Whooping Crane Whooping Crane
Today's News Fall's Journey South Report Your Sightings How to Use Journey North Search Journey North

Whooping Crane Migration Update: April 1, 2005

Today's Report Includes:

Today's Migration Data

NOTE: We DO know that the group of 11 reached north-central Indiana on March 31, but we cannot name the county until they have departed. Humans must not find or approach these carefully raised, endangered cranes. That’s why the birds’ location cannot be published until after they leave each stopover site.

Spring Migration Underway for All Chicks But One
You know that 11 of the twelve ultralight-led juveniles departed from the Chassahowitzka NWR last Friday, March 25. Here’s a question for you:

Challenge Question #5:
“ On March 30, the group of 11 had a tailwind and clear skies. They flew for 11.5 hours. They covered 450 miles. At what average speed (miles per hour) did the cranes fly?”

(To respond to this question, please follow the instructions below.)

Crane #412 remained at the winter pen site with #105 and #204, two older "white birds" that pestered the crane kids most of the winter. But on March 31 this young male began migration, along with #105 and #204. The trio logged about 175 miles on their first migration day, ending up in Georgia. As of this writing, male #418 is the only youngster remaining in Florida. (Do you remember what is so special and unusual about his young crane? He was left behind in Wisconsin because of feather problems when his flock mates took off with the ultralights. They learned the migration route on their first journey south, but #418 was left in hopes he’d follow older whooping cranes or sandhill cranes to Florida. Later, he did!)

#105, #204 and #412 on migration stopover March 30. Photo Richard Urbanek.

As of March 31, only three whoopers (#304 and #311 in South Carolina and #418 in Florida) in the 45-crane Eastern migratory population are still on their chosen wintering grounds. And over a thousand miles to the north-northwest, ten "white birds" have been confirmed back in Wisconsin. Ultra-cranes #107 (who is again at Horicon NWR), plus #101, 202, 209, 213, 218, 205, 211, 212 and 217 have all been detected and seen in or near Necedah NWR. Do you want to know the latest on your favorite Eastern whooper? Check the flock chart for the bird’s hatch year. Find links to 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004 flock charts on this page:

Tracking with Radio Telemetry: Link to Lesson
We know the cranes’ whereabouts thanks to the terrific WCEP Tracking Team. They are biologist Richard Urbanek (FWS), with Lara Fondow and Julia Watson (ICF). Every whooping Crane in the tiny new Eastern flock wears a leg band with a radio-tracking transmitter. Richard, Lara and Julia jump in their vehicles to keep track of the cranes 24/7 once they are free flying and migrating. How? This lesson has photos of Lara’s tracking vehicle, close-ups of the radio transmitters worn by each crane, a video of Lara explaining how tracking works, and fun journaling questions. Don’t miss it!

Biologist Tom Stehn. Photo Heather Ray
Field Notes, Western Flock: Mostly Still in Texas
Biologist Tom Stehn can’t tell us exactly how many cranes are on Aransas NWR this week, but he has other fun things to share. Was Tom’s prediction right about the migration of the young juvenile discovered to be the record-breaking 217th crane in the Western flock? What does “staging” mean? Do sandhill cranes and whooping cranes both mate for life? Why is a lengthy staging at the Platte River so important to sandhill cranes, but only a short stopover for whooping cranes? What does Tom say is one of the natural wonders of the world? Find out here:

Then use what Tom said as you come back to answer our next CQ:

Challenge Question #6:
“ What are at least four differences between sandhill cranes and whooping cranes?”

(To respond to this question, please follow the instructions below.)

Field Notes from the Platte River, Nebraska: Welcome, Whooper
The USFWS’s Martha Tacha sends this good news about the first confirmed whooping crane sighting (Monday, March 28) in the flyway this spring. YES, the young whooper on the Platte River is “the 217th crane” in the Western flock. It’s the young crane that separated from its parents before reaching Aransas NWR. Tom Stehn told you about this bird in his Feb. 25 report. This bird was discovered spending its first winter with sandhill cranes, 75 miles from Aransas NWR and the rest of the whoopers in the Aransas/Wood Buffalo (Western) flock. Now Martha reports:

“The juvenile whooper roosted again in the Platte Tuesday night. It was out feeding Wednesday morning with sandhill cranes in the same cornfield used last evening. I watched the young whooper loaf in the Platte River with several hundred sandhill cranes for at least 3.5 hours Tuesday afternoon. From 5:30 – 6:30 it fed in a large corn stubble field with sandhill cranes. Then it flew to the river and joined sandhill cranes already on roost at the same place they spent the afternoon. The weather was beautiful Tuesday. It turned nasty overnight with strong N and NW winds and rain forecast through Wednesday. So, the juvenile will likely be around at least another day. We're trying to keep track of its movements to learn what habitats it uses in the area.”

