Meet the Class of 2011 Whooping Cranes!
Hatch-year 2011 of the Eastern Flock

Crane #5-11

Date Hatched

May 7, 2011



Egg Source

Calgary Zoo, Canada

Leg Bands

(Attached after reaching Florida)

Left Leg Right Leg
(VHF radio transmitter)

Temporary/migration band: yellow

  • Read about the naming system, hatch place in Maryland, release site in Wisconsin, over-wintering site in Florida, and leg-band codes.

Personality, Early Training

Chick #5-11 was moved to an ICU around noon on his hatching day. He was barely awake a total of 45 minutes as hour after hour went by. Geoff introduce him to the puppet during his waking moments. Geoff also tried to help him. "He lost interest however, and fell asleep in about three minutes flat. But since this was the first time he’d seen the unfamiliar puppet, and he didn’t really know where on earth he was, I wasn’t expecting any miracles. The second time I came in, I got him to weakly acknowledge the puppet and eat a few nibbles before he zonked out. Again, for a chick who was just hatched just you can’t expect much, but for the rest of the afternoon, he would spend a few minutes drinking and eating off my puppet before falling asleep again. He did eat more each time I worked him, so he at least warmed up to the puppet."
#2, #3 and #5 explore.
Photo Operation Migration

He made progress and by June 13 Caleb's notes called him a pretty level-headed bird. "He’s not as prone to panic attacks as 3-11. However, he also seems quite attached to the costume since he was the one who visited me the most when I was in the pen with him. A couple times I didn’t know he was there until I turned around and saw him looking straight up at me. Unfortunately, if 3-11 starts getting jittery, 5-11 is usually one of the first to panic along with him. Strange! Chick #5 appears to have enough guts to challenge 1-11’s supremacy every now and then. Granted, he hasn’t come out on top yet, but his optimism is a welcome sight."


Notes from "Flight School" at White River Marsh in Wisconsin:
Chick #5-11 arrived in Wisconsin on June 28, 2011 with his flockmates in the Class of 2011, ready for Flight School!
July 19: Click photo and you'll see #5, way in the back, searches for more bugs to gobble up.
Photo Operation Migration

During taxi training (running along behind the trike) he often wanted togo off and do something more interesting. He spent more than one training session wading in the marsh. While he didn’t do that on July 11, Geoff watched him lag behind the trike, making no real effort to catch up. "I could tell he wanted to jump in that marsh if that plastic fence wasn’t in his way. But no worries; all it takes is a little discipline, regular training, and some grape bribes to straighten him out."

Good news! During the August 11 training, both #5-11 and #6-11 were confirmed to fly with the plane. They followed the trike off the runway and "completed something resembling a large J-shaped flight path."

By the end of August all ten took off with the ultralight, even though some of them turned back or dropped out. On August 27, all birds flew with the trike again after some treats and bribes, but #5 was one of the four who still turned back after a second takeoff. Does he need more treats and bribes? On August 22, he took off after swamp monster scared the birds into following on the pilot's third try, but then dropped out and returned to the runway.

September 8, 2011
Image: Geoff Tarbox

October 6, 2011
Image: Doug Pellerin

By September, he had made progress and is flying pretty consistently. You can see this if you watch Operation Migration's CraneCam during morning training. Go, five!

On Sep. 20, nine cranes took off and flew about 10 minutes with the ultralight — but eager cranes #5 and #7 flew another ten minutes longer!

As migration nears, Caleb note: "#5-11 is quite the 'go-getter’. He is always one of the first to the front of the pen when us costumes enter. He is also usually the first to get a grape. I’ve seen 5-11 magically grow a foot in height reaching for a grape as I try to pass it to another bird. If he’s not pecking away at me indicating he wants a grape or snatching it right from another bird's mouth, he’s trying to seize it right out of my puppet's beak. It’s as if he’s saying 'GRAPE! GRAPE! GIMME, GIMME, GIMME!' Perhaps eager is a good way to describe him, if only we could transfer that ‘go-getter’ attitude from food to following the trike."

