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Lone Nebraska Juvenile
A Happy Prediction
Tom Stehn, USFWS
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Alone in Nebraska
In fall 2008 a whooping crane juvenile separated from its parents in Nebraska during the fall migration. the young crane stayed near the town of Alma, Nebraska, for over a month. It stayed so long that all the sandhill cranes — thousands of them — had already migrated past the youngster on their way south.

No Sandhill Cranes to Help
Normally a young whooping crane that gets separated starts hanging out with sandhill cranes. The experienced sandhills form into large flocks and all of them help watch out for predators. The sandhills also teach the juvenile whooping crane to continue flying south to warmer country. But this particular youngster was all alone with no other cranes around to help it. We were very worried, but the juvenile appeared to be okay. It had plenty to eat, either in the pond where it spent the night (that’s a clue as to how whooping cranes stay safe at night), or in a nearby corn field.

Listening to Instinct
More than a month went by. Very cold weather hit during the first week in December. Biologists called me to discuss whether they should try to capture the young whooping crane and transport it south to Aransas if the weather got worse. On December 5, with its roost pond finally frozen over, the baby crane instinctively knew it had to find safety — and it continued its migration south. What an amazing miracle instinct can be.

Lost and Found
For several weeks we did not know where the crane was. Then it re-appeared in Oklahoma, again with no other sandhill cranes around. After one more spell of cold weather and having its roost pond freeze, the bird moved a little bit further south in Oklahoma. There were long periods when we did not know where the juvenile was or if it had survived.

Hooray for "Junior!"
But then on February 20th, 2009, I got a message that a juvenile whooping crane was on the Platte River in Nebraska with thousands of sandhill cranes. My guess is that “junior,” all by itself in Oklahoma, had started seeing sandhill cranes begin the spring migration. So the whooping crane joined in the fun and flew up to Nebraska! The thousands of bird watchers that travel to the Platte River every spring to see over half a million sandhill cranes that congregate on the Platte will be thrilled if they can glimpse this one whooping crane juvenile.

A Happy Prediction
Nearly one year old by spring 2009, this juvenile has learned how to survive from predators. It will return to the nesting grounds in Canada this summer and meet up with other young whooping cranes. At about age 3, this bird will find a mate, and I expect its mate will bring it to Aransas at last.

Journey North is pleased to feature this educational adventure made possible by the
Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership.