Whooping Crane
Whooping Crane
Whooping Crane

The Direct Autumn Release (DAR) Experiment:
Can Chicks Migrate Without Following the Plane?

Three DAR chicks and adult whooping crane #102 hanging out in the Wisconsin marsh Oct. 22, 2005.

Photo A. Shanahan

A new generation of Eastern whooping cranes takes flight in fall 2006, but five of them won't fly behind an ultralight plane. Instead, these chicks become part of the flock another way: learning their migration route by following the older whooping cranes. These special chicks are called the Direct Autumn Release ("DAR" ) birds. Each year starting in 2005, more DAR chicks are being added to the new Eastern flock. It's another way to help the flock grow in numbers.

What is Direct Release?
Direct Release
is a way of bringing birds back to the wild. It is part of an effort to boost the new flock's population and restore their historic migratory path in the eastern U.S. Direct Release has two parts:

1. Raising whooping crane chicks according to the costume/isolation-rearing protocol, and
2. Releasing them with older whooping cranes that have successfully migrated in the past. The DAR chicks learn a fall migration route from the older, wild birds.

Different Number-Names for DAR Chicks
Names of DAR chicks have a different numbering system than ultralight-led chicks. This helps keep them distinct from the chicks that follow the ultralight. DAR chicks have their birth ORDER number first, followed by a dash and their YEAR of birth. For example, DAR 26-06 was the 26th chick to hatch in the year 06 (2006).

How Are DAR Chicks Prepared for Migration?
The chicks for direct release are raised at ICF’s new isolation-rearing facility in Wisconsin. At about one month of age, the birds get transferred to the Necedah NWR. Here they will be near other whoopers in the Eastern flock, and many sandhill cranes that migrate south too.

DAR chicks are under the care of Marianne Wellington, a chick-rearing specialist, and other helpers. Marianne "hides" in a white costume and raises the chicks with the help of crane puppets.

Chicks fledge when they are around 70 days old. They are allowed to roam freely during the daytime—with frequent checks by Marianne and other costumed "parents." In early fall, they are released on the Wisconsin refuge so they can hang out with older cranes that will soon be migrating. Will these older cranes help the new DAR chicks learn the way to Florida? That's the plan!

Meet the DAR Birds 2006

Try This! Journaling Question

• Chicks in the wild learn migration from their parents, so the Direct Autumn Release (DAR) method is getting closer to the ways of nature. Make a 3-column chart to compare (1) the DAR migration to (2) the ultralight-led migration and (3) the free and wild whoopers' migration.

Produced in Collaboration with the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership

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