Meet the Class of 2012 Whooping Cranes
Hatch-year 2012 of the Eastern Flock

Back to Meet the Cranes 2012

Baby crane #5-12
Photo: Operation Migration
Crane #5-12
Date Hatched April 30, 2012
Gender Male
Left Leg Right Leg
 
 
(VHF radio transmitter)
 
 
 
 

 

Personality and Training: In the hours after he hatched, chick #5-12 impressed many as a goofy little guy barely able to walk or focus long enough to eat. As he grew, he would rather stay close to the costumed human "parent" than going out to forage by himself. He often pecked at the sleeve of the costume to be "connected." Soon, LOTS of treats helped him see the reward in joining the other chicks following behind the ultralight plane as it rolled along the ground. Chick #5 became the most likely bird to remind all the others that he was boss. On July 12 he struggled more than the other birds when captured and held to get a vaccination and his metal USFWS leg band. The team gave him extra attention and he soon forgot about it. By July 15 all the birds were flapping and chasing On July 30, when the weather cooled, they all lifted off and flew behind the ultralight—down the training strip and back. It was a thriling day when they were airborne together and following the trike.

Crane #5 is big and dominant. By early September, pilot Brooke noted that #5 was "just the kind of player we need up front to anchor our line." The team is less pleased about his habit of dropping down below the trike part way through the flight, tiring himself out by losing the benefit of the wing currents. He gets so tired that he needs to fly back to the bench for a breather. "But once he shakes that dumb habit, he'll be fine," predicts Brooke.

Crane 5 inspects the new leg band.
Image: Operation Migration

Fall 2012:

Day 1, September 28: Migration begins! All six young cranes in the Class of 2012 successfully flew all 19 miles on the first day of their journey south! Crane #5 was the only one who changed the plan by turning back. No worries: Brooke and his ultralight got #5 to fly the distance, and they landed shortly after the other five birds. They all passed over Stop #1 and flew onward to Stop #2 (Marquette County, WI) for a gain of 19 miles with 100 percent participation!

Day 4, October 1: Onward to Stop #4, Columbia County, Wisconsin. All six birds stayed on Brooke's wing the whole way, despite headwinds. But as Brooke descended to land, Crane #5 (always the rebel) left Brooke and climbed above him. He took his own sweet time coming down. It seemed he wasn't ready to quit flying and wanted to check out the new neighborhood before accepting the new stopover site.

Day 5, October 2: Another fly-day! Green County is the final stop in Wisconsin. Go cranes!

Day 15, October 12: All six awesome birds flew the 55 miles to LaSalle County, IL. for a total of 175 miles flown so far.

It's a good thing they had pumpkins and corn for rewards for the next several days while unflyable weather kept them grounded at this stop.

Pumpkin treat in the travel pen

Day 29, October 26: After 13 days grounded by headwinds or rain, the Class of 2012 got the right weather at last. Tailwinds helped them fly right over Stop #7 and on to Stop #8 in Piatt County Illinois. Today's 114-mile flight was the longest yet for #5-12. Way to go!

Day 35, November 1: Woo-hoo! Crane #5-12 and three of his four classmates covered 119 miles in almost two hours of flying alongside Richard's plane. Once above the rougher air near the ground, they climbed to an altitude of 3,500 feet and soared right over their planned stop and onward to Wayne County. They're at the final stopover in the state of Illinois!

Day 38, November 4: Crane #5 and his flock mates crossed another state border and flew the 45 miles to to Union County, Kentucky in 1 hour 11 minutes.

Day 40, November 6: Today's flight to Marshall County, KY put the team just 34.5 air miles short of the migration’s half way point! Crane #5 made the 1 hour 52-minute flight just fine!

All five of the Class of 2012 fly to Union County, KY

Crane #5's eyes are still quite blue (see photo), but will change to the adult eye color of yellow over the winter.

Day 42, November 8: All five birds launched with pilot Brooke and flew the 53 miles across the state border into Tennessee!

Day 47, November 13: Skipped a stop and crossed the state border into ALABAMA! Today's flight was 177 miles!!

Day 49, November 15: They flew 58 miles to Chilton County, AL. "The birds enjoyed the flight, switching from wing to wing, flying ahead, dropping below, and dancing the skies with a great sense of jubilation," wrote pilot Brooke.

 

Crane #5 on Nov. 7, 2012. Eyes are still blue, not yet turned to yellow.

Day 50, November 16: Whoopee! A great 46-mile flight to Lowndes Count leaves one more stop in Alabama! Crane #5 flew third in the line today, at 2,200 feet altitude. Good job!

Day 53, November 19: The team arrived safely in Pike County, AL this morning, covering 64 miles in 1 hour and 23 minutes of flying. Only 187 miles remain in this journey south!

Day 54, November 20: The Fantastic Five skipped over the first Georgia stopover and on to the FINAL Georgia stopover! They're in Decatur County, GA after flying 116 miles and passing the thousand-mile mark!

Day 55, November 21: FLORIDA! Today's 43-mile flight brought them to Jefferson County, FL. Just one flight to freedom remains! No flight tomorrow, Thanksgiving Day.

Day 57, November 23: HOME! The journey south ended with today's 45-minute flight to St Marks NWR. Their ground speed was about 48 miles per hour, with a gentle tailwind push in smooth air. The flight was flawless. Next for the Fabulous Five will be health checks and their new legbands and band color code. Well done, Operation Migration Team!

