Whooping Crane
Whooping Crane

Key Timeline Events
Hatch Year 2005

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April 20 First chick for the 2005 ultralight flock hatches
May 28 Chicks #501, #502 and #503 begin walking by the trike in the circle pen
June 3 Youngest chick in this year's training group hatches
June 15 Six oldest chicks (#501-#507, except for #504, who recently died) leave Patuxent aboard a plane for Wisconsin's Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. This group is called Cohort 1.
June 18 Cohort 1 has first taxi training of "flight school." Perfect! (Cohort 1 chicks are still in the hop-skip-flop stage of learning to fly.)
July 2 Four of the six chick in chohort 1 get briefly off the ground for the first time!
July 6 Cohort 2 chicks (#509, #510, #511, #512, #515, #516) leave Patuxent aboard a plane for Wisconsin's Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. Sadly, #513 did not leave with the group. Today he was removed from the ultralight flock because of health concerns.
July 7 The oldest chicks, #501 and #502, fly the length of the runway behind the ultalight plane for the first time!
July 7 As usual, "ultra-crane" adults #101 and #202, who have their territory next to the north training site, show up when the chicks are on the runway. But today three more experienced ultra-cranes also show up. They are harrassed and driven off by 101 and #202, who clebrated their victory with triumph displays and ear-splitting unison calls. The young chicks see territorial behavior in action.
July 13 Cohort 3 (#519, 520, 521, 522, 523, 524, and 526), the last shipment of chicks from Patuxent, arrive at Necedah NWR. Also shipped with them were Cohort 2 birds #408 and #514, who had been held back due to broken toes that needed healing.
July 13 Training kicks up a notch as cohort 1 takes off straight out of the pen as a group behing the ultralight. #501, 502 and 503 were airborne for a small circle trip, while #505, 506 and 507 are younger and can't get airborne for too long at a time.
July 14 Five whooper chicks aged 29-39 days of ages were brought from ICF to Necedah NWR. These will become the first Direct Autumn Release (DAR) chicks of the eastern flock. In October, they'll be set free to learn migration from older whooping cranes that originally were guided on their first WI to FL migration by ultralight aircraft.
July 15 In separate training sessions, all chicks in all 3 cohorts followed the plane today--some hopping or walking on the ground, and the oldest flapping or flying in the air!
July 19 Cohort 3 (the youngest chicks) introduced to the full "winged" trike for the first time. "They were only a little nervous," said trainer Mark Nipper. "It went much better than expected."
Aug. 1 The youngest birds (Cohort 3) are still very little and cute and clingy. They follow slowly, and prefer the dry pen and muddy corridor to the actual wet pen. The middle group (Cohort 2) has the most aggressive, the most independent birds, aand also the most submissive birds. The oldest birds (Cohort 1) still is well behaved, but there aren't many strong personalities in this group.
August 15, Cohort 3
Photo OM
Birds of Cohort 1 are all flying very well for twenty minutes at a time.The youngest birds (Cohort 3) have now begun flying, too. The 8 birds in Cohort 2 are training in two separate groups because some can fly much better than others.
Aug. 28 The careful process of blending all 3 cohorts began! Cohort #2 followed the ultralight from their west site home over to move in with their future Cohort #3 flock mates at their east site home. Normally the "new arrivals" would spend a few days in a pen adjacent to their new flock mates. It's helpful to see one another for a while before they mix. But #512 broke through a gap in the fence the first day and joined the younger birds in Cohort 2! Later the same day, the team decided to let both cohorts out onto the runway for ten minutes of social time. Some bullying took place, but the birds were safely sorted out and put back into the neighoring pens with their normal group. As soon as Cohort #3 catches up to the flying ability of the older birds in Cohort 2, the barrier between the two pens will be taken down. Then they will become one bigger group. After that, the oldest birds (Cohort 1) will finally join them and all 21 will be united in one big traveling group.
August 30-31

Photo WCEP
Pre-migration health checks given to all chicks who will follow the ultralights south. each bird with a shiny new radio transmitter and ID band to their left legs. This allows the birds to be tracked during migration if the pilots lose sight of one between migration stops. The crane chick they're examining is hooded to prevent it from seeing humans, and to reduce stress. The humans keep silent. >
Sept. 9 After days of struggling, dropping out or turning back, Cohort 2 finally trained perfectly. All 8 birds took off from the runway on the first try and never looked back. They flew for 15 minutes and stayed with the pilot for the entire flight! (Cohort 3 still struggles in staying airborne and following well.) Cohorts 2 and 3 are still in separate pens at the same site, but socialize for a few minutes each day.
Sept. 12 Chick #515 died in a training accident.
Sept. 13 Cohorts 2 and 3 were blended into one pen. After several more days, Cohort 1 will come to the adjacent pen as the next step in making one big group of chicks before migration.
Sept. 15 Cohorts 2 and 3 flew together for the first time! It was a short but good flight. Chick #514 is in charge of the combined group, and #524 and #526 are grappling for second place.

Cohort One is generally flying well for as much as twenty minutes when things go well. Still not any really strong personalities, but dominance has developed.
Sept. 17 Cohort One followed the ultralight over to "move in" with the blended Cohorts Two and Three! (They'll stay in an adjacent pen for several days before they mix with the 14 younger birds.)
Sept. 20 Pilots tried to fly all 20 birds together for the first time. Sixteen flew with the trike for about ten minutes, but #520, 511, 519, and 524 were stragglers that came back to the runway.
Sept. 21 All 20 birds are now together in one pen--and all 20 flew together behind one ultralight. This is an historic first!
Oct. 10 Migration target date, but departure rescheduled for Oct. 14. After a 26-minute flight on Oct. 9, five birds dropped out. Others were breathing hard. These are signs that some do not yet have the endurance to begin migration. On Oct. 10 the pilots flew all birds over to the travel pen that will be used on migration so the birds could see it and go inside.
Oct. 14 MIGRATION BEGINS for 20 chicks and their ultralight aircraft "parents."
Oct. 25 Two of the 4 surviving DAR chicks--#527 and #533--were released on Necedah NWR. Experts hope these chicks will join up with the adult whooping cranes to learn their migration route to Florida. They are all done with being pen
Oct. 27 The other two DAR chicks--#528 and #532--are free on Necedah NWR, never again to spend the night in a pen. All eyes are watching in hopes they'll join with adult whooping cranes for migration.
Nov. 2 All 20 birds flew the distance for the first time on this migration!
Nov. 9 Chick #526 was found dead in the pen at Morgan County. Now the flock numbers 19.
Nov. 17 They finally entered Kentucky after a LONG 20 days to clear Indiana.
Nov. 24 The four DAR birds began migration today from Necedah NWR! The young whooper chicks are migrating with Sandhill Cranes. One femaile flew 435 miles on day 1 of her migration, and 3 DAR chicks made it to Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge on day 2 of flying!
Nov. 25 On Day 43, the ultralights and birds got over the mountains and landed at Hiwassee NWR in Meigs County, TN. That's halfway home!
Dec. 6 Chris takes his first turn as lead pilot, with all 19 birds on his wing. Joe Duff describes today as a Perfect Day.
Dec. 10 A day of struggle, with 12 birds being taken back and making no progress, and 7 birds flying to the next site.
Dec. 13

Arrival at Halpata Holding Site. Chicks will stay until perhaps mid-January, and then be trucked to the Chassahowitzka first-winter pen site.


A costumed trainer drives the trike around the outside of the pen and "robo-crane" drops mealworms to encourage the little chick to follow, safely INSIDE the pen. Photo HRay, WCEP
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