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December 12, 2003
Wrap Up!

New Leg Bands—and New Freedom

Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge

Newly arrived, our young cranes spent their first few days in a top-netted area. They were sure to have enough food, and their containment also gave project biologists time to get ready to perform the final health check and banding. ICF's Sara Zimorski takes the airboat to the site to monitor the cranes for now. Later, fellow ICF aviculturist Marianne Wellington takes over so Sara can return north to Wisconsin for a while. It's not easy for Sara to navigate the black muck of the saturated salt marsh without sinking in and getting her boots sucked off! But the now-muddy cranes seem to love it. They have a blast probing for snails and playing with the black sludge. Sara's final task on leaving the enclosure is activating the electric fencer unit, which zaps any predator with a good jolt of electricity. This is necessary to protect the priceless birds inside.

Health Checks and Banding
On Dec. 11th WCEP veterinarian Marilyn Spalding worked with a small team of assistants to draw blood samples and perform physical examinations on 10 of the 16 cranes. Dan Sprague or Jane Chandler then took the hooded crane over to FWS biologist Richard Urbanek, who carefully affixed the new permanent leg bands.
Each new band has a radio transmitter with a fresh battery. These telemetry units are necessary to monitor the whereabouts of each young crane over the next couple of years—or until the batteries wear out. Today the remaining 6 cranes went through the same procedure. After banding and exams, the birds were returned to the small top-netted section of their pen. Females 301, 309 and 312 got even more "new jewelry." Each had a Platform Transmitter Terminal ("PTT") attached to their other leg. After the worrisome task of the health check completed, handlers will work to win back the birds' trust over the next couple of days by offering treats. On Dec. 14th the top-netted section of the pen will be removed. At last the cranes will fly free, coming and going from their winter release pen whenever they want to.

The Importantance of This Migration
Now the HY 2003 cranes will be learning about blue crabs and tides. All of us who care about them will watch and wait. Will they all survive the winter? Will they avoid predators? Will they choose proper crane habitat? Will they know when and where to return in the spring? You may think this is a lot of work and worry and expense on behalf of so few birds; We share thoughts of two leaders in Whooping crane conservation. Tom Stehn says, "We need species to survive that have been there since the Ice Age. To keep them alive in captivity--that's just not enough." George Archibald, co-founder of the International Crane Foundation, says that losing this species would be "like destroying original works of art of a great master that can never be reproduced." Do you wonder what Joe Duff, Operation Migration Team Leader, thinks? How does this migration experiment also benefit other endangered species? Listen:

What's Next?
The winter monitoring team from the International Crane Foundation is headed up by Dr. Richard Urbanek. Sara Zimorski, Mark Nipper, Lara Fondow, and Marianne Wellington will help. They will continue to check on the cranes daily over the winter months. Airboat trips to the enclosure area and a video monitoring system will help them keep watch over the cranes. Look for information on the ICF website. If the birds' instincts are correct, they'll head north to summer in the wetlands of central Wisconsin again.

As for the pilots and other WCEP partners, they don't want to be flying birds to Florida forever. With three successful ultralight whooper migrations behind them, they hope to teach this same migration route to a new generation of captive-bred birds each fall for two more years. They estimate that within that time, they will phase out the ultralight planes and see if veteran cranes will lead any newly-introduced birds on the Wisconsin-to-Florida migration route. They'll know they are successful when the next generation starts to learn from this group how to migrate. The goal of this reintroduction project is to build a flock of 125 birds by 2020. With the 2001''s five, last year's 15, and this year's 16, they're on the way!

In mythology, Whooping cranes represent long lives, peace and tranquility. That is our wish for this young flock of ancestors of the Whooping cranes YOUR ancestors will see in the skies over eastern North America. We'll see you back in the spring to track this young flock on their first northward migration!

Try This! Journaling Question
  • The goal of this reintroduction project is to build a flock of 125 birds by 2020. How old will you be then? Write a letter to the children you may someday have, describing your thoughts and feelings on this historic day—the completion of the third human-led migration of an endangered species. Save your letter in a special place. Read it way in the future, or give it someday to your children to share your memories of history in the making! (Use your Comparing Migrations chart for the details, or look at our completed chart.)

Journey North is pleased to feature this educational adventure made possible by the

Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP).

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