Migration departure week: Geoff sums up crane #5-11: "To me, this chick always seemed to need more guidance than some of the others. Back in Patuxent, he took a little longer to eat and drink than some of the other birds did. I'm not sure how he did training with the trike in the circle-pen back then, but today, that trend seems to hold true. After 1-11, he's probably one of our least reliable fliers. Make no mistake, he's had good flying days here and there. But if there's a bird turning back after take-off, it's probably him. I'm not sure if not all his neurons are firing, or if he can be bothered to go that extra mile or what.

"But what he lacks in ambition, he makes up for in friendliness. He's usually one of the first few birds I've seen come to greet me when I come in for checks and the like. I think Brooke picked up on it before I did though; he told me that 5-11 loves saying 'hi' to him while he's in the trike. However, he does also have a selfish side. Whenever we try to give other birds treats, he usually tries to steal them from the other birds while they're still playing with the food."

First Migration South, Led by Ultralight Airplane:

Crane #5-11 did not make it to the first stopover on Day 1 or Day 2. Instead, he (and the other 4 males in the class of 2011) had to be crated and driven when they didn't stay with the ultralight plane on Day 3. Find day-by-day news about the flock's migration and read more about #5-11 below.

Oct. 10, Day 2: Crane #5 was one of seven that took off all together, but turned back. The good news is that he flew quite a distance out over the marsh before tiring and turning back. He's going to make it yet! (He failed to fly again the next day, so was crated and driven to Stopover #1.) Caleb said the young cranes, including #5, seemed anxious in their unfamiliar pensite at Stopver #1: "Some of the more friendly birds (I’ve taken a new liking to 5-11) even pace up against the fence in our direction as we walk toward the pen." They were stalled by weather at this stop until Day 14.

Oct. 22, Day 14: Crane #5 was one of five birds that had to be crated and driven to the next stopover because they wouldn't fly and follow the ultralight.

Oct. 28, Day 20: Around 12 miles from the starting point, Crane #5 made an abrupt turn, leaving Brooke’s wing and heading north. Brooke turned his remaining two birds and chased him back. But #5 was low, and so far ahead, that Brooke gave up the chase and called for help. Luckily, the team had a volunteer pilot flying top cover today. The pilot and his helper worked hard to keep the young whooping crane in sight as he kept changing directions in flight. The pilot radioed#5's locations to trackers Geoff and Caleb as the lost bird wandered. Something kept spooking Crane #5. He was in the air and flapping his wings for over two hours! Finally he landed in a field next to two Sandhill cranes. Geoff and Caleb now had a chance to retrieve him. Crane #5 hadn't yet made friends with the two sandhill cranes. The pilot and helper watched from above as the interns, their vehicle parked out of sight and the crate tucked into the trees, walked around the treeline and came into view. At last #5 and the two interns could see each other. Finally the bird made its move, rushing to Geoff and Caleb. The pilot and helper Linda circled the happy scene until they could see that the bird was in its crate. Soon it was safely in the van to Green County!

Oct. 29, Day 21: Crane #5—and all nine other birds in the Class of 2011—flew the distance today! It's the first day of the migration for the whole group to go the whole way. (The class is down to nine because missing crane #2-11 turned up with abig flock of wild sandhills.)

Nov. 20, Day 43: After 15 down days, the birds and trikes finally got to fly again! Crane #5 blasted out of the pen and flew the 59 miles to Piatt County, IL.

Crane #5 shows his pufffy cheeks in this January , 2012 photo.
Photo: Operation Migration
Crane #5 shows his puffy cheeks and black mask in January 2012.

February 4, 2012: The nine cranes in the ultralight-led Class of 2011 became the first to finish their migration in a road vehicle. They were crated at the travel pen in Winston County, Alabama and driven to Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge to finish the winter and learn to be independent. Banding took place February 8. Brooke will watch over them as they slowly become wild and free. Check this bio page for further news in the life of of crane #5-11!





