ith wing problems. Both seemed to heal and hold their wings more naturally against their bodies. Both took flight. As training time in the air grew gradually longer to build endurance, the future looked bright for them. Then #9 began to drop out of the daily training behind the ultralight. She returned to the marsh below as her flockmates continued flying. This new behavior occurred more and more consistantly, but always after about the same amount of flight time.

The Verdict on 9/11
On September 11, 2001 (a fateful day in many ways that none of us will forget), WCEP veterinarians did a pre-migration health check on the chicks that would migrate with the ultralight plane. They put identification bands and radio telemetry transmitters on each crane. During the exam, they discovered that Crane #9 had major problems with her flight feathers. The feathers were obviously deformed. They showed many fault bars and stress lines, which are weaknesses in the feathers.

To make matters worse, #9 was very submissive. When the other birds showed dominance, she cowered and eventually ended up secluded from the flock. This could have been a side effect due to the timing of her injury, as it occurred during important periods of socialization and flock development. Crane #9, however, will not depart on the migration with the other cranes. It is estimated that it could take a few years for new, healthy feathers to replace those slowly molted, allowing her to become fully functional in the air. That makes her an unsuccessful candidate for reintroduction since the crane's first migratory flight is the one they mimic thereafter. So Crane #9 will go to the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans.

The End of Training and Start of Taming
Jennifer with Crane #9

Crane #9 had never seen a human not covered by a costume. She had never heard a human voice. This crane had been kept as wild as possible. Now she must be prepared to handle the opposite situation. As a display bird at the zoo, she will be very close to people and non-natural things.

Crane #9 Sees a Human Face

I was asked to assist with her taming process. I went with Dan Sprague, a USGS Biologist responsible for hatching and rearing the cranes. Dan was in costume to provide a familiar "face" and to be able to approach her if needed without adding stress. It felt strange for me to be on the rearing site again. I worked for many days preparing the site for the cranes' arrival, but I had not been back there for several months. Knowing a rare whooping crane was just on the other side of the fence, I felt out of place. I was breaking the protocol that is so vital to this project — but now, that was exactly what I was supposed to do!

Dan opened the pen and walked in. After removing his hood and getting no real reaction from #9, he told me to come into the pen. When I cleared the fencing, I saw the beautiful crane in her marsh environment. Dan told me she then showed the most dominance he had ever seen from her. She held her head up very high and showed displaced aggression by pulling at weeds in the water. She kept her distance while watching me intently. I was in the pen less than 10 minutes, but by the time I left, she was almost ignoring me. It was that quick and simple to undo so much that the biologists had worked for! It was that easy to undo all that the protocol had safe-guarded. It was such an honor to be present, even though I knew that she could never go back to being a wild, release-able bird after our encounter.

Try This! Journaling Questions
  • While her flockmates from the core population of the new Eastern flock, how will Crane #9 still play a role in the reintroduction of whooping cranes to Wisconsin and the eastern U.S.?
  • "Visit" Crane 9 in her new home at the Audubon Zoo. Her life took a different path from how it started. In your life, when has a big plan gone astray, perhaps disappointing you? Now that you look back, can you list both "good" and bad" about the way things turned out for you?

Journey North is pleased to feature this educational adventure made possible by the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP).