Personality and History
Characteristics: Most independent of this cohort. Strays
farthest from trike during taxiing sessions. Small female but
now dedicated to the aircraft and follows everywhere. Brian called
her a super forager: "You could drop that bird in the
middle of a city and she'd find something to eat!"
Spring 2004: Began first migration north at 9:33
a.m. March 30, 2004 in a group
of eight 2003 flock mates (301, 303, 305, 309, 312, 316, 318,
319). They were flushed from
their roost by curious people intruding too close. The cranes
took off into the darkness. That, plus
a strong west wind, pushed them to the east side of Lake Michigan.
On April 9 the group separated south of Celina, Ohio. The group
of five (309, 301, 305, 318, and 319) was stymied by
being on an unfamiliar side of Lake Michigan and they spent summer
"She's an important bird to the program, and if we leave her where she is we eliminate any chance there is that this bird will mate," said OM pilot Joe Duff. "She's a good, wild bird, certainly independent. The only problem is she happens to be a little lost."
Fall 2005: She was reported again on October 27, 2005 near her last sighting in northeastern New York. And then—HOORAY!—reported Dec. 9 on a farm in Beaufort County, North Carolina. She was still there on December 12. Because #309 has had trouble migrating, she was captured on Dec. 16, 2005. See what migration team member Mark says about #309.
She was released in a cattle pasture in Madison County because yearling females #419 and #420 were there and might be a good influence. But the two yearlings threatened and chased #309. She then flew to an area with one whooping crane (#415) and more than a thousand wintering sandhill cranes. Here's hoping #309 finds and remains with other whooping cranes at least long enough to form a pair bond with a male.
On January 14, 2006, #309 went to the pen site at Chassahowitzka NWR. She joined the '05 chicks in the main pen on Jan. 21, 2006. Crane #309 is a very submissive bird. She appears thrilled to have some friends again, and never bothers the younger birds.
Spring 2006: Left the "Chass" pen with chick #520 on March 27. She has never found her way back to Wisconsin on spring migration, but she now wears a PTT for tracking. On March 29-30, she and year-old #520 were still together in Tennessee, right on track for Wisconsin. But then came trouble. See what happened, and how #309 got back from New York to Wisconsin:
Fall 2006: Departed undetected in the Nov. 19 mass migration of 28 whoopers. Until then, she was in farm fields and wetlands in Monroe County, near the flock's Wisconsin summer home. She was still with #520 as they migrated south. On Dec. 18 the two completed migration to the Chassahowitzka, FL pen site. HOORAY! This is a BIG DEAL because it was the first successful unassisted migration between Wisconsin and Florida for BOTH of them. Crane #309 went to North Carolina the past 2 autumn migrations, leading #520 astray with her. (See details at the Slide Show link above.)
In Florida, #309 and male #407 left "Chass" on Dec. 20 and moved around a bit, mainly to Pasco County and Hernando County. They sometimes were quite close to houses (and that means people). They landed briefly back at the Chass pen site on January 12, but then went back to Hernando County. They were often with #520 and sandhill cranes, and even with two of the year's Direct Autumn Release (DAR) chicks on Jan. 12.
Spring 2007: Began migration from Alachua County, FL on March 19 (with male #407). PTT readings indicated that the pair separated March 23 or 24 in Indiana. He went back to Wisconsin, but she didn't! She went to Michigan, New York, Ontario, and back to New York, her favorite state. (Her record of NOT finding her way back to Wisconsin on spring migration seems to be holding!)
On October 3 she was safely captured (again!) and brought back to Wisconsin by Sara Zimorski (ICF) and Richard Urbanek (USFWS). After a brief health exam, #309 was released on the refuge near a group of juvenile whoopers. The day after she was released she “stole” male #403 from another female (#W601) and the pair built two nests. They remained together during the summer and then migrated to Florida where they spent the winter. The WCEP team hopes that male #403 can convince her to return with him to Wisconsin in the spring — for the first time in her life! (Males are more reliable than females for returning to the area where they first learned to fly.) (She must have been happy to be with other Whooping Cranes again!)
Fall 2007: Crane #309 and male #403 (still together!) left Wisconsin on migration on November 27. They arrived safely at their old Chass pen site in Florida on Jan. 3! They moved with #313, 318, and 506 to Sumter County on Jan. 6. The next day the group of five cranes took off and separated in flight. But #309 stayed with #403 as they moved to Madison County. Scientists hope they will stay together on a territory all winter— and that #403 can convince #309 to migrate back to Wisconsin (instead of New York!) in spring for the first time in her life!
Spring 2008: Get ready! Wandering #309 and mate (#403) were tracked to their first overnight migration stop in Madison County, Florida, on February 28. They left the following day. They returned to Necedah NWR on March 27 and on March 30 were seen defending their territory against #213 and #218! HOORAY!! For the first time in her five springs #309 has completed migration to Wisconsin!!!! In more good news, #309 and #403 were observed April 9 sitting on a nest they made! This is #309's first time incubating eggs!
On May 3, #309 and her mate 403 were observed foraging together outside of their nesting marsh on the Necedah Refuge. "This was an indication that their nest had failed," said Dr. Richard Urbanek, "and on examination, only small eggshell fragments were found in the nest."
Fall 2008: Captured for transmitter replacement on Nov. 4. Began migration from Wisconsin on November 17, along with mate #403 and also #520. The pair (and #520) were still together When they reached Lafayette County, Florida in late December.
