The Cranes and Lake Michigan: What to Do?

April 30, 2004 Report by Sara Zimorski, ICF/WCEP

Eastern Flock Migration Data

The Problem
On April 24, 2004, the smaller group of three Ohio cranes [Group 1B on the migration map] departed the area where they’d been since April 9 and flew in the correct direction towards central WI before encountering the eastern edge of Lake Michigan. On April 25 they hit the lake at the exact same area the Ohio group of 5 cranes did their last attempt to continue migration on April 10. All of these birds were trying to do the right thing, trying to get home to central Wisconsin. But the lake is a huge obstacle that they don't know how to get around. Additionally, if the birds were to find their way around the south edge of the lake, they'd likely need a SE wind and they simply haven't had that in the recent weeks.

WCEP Bird Team Discussion: What to Do?
There are various thoughts and opinions among the team about whether to leave the eight young whooping cranes where they are or attempt to capture them and transport back to Wisconsin. We could learn a lot by leaving these birds where they are and seeing what they choose to do on their own; can they figure out how to get around the lake? We don't know. It could also be logistically difficult to capture all of these birds and obviously we're cautious about doing that after #207's death last year. However, these 8 birds are 22% of the current eastern population and that's a very large percentage to have in an area so far from our designated reintroduction area. Additionally, these birds have not yet completed their spring migration, whereas the birds that went to S. Dakota last year first returned to Necedah then left and wandered out to S. Dakota. Finally, the available habitat in these areas and our ability to closely monitor these birds has to be considered when deciding what to do with them.

The Plan for Now...
What we ended up deciding is a bit of a wait and see approach. Richard will stay in Michigan and watch them for at least several more days. Then we'll probably discuss the situation again. The birds in Michigan are in a good location. It’s good habitat and remote from people, and so far the Ohio birds are staying out of trouble. So for now, the birds are fine where they are. It will certainly be an interesting spring, and what will happen is anyone's guess at this point.

Try This! Journaling Question

  • This is the first group of ultracranes in 3 years that seems to be stopped by the obstacle of Lake Michigan. Why do you think this is happening? Imagine you are on the Bird Team. What would YOU suggest as a good course of action?


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