"Report Cards" for Cranes in Training

The chicks get scored on how well they follow the handlers.
Photos: Operation Migration
The chicks get scored on how well they follow the ultralight airplane.

In August, before most of us are back in school, the WCEP chicks are already getting report cards! They don't get graded on reading or math. But like us, they do get graded on the important skills needed to face some of their big challenges in life. Of course, the crane team doesn't call these crane report cards. They call them "cohort data sheets." For what subjects do they get scored? What kinds of grades do the cranes get? What does a crane "report card" look like? Find out, and then and grade two cranes.

Subjects and Tasks
Cranes get "graded" in two subjects:

  • Attention to handler
  • Attention to aircraft

Grading System (.pdf )
Like our A-B-C-D-F system, cranes can get 5 scores, or grades:

Very positive
Crane is attentive, follows handler/ aircraft closely, easily moved into pen.
Crane follows handler/ aircraft from a distance, can be led into pen.
Crane tentatively follows handler, will approach aircraft once it has stopped moving.
Crane shows no anxiety but ignores or will not follow handler/ aircraft, difficult to move into pen, leaves handler to forage in wetland.
Very negative
Crane displays anxiety or fear, will not approach handler/ aircraft, must be forced in or out of pen.

Other Grading Categories

As the chicks learn to fly, researchers keep track of how they're doing in a precise way. They record the baby cranes' progress at taking off and flying. The cranes get marks for these time and distance tasks:

  • Run/flap distance (how far the crane must run and flap before getting up in the air)
  • Flight duration with aircraft (how many minutes the crane can fly with the Ultralight before tiring)
  • Flight duration without aircraft (how many minutes cranes stay up when observed flying on their own)

Social and Health Notes

  • Position each crane holds in the hierarchy (dominance order or pecking order) with its cohorts
  • Alliances the crane holds with other cranes — that is, which cranes it spends the most time with
  • Whether it has foraged in a wetland with its handler
  • Whether it has foraged in a wetland on its own
  • Notes about any medication or treatments the cranes receive.
  • Notes about when the birds get treats, where they roost, and so on.

A Crane Report Card

Use the pilot's notes and the grading system above to decide:

  1. How would you score chick #10 on this day?
  2. How would you score chick #11 on this day?
  3. How do your scores compare to the pilot's? Explain.
Report: Operation Migration

Discussion or Journal Questions
  • If you were keeping data on the WCEP cranes, what information would you want to record?
  • Scientists could record many different things, such as exactly how many items of natural food each crane is eating, what times the cranes preen, sleep, feed, and bathe, what vocalizations each crane makes, and so on. 0..Why do you think the crane data sheet doesn't include all these things?
  • How does this information help the team decide whcih birds get PTTs for satellinte tracking in addition to their radio transmitters? How to divide birds into two groups when two wintering sites are used?
  • If you were to keep a data sheet about your own or a friend's pet, what data would you record?

National Science Education Standards

  • Science investigations involve asking and answering a question and comparing that to what scientists already know about the world.
  • 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.

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