Whooping Crane Whooping Crane
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April 21, 2005

Dear Journey North,

I just got back from Kansas and the south winds were really howling up there across the plains. Those winds would push anything north.

Injured Chick at Aransas NWR
I am not doing a census flight at Aransas this week due to no time in my schedule, but I do know about one juvenile whooping crane that is still here. This "chick" was reported on April 2 by a graduate student as acting very lethargic and with a very swollen head and upper neck. We started daily monitoring of the bird, done especially by the Whooping Crane Tour Boat Captain Tommy Moore who runs his boat named the Skimmer. The chick was not eating. It spent most of its time actually sitting down in the marsh, something cranes rarely do except when they are sitting on nests. One day we thought the chick had died since we could not find it at all, but it apparently was just sitting down in the marsh and hidden by tall vegetation. I have never seen a head and neck so swollen on a whooping crane. It was about 1 and one-third normal size. The chick kept its head cocked to the side, and couldn't raise its bill up.

"This photo was taken about 10 days after the injury, so it doesn't really show the severely swollen neck, but you can see the cocked angle of the head and swelling at the base of the neck."

Photo Tom Stehn, USFWS

Trying to Help
We tried to catch the chick, but it was alert enough to walk away from us and maintain its distance. Its parents stayed close to it and protected it. After about a week, we saw the parents bring a small blue crab over to the chick and the chick-- with difficulty--swallowed it. Slowly the swelling went down. The chick became a little more active. By April 14, the chick was catching and eating blue crabs on its own.

Parents Leave on Migration
The following day, April 15, the parents began migration and the chick stayed behind. I'm sure the chick still doesn't feel well enough to migrate, but it is getting stronger every day. Once its parents left, Tommy Moore put corn out for the chick, although we haven't seen it taking any corn. It seems to be finding plenty of crabs, its favorite food. At this point we don't know if the chick will spend all summer here at Aransas, or migrate back to Canada on its own. Either way, it should be fine.

What Happened to Injure This Chick?
We think one of two things happened. Tommy Moore got really close to the chick and saw caked blood at the base of its skull. We think a raptor hit it with its talons (possibly a great horned owl), or else a snake bit the chick. It was so sick, and yet has come through. It is looking so much better. I'll keep you posted as to how this chick is doing.

Tom Stehn

Whooping Crane Coordinator
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Aransas National Wildlife Refuge


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