An albino sandhill crane among sandhill cranes

Great! This news means you might be able catch a glimpse of the juvenile on the Web via the crane cam on the Platte River! Remember, though: Several albino sandhill cranes have also been seen in this area (see photo). These white birds are easily mistaken for whoopers, but sandhill cranes are smaller. Martha Tacha reminds us, “Obviously, whooping cranes are easy to distinguish if you have binoculars and the light is good.”

Aviculturist Sara Zimorski, ICF

Things to Wonder About: Sara’s Thoughts
Aviculturist Sara Zimorski spent much of the winter monitoring the young cranes at the Chassahowitzka winter pen site. She worked with the chicks last summer and knows the birds well. We asked Sara what’s on her mind as the chicks' first solo journey north begins. Sara said:

  • “I'm wondering how #418 will do. I don't think he'll have any problems but it's interesting that he did not leave with the older whoopers that he'd been hanging out with. Also, there are not really any migratory sandhill cranes left in FL, so when #418 decides to leave he'll probably be entirely on his own. He should know the route since he flew down, but it will definitely be exciting and interesting to watch what he does this spring.”
  • ”I'm also very curious and a bit worried about what the 3 birds in NC will do. These are the HY2003 cranes that spent the summer in Michigan last year. Originally I thought they'd make it to FL and then be able to make it back to WI from there. However, now that they've spent all winter in NC--much farther east than they should have been--I'm less certain they'll be able to find their way to WI. Time will tell, and this will definitely be an interesting group to follow.”
  • Sara also wondered about #412, “since he stayed behind when all the other chicks left. So far he's doing okay with the two older birds still at the Chassahowitzka pen. But there's safety in numbers and it will be very interesting to see if he leaves with them and stays with them, or if he migrates on his own.” (We just learned that #412 left yesterday with the two older ultracranes. Will he stay with them?)

Try This! Journaling Question
Choose a concern of Sara’s that you share, or perhaps you have concerns of your own. Write down your concerns today. As the migration unfolds, come back to your journal and add any new information about today’s entry. See what happens, just as Sara will be watching and noting what happens about the concerns she stated above.

Sandhills Before Whoopers: Discussion of Challenge Question #3
Last week Tom told you that sandhills migrate at least 3 weeks earlier than whooping cranes. But both species are faced by the same ice and snow conditions if they get to their northern nesting grounds too soon. Tom asked: “Can you think of a reason why sandhill cranes start the migration earlier than whooping cranes?”

Stumped? Not to worry. By read Tom Stehn’s report this week, you now know the answer! As Tom said, it's about the breeding behavior of cranes. Sandhill cranes come together on staging areas in springtime and make the choice of a mate. Choosing among half a million sandhill cranes requires extra time that whoopers don’t need, as a whooper can choose its mate-for-life at any time.

Where's the Whooper?
Birds of a Feather Hang Out Together
Are you curious about why whooping cranes sometimes hang out with sandhill cranes? Tom Stehn offered these thoughts:

“Whoopers hang out with sandhills just because they sometimes use similar habitats--especially roost sites in migration, or feeding in the same agricultural fields in migration. Also, I like to think sandhills and whoopers have some attraction to each other as cousins. They sometimes will join each other while actually flying in migration.”

Ultracrane Juveniles: When Will They Go? Answer to CQ #4
By now you know the answer, but last time we asked you to make a prediction based on flock history. We asked you to calculate the AVERAGE number of days each of the 3 previous Eastern groups spent on the wintering grounds to answer: “What date do you predict the Hatch Year 2004 crane kids will depart on their first journey north?”

You calculated that the average time spent on the wintering grounds was 121 days. (126 days in 2001, 121 days in 2002 and 117 days in 2003. The total days = 364. Average days = 364 divided by 3 = 121. For the whoopers delivered by ultralight on December 12, 2004, 121 days later would mean a predicted departure date of April 12.
How does this compare with the actual departure date?

A New Average: Challenge Question #7

Challenge Question #7:
“ How many days was the 2004 flock* on the wintering grounds before departing on their first journey north? Using this number, what is the average number of days on the wintering grounds in the 4-year history of the Eastern flock?"

*Use the March 25 departure date for the group of 11, which is all but two of the flock members. For average days in previous years, see answer to CQ #4, above, or
Comparing Migrations, 2001-2004.

(To respond to this question, please follow the instructions below.)

How to Respond to Today's Challenge Questions:

IMPORTANT: Answer only ONE question in each e-mail message.

1. Address an e-mail message to: jn-challenge-crane@learner.org
2. In the Subject Line of your message write: Challenge Question #5 (OR #6 OR #7)
3. In the body of EACH message, give your answer to ONE of the questions above.

The Next Crane Migration Update Will Be Posted on April 8, 2005.

Copyright 1996-2005 Journey North. All Rights Reserved.
Please send all questions, comments, and suggestions to jn-help@learner.org
Annenberg Web SiteToday's News Fall's Journey South Report Your Sightings How to Use Journey North Search Journey North Journey North Home Page