Whooping Crane Migration Update: May 13, 2005
Glad News, Sad News
Crane #418 landed in Wisconsin on May 11! Although he is the only 2004 bird that has not yet completed spring migration to Necedah NWR, he is getting close. But where has he been?
Left and Middle: Crane #418 stops in Washington Park in metro Chicago—not a very safe place for a whooping crane! Photos Marc Monaghan.
Right: Crane #418 lands in safe Wisconsin wetlands on May 11—close, but not quite "home" at Necedah. Photo Richard Urbanek.
That’s the glad news. But on May 10 the remains of yearling #414 were found below the south reservoir of Yellow River Cranberry, where he had spent the time since arrival with #401, #407 and #408. He is believed to have been killed by a large predator during the night of May 2. (Our News Flash told you of #106's death on May 3.) How does the WCEP team feel at yet another loss in what’s been a bad year for the Eastern flock? See what ultralight pilot Joe Duff says:
The Three Wanderers: Recapture, or Not?
With Sara’s help, we’ve been following the Eastern flock’s #301, #309 and #318. These three have had unusual life stories as Michigan birds, South Carolina birds, and Ontario birds. While two of the lost wanderers have crossed over the border into the U.S., #309 is still in Canada. If they keep going west they could eventually make it home. On the other hand, an unconfirmed report says that the last member of this notorious group has been sighted southwest of Montreal in the Province of Quebec. Will the three birds be captured and relocated back to Wisconsin in hopes of reorienting them? This would not be the first time that whoopers from the Eastern flock had to be captured after becoming wild. For the birds’ sakes, it’s something experts only do as a last resort. How would YOU go about trying to capture a wild bird that’s 5 feet tall with a dangerously sharp bill? ICF Aviculturist Sara Zimorski tells us how it’s done:
Craniac Quick Quiz: True or False?
Are the following statements true or false? Read this report carefully and you'll find all the right answers.
Yearling Cranes Practice Being Wild
There will be no more pens for the young cranes just returned to Necedah NWR. They’re on their own! This is the time for them to practice their wildness for real. These whoopers, hatched last spring, are (or soon will be) one year old. In terms of human lives, the HY 2004 cranes are not quite teenagers—at least, they’re not yet interested in dating. Whooping cranes usually start forming pairs while they are two and three years old. They probably won’t nest till they’re three, four or five years old—which is exactly what's now happening in the Eastern flock. In 2005, we celebrated the flock's very first eggs laid, even though both were destroyed. When will we see the first chicks hatched by ultra-cranes? Perhaps in 2006? Stay tuned!
During the next few months, the HY2004 chicks will break their bond with humans. They'll fine-tune their survival skills and become as free and independent as nature intended. During their journey north, they selected proper crane habitat and avoided people (except for #418's stop in Chicago's Washington Park!). These cranes we’ve watched so closely may live 20 to 30 years in the wild, and they will be the ancestors of what we hope will be a thriving Eastern flock.
We also look forward to seeing the Western flock adding to its numbers. It has taken 65 years for the flock to grow from a low of 15 birds in 1941 to the present population of just over 200. But the two flocks will never meet. This is necessary to prevent the spread of any diseases among them, and to protect the entire species from being wiped out by a single storm or disaster. We wish them well.
Final Field Notes from Tom
at Aransas NWR, Texas
Baby Book: Chicks Soon Hatching Like Popcorn
Before they even hatch out of their shells, the chicks hear the sound of the ultralight airplane engine so they get used to it. At two weeks of age or sooner, the chicks are introduced to the aircraft. In June or July, they’ll arrive via private plane at Necedah NWR in Wisconsin for “flight school” and their 1225-mile migration in October.
Busy with new chicks at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland, Mark Nipper reports that chick #506 hatched on May 2 and #507 hatched out on May 4. “These two birds are cute as can be, of course. Chick 507 is a little…well ‘crazy.’ This little one runs around his pen screaming more than anything else. The poor little bird is healthy enough, it just needs time to calm down a bit.
“We found out that 501, 502, and 504 are females while 503, 505 and 506 are males. To determine this, we take a small sample of the eggshell and membrane to send to a lab for DNA tests. We all like to make guesses based on behavior, but we never know for sure until we get the results back.”
