Whooping Crane Whooping Crane
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May 4, 2006

Dear Journey North,

The whoopers continue to move through Saskatchewan on their way to the nesting grounds. The weather the last week has been a mix of typical spring weather. Sun one day, followed by wind, snow and rain; then sun again.

Nesting Ground News
More cranes have arrived on the breeding grounds and are beginning to nest. The first birds to arrive are the experienced breeders from previous years, while the last birds to arrive are subadults. The subadults are those birds that are 1 or 2 years of age along with a few 3 year olds that have not begun to nest. The birds usually begin nesting around 5 years of age but can nest as early as age 3.


Most sightings of 3 cranes are usually a family group. Successful breeders from last year will have last year's young with them on migration. This is a photo of the Allan family group during spring migration. Can you tell the juvenile from the two adults?


Photo Brian Johns, Canadian Wildlife Services

(Click on photo)

Last Year's "Crane Kids" Go Off on Their Own
Successful breeders from last year will have last year's "crane kid" with them on migration. The young birds will stay with their parents for most (or all) of the spring migration. But then they will separate. This separation is often forced on the young by the parents. Here's how the separation may happen:

  1. In Saskatchewan, or sometimes further south, the adults will begin the process of separation. This begins with the adults, usually the male, going through bouts of chasing the young from the group and then tolerating the youngster for a while before chasing it away again. After several days, the young will get used to being on its own and will eventually separate permanently from its parents.
  2. If the young happens to stay with the parents until they arrive on the breeding grounds it will be chased away at that point, just as if it were some other intruding bird in the territory.

It's Not So Bad
A case of separation was documented last week. A family group was initially sighted near Wakaw Lake, Saskatchewan. After a couple of days of feeding and waiting for the weather to improve, the adults continued migration. The young crane remained behind. This is a natural way for the young to leave the family unit. It is not a cause for concern. The young crane knows where it was hatched, in this case Wood Buffalo National Park, and it will usually continue migration on its own a few days later.

Occasionally the young may decide that it will stay where it is, and may spend the summer south of the breeding grounds. These birds usually find other whooping cranes during fall migration or once they arrive back on the wintering grounds in Texas.

Brian Johns
Wildlife Biologist
Canadian Wildlife Service
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada


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