Spring 2012: First Unaided Migration North:
The nine cranes in the ultralight-led Class of 2011 ALL began their first journey north together from Wheeler NWR in Alabama on April 12 at 11:00 a.m. Three of the birds (#4, #7, and #9) are wearing PTT units so they can be tracked by satellite. GPS data showed they roosted the first night only 10 miles from their journey south stopover site in Union County, Kentucky. On their first full day of migration they covered about 231 miles and made it to Gallatin County, Illinois. PTT data indicate an April 15th daytime location in Wayne Co., IL for Whooping crane #9-11. Were they all together? Data from the same evening have cranes #4 and #7 at a roost location in Bureau County, IL. "It is possible that the nine cranes are still traveling as a group, however, we have no way of confirming this," said Operation Migration's Heather Ray. They did not travel April 16.

By April 19 tracker Eva confirmed: The 9 ultra-light birds eventually split into at least two groups. Whooping cranes 3, 4, 5 and 6-11 traveled together. The group of four arrived in southern Columbia County, WI., approximately 40 miles south of the White River Marsh SWA on April 20, eight days after departing the Wheeler NWR where they wintered. WELL DONE! By May 14 (photo below) they had not moved much and were still together. Hardly any sign remains of their rust-colored chick feathers. On May 31 a citizen scientist sent a photo of the four of them, still together, in Green Lake County, WI. This location is less than 3 miles from where they took their first flights with Operation Migration's aircraft last summer.

Cranes 3,4,5, and 6-11 after completing their first spring migration back to Wisconsin

Fall 2012: Migrated south to Wheeler NWR in Alabama.

Spring 2013: Completed migration back to Wisconsin on March 29 together with #3, #4 and #6 from his 2011 cohort.

Fall 2013: Migrated south after 8 November and was reported in Barren County, KY, on 7 Dec. He had arrived at the Wheeler NWR in Alabama by 12 December. He wintered at Wheeler with several other birds including #12-11, and likely paired up with her during the winter.

Spring 2014: Completed migration to Juneau County, Wisconsin in late March, and nested with with female #12-11. The nest was still active as of April 30 but failed in May.

Fall 2014: Departed Juneau County, WI on migration with #12-11 the week of Nov. 10-16. They wintered at Wheeler NWR, Alabama.

Spring 2015: Completed migration to Juneau County, Wisconsin and nested with female #12-11. The nest was still active as of May 4, but no news of nesting success this spring.

Fall 2015:

Spring 2016: Crane pair #5-11 and #12-11 were observed by pilot Bev Paulan on March 30 near their nesting marsh in Juneau County, Wisconsin. On May 5 Bev confirmed the hatching of their chick, W4-16! She photographed their fresh hatch with Mom and Dad:

Parents #5-11 and #12-11 with their new chick May 6, 2016

Bev again saw the chick and parents on her May 15 survey flight, but by June 1 the chick was no longer alive.

Fall 2016: Crane pair #5-11 and #12-11 were chosen as prospective alloparents when the parent-reared Class of 2016 chicks were released in September. Sure enough, they appeared to be forming a bond with PR 33-16, who was still with the pair as of Oct. 18. It was a big surprise when, just two days later, PR #33-16 appeared to have started southward migration—alone! Pair #5-11 and #12-11 completed their migration in December to Wheeler NWR in Morgan Co, AL.

Spring 2017: Crane pair #5-11 and #12-11 returned to their Wisconsin territory in Juneau County and were nesting by early April. They hatched two chicks, one day apart, June 30 and May 1! The chicks were the first of the season for the eastern flock.

#5-11  and 12-11 with newly hatched chicks in early May, 2017
Beverly Paulan, Wisconsin DNR Pilot

W2-17 died, but W1-17 was seen with parents seen from the air on Bev Paulan's May 12 flight:

W1 with parents, see from the air on May 12, 2017

W1-17 was still doing well at about 40 days of age when seen on Bev's June 8 aerial survey flight but had disappeared by her June 15 flight. Sadly, no chicks to fledge this summer for this pair.

Last updated: 7/3/17

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