Spring 2009: Female #309 (with mate #403 and also crane #520) apparently began migration from Taylor County, Florida, between February 19 and 25. Mates #309 and #403 were confirmed on Necedah NWR on March 23 and already incubating eggs on April 8! This is the second spring in a row that #309 has made it back to Wisconsin, thanks to #403, who became her mate in 2007. An infestation of black flies had driven all the other nesting pairs off nests by April 24, but #309 and #403 kept sitting. However, their nest also failed; it appears that black flies made it impossible for them to keep incubating in comfort. Photos for spring 2009 below.
Fall 2009: Crane #309 and mate #403 began migration from Necedah NWR, Juneau County, Wisconsin, on December 7. No further reports until January 20 when an airplane tracking survey found them at home in a swamp in Lafayette County, Florida. Crane #416 was with them. They were there on Feb. 16 but gone by March 4.
Spring 2010: Migrating pair #309 (hereafter called #9-03 according to WCEP naming standard) and her mate #403 (hereafter called #3-04 according to WCEP naming standard) were reported in Richland County, Illinois, on March 9-16. They were back on Necedah NWR by March 20 and were seen on a nest during an aerial survey on April 5. The nest failed April 11 and they nested again April 29-30. The wonderful news of TWO chicks (W1-10 and W2-10) came on May 31! (It is likely that one chick hatched May 30 and the second on May 31.) OM pilot Richard van Heuvelen first saw the parents with two chicks when he flew over the refuge on May 31 to monitor nests for research purposes. Both parents appeared to be tending to the chicks. One chick (W2-10) disappeared between June 6 and 7. The parents and remaining chick (W1-10) remained in the general wetland area where they nested.
Most of the adult Whooping Cranes left on migration November 23, 2010. Only nine remain on or near the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, including the family #9-03 (#309), #3-04 (#403) and wild-hatched chick #W1-10.
Female #9-03 (#309) is now the most productive bird in the Eastern Migratory Population, with 3 of her chicks "out there" somewhere!
Fall 2010: The family group of #9-03 (#309), #3-04 (#403) and their wild-hatched chick #W1-10 began migration November 25 or 26. They were detected in Lawrence County, Illinois on December 3. The family completed migration to their previous wintering territory at Lafayette County, Florida and were found during an aerial survey on December 21. They were in Taylor County, Florida during a survey flight on January 13, 2011. Trackers tried a ground search of this location on February 9 but the area proved to be inaccessible by ground. The family was not detected on an aerial search of the area on March 11. They may be headed north!
Spring 2011: Parents #9-03 (#309) and #3-04 (#403) completed their migration north (with their juvenile, W1-10, who soon separated from the parents, as normal at this age) to Necedah NWR by March 21. The pair had two failed nesting attempts this spring. On April 30 two viable eggs were collected from the first failed nest to be incubated in captivity. The pair re-nested May 18. This nest failed May 28. Two eggs were rescued and transferred to the International Crane Foundation. No chicks for this pair in summer 2011.
Fall 2011: Pair #9-03 (#309) and #3-04 (#403) began migration between November 23 and 27. They were next reported in Wayne County, Illinois on December 30 in a warm winter when many crane in the eastern flock did not go all the way south.
Spring 2012: Female #9-03 (#309) and mate #3-04 (#403) were detected in flight March 15 with several other Whooping cranes as they headed north over ICF in Baraboo, Wisconsin—close to Necedah NWR. They returned and were found with a nest on April 7! The pair incubated 35 days before leaving the nest. Their egg never hatched, so there were no chicks for this pair in summer 2012.
Fall 2012: She was captured Nov. 5 (before fall migration) and her transmitter replaced before migration. Her original band colors remain the same.
2013: Female #309 (#9-03) and mate #403 (#3-04) completed spring migration back to Necedah NWR in Wisconsin on March 29. By mid April they were observed on a nest. Like all but one of this season's first nests, their first nest failed, but the rescued eggs were taken to ICF for incubation and hatched May 15 and 16. These became chicks #2-13 and #5-13 in the ultralight-led Class of 2013! In addition, this pair had nested a second time by May 31 and successfully hatched out baby #W3-13. Bev photographed the chick with one of its parents again on a July 23 aerial survey The chick was the only wild-hatched chick of 2013 to survived and fledge, and was still doing well in mid October, 2013.
Fall 2013: The family completed migration to the adults' previous wintering location in Wayne County, Illinois, by November 14, but their young colt, W3-13, was last observed alive during an aerial survey flight on December 11. As of January, the colt was presumed dead. The parents migrated to Wheeler NWR in Alabama.
Spring 2014: Female #9-03 and mate #3-04 began migration from Wheeler NWR in Alabama sometime after 29 January. Two birds reported in Wayne County, IN, on 21 February are believed to be this pair. They arrived back at Necedah NWR on March 29 or 30. They soon were nesting and the nest was still active when checked on April 30!
Fall 2014: Pair #9-03 and #3-04 left Juneau County, WI, on fall migration between Nov. 6 and 9. They spent the first month or less at Wheeler NWR, Alabama and then moved to Wayne County, Indiana.
Spring 2015: Female #9-03 and mate #3-04 returned to Wisconsin in March. They were seen May 22 on a nest. Experts removed those eggs and one of them became ultralight crane #8-15! The pair re-nested and their second nest produced one (possibly two) chicks around June 2. One chick, W18-15, survived the summer and fledged! Gender was undetermined, and the family was too elusive to let the chick be captured and banded before fall migration.
Fall 2015: Family group #9-03, #3-04, and colt W18-15 were spotted November 10 in Wayne County (southern Illinois). A knowledgeable observer reported that if this year is like last year, the family may remain in the area as long as weather is milder and commute between there and Wheeler NWR in Alabama when weather becomes severe. Indeed, the family was observed in both locations as winter unfolded.
Photo Leroy Harrison
Last updated: 1/21/16