Five young cranes in flight with ultralight plane

Image: Sarah Jones
View from the camera mounted on the ultralight aircraft

Florida: Dec. 11, 2012: With health checks and banding completed Dec. 7, today the pen gate opened to finally free the young cranes!

Brooke and a team of helpers from St Marks and Disney’s Animal Kingdom will check on the birds several times a day as they slowly learn to be wild. Each night they will call the birds back into the four acre, open-topped release pen with its 10-foot-tall fences and electric wire. The cranes will roost in one of the enclosed ponds, protected from predators while they sleep. In the mornings they will again venture out into the marsh to learn the ways of the wild. Wearing his costume, Brooke will be there watching.

Crane #5 with new legbands
Image: Operation Migration

Florida: January, 2013: Crane #5 was the first of the group to get his adult voice, and has been practicing calls for several weeks. In the photo at the right, he found a blue crab to eat!

 

Young crane finds a blue crab to eat.
Class of 2012 forages in the pond.
Cranes
Cranes #6, #5 and #11 head toward the pond to roost as darkness falls.

Foraging for their natural foods

Images: Operation Migration

Crane #5 and buddy #6 return to the enclosure after a day of flying around and exploring. Cranes #6, #5, and #11 head to the pond to roost as darkness falls.
The Class of 2012 in flight
Class of 2012 in pond
The young cranes in the pond, near the plastic crane "model"
The Fabulous Five coming in for a landing at the night enclosure. What do you think they're looking for? Image: Operation Migration Crane #5's bands can't be seen here. Which is the plastic crane?

Feb. 3: A bobcat lurked and killed crane #6. Crane #5 and the others are spooked but safe. Livetraps have been set up in the area to capture any bobcat that might come back.

Feb. 8-13: The four cranes dawdled a long time before finally going back in their pen for night roosting. With the recent bobcat scare, this worried Brooke! On Feb. 9 all four birds were gone when Brooke came in the morning. He searched, but found no sign of them until Feb. 10, when two (#5 and #7) had returned at sunrise. Crane #4 was back on Feb. 13, but without #11, who had still not shown up by Feb.28. Winds have been right for migration, and many sandhill cranes in the area have already headed north. The three youngsters spend most of their time foraging and preening, keeping their feathers in top condition for flight.

Four flying Whooping cranes from the Class of 2012
Crane #5 stretches his wings. Cranes #5 and #7 from the Class of 2012 share the waterer at their St. Marks NWR enclosure. The three cranes just before they began spring migration
March: Crane #5 streches his wings! March: Cranes #5 and #7 take a drink of water.

March 10: The three were in their St. Marks pond this morning, but the pen was empty by evening. Migration winds were favorable. On March 11 their pen was empty!

Images: Operation Migration

Spring 2013: First Unaided Spring Migration North
March 10: Cranes 4-12, 5-12 and 7-12 left the pen site at the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, Wakulla County, Florida on March 10. No sightings or reports until. . .

April 19: Migration Complete! The three arrived in Sauk County, Wisconsin on April 19, the same date as the very first ultralight-led crane kids completed their first solo migration in spring 2012! . As spring turned to summer, the two were often seen hanging out very near their former training grounds at White River Marsh in Green Lake County. Then they began showing up at training time: Click photos for captions.


Cranes #4 -12at White River Marsh July 29, 2013. nd #5-12
#1205 investigates the contents of a wheelbarrow at White River Marsh training grounds.
Cranes #4-12 and #5-12 watch the chicks training.
Image: Doug Pellerin
Image: Doug Pellerin
Image: Doug Pellerin

Fall 2013: Cranes #4 and #5 remained in Green Lake County, Wisconsin through at least October. 2. They were not found during an aerial tracking flight on November 8. They were not found during an aerial tracking flight on November 8 and were next reported in Pulaski Co, Illinois, on November 15. On December 7 the two pals turned up at their former winter home, right inside the pen awaiting the Class of 2013. On January 5, when the youngest cranes finally completed their migration to Florida, the two older cranes were standing guard outside the pen! Well done, boys! The two remained on St. Marks NWR at least through March 3.

Cranes 4-12 and 5-12 arrived at St. Marks NWR for winter, landing right inside the pen awaiting the youngest cranes to arrive with ultarlight planes.
Image: George (Bert) Burton
Spring 2014: Male #5-12 left the pensite at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in Florida on February 5. He was next reported in Green Lake County, Wisconsin, on April 2, migration complete! It was a surprise when #4-12 chased his best buddy #5-12 off and migrated back to Wisconsin solo. Since then both have been spending time separately in the area surrounding White River Marsh but they were photographed together again in May. They hung out together throughout the summer.
Male cranes 4-12 and 5-12 together in Green County, WI
Image: Doug Pellerin

Fall 2014: On October 6, pals #5-12 and #4-12 invaded the training strip at White River Marsh and cut the session short for the Class of 2014 in their final week of training before fall migration. Do you see #4-14 by the aircraft? (Operation Migration crew member Colleen took the photo through the peephole of the young cranes' enclosure.)

Both # 4-12 and #5-12 were reported at the St. Marks NWR, Wakulla County, Florida, on 30 November after a successful southward migration.

Older cranes show up at #4's training session.
Image: Colleen Chase

Last updated: 12/6/2014

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