Last time we asked “If the birds are behind in laying eggs for the 2005 ultralight migration, what might be some consequences?”
1. The age range will be so wide that training will be complicated. The older birds will be more advanced than the younger birds.
2. Older birds may pick on younger birds, and maybe even injure them.
3. Combining all the birds into one cohesive flying group before it's time to leave on migration will be very difficult with so many ages.
4. Flight endurance and skills of the youngest birds will take more time to develop, perhaps delaying the migration.
Sara Zimorski added: “A large age spread means more shipments from Patuxent to Necedah. This isn't necessarily a problem, but just more logistics that have to be worked out. One last but related thought is that birds may have to be split up and live side by side—but not together—in pens at Necedah, depending on how many small groups have been socialized before the shipping. There are three pens and that should work; but, if the birds don't all get socialized at Patuxent, sometimes the socialization has to continue at Necedah in order to get small groups together into a larger cohort with their pecking order worked out."
Are you surprised at all these effects from late eggs? Well, not to worry. This week Sara shares some good news about the egg laying at various captive breeding centers: “Things seem to have picked up and there are plenty of eggs available for the ultralight flock this year. The neat thing is we'll have eggs from (1) Patuxent, (2) ICF (from a different female than has contributed to WCEP in previous years), (3) ACRES (for the very first time), and (4) possibly the Calgary Zoo as well. This will mean new genetics in the flock because some of these birds have never contributed to this flock before. This is both fun and exciting, but also very important for the genetic health of this flock.” (You may remember that every whooping crane alive today is descended from just 15 surviving wild whoopers in the early 1940s.)
Ultralight pilot and Project Leader Joe Duff hopes to get a record 24 whooping crane chicks from those expected to hatch this year at the captive breeding centers around North America. The Whooping Crane Recovery Team decides how many will be given to the reintroduction program. Operation Migration pilots will start moving chicks from the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland to Necedah NWR in Wisconsin in late June for "flight school." They will be trained to follow the ultralight aircraft at the same sites used to train the first four "ultra-crane" generations. It should be interesting to see how many of the returned wild cranes (the 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004 ultralight-led chicks) will want to claim that territory as their own!
Of course, Joe and the other OM pilots don't want to be flying birds to Florida forever. With four successful ultralight whooper migrations behind them, they hope to teach this same migration route to a new generation of captive-bred chicks (that means no adult wild parents) each fall for just a few more years. That means you can keep watching the story unfold with ultralight migrations for at least the next year or two.
The migration of this year's chick #418 began the next stage of the reintroduction: supplemental release, or releasing captive-bred chicks to see if they will follow the older, experienced whooping cranes when they leave Wisconsin on migration to Florida. The WCEP team will eventually phase out the ultralight planes if veteran "ultra-cranes" will take over and lead newly-introduced chicks on migration. They'll know they are successful when the next generation starts learning migration from the experienced ultra-cranes. The success of #418's migration is a good sign; this chick learned how to migrate by following some experienced ultra-cranes. The WCEP team has asked captive breeding centers for 6 to 8 chicks for supplemental release on the fall 2005 journey south.
In order to save the whooping crane, we need at least two more flocks that are independent from the original wild flock. These additional flocks will be insurance if a catastrophe (such as a hurricane, tornado, or disease outbreak) ever wipes out the original wild flock—the Aransas/Wood Buffalo cranes, now over 200 strong. The goal of WCEP's reintroduction project is to build a flock of 125 birds in the Eastern flock by 2020. With 43 birds so far—and perhaps 24 new '05 chicks coming—they're on the way. We'll keep telling their story, so please stay with us.
Craniacs, What's Your Score?
The answers to our true/false quiz at the top of the report: T, T, T, F, F, T, T, T, F, T
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This is the FINAL Whooping Crane Migration Update for Spring, 2005. Thanks for joining us as whooping cranes soar into a hopeful future. Please come back in September to follow A RECORD number of Hatch Year 2005 chicks on their ultralight-led Journey South—-and come back next spring to find out what happens on their first unaided journey north. Here's to a wonderful summer for you—and the cranes!
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