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

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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 #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.
Doug Pellerin
Doug Pellerin
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.
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
Doug Pellerin
Fall 2014: Cranes #4-12 and #5-12 left Wisconsin on or shortly after Oct. 30 and migrated to St. Marks NWR in Wakulla County, Florida, arriving on November 30.
Older cranes show up at #4's training session.
On October 6, pals #4-12 and #5-12 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.
Colleen Chase
Cranes #4 and #5-12 look at #2-14 defending her crane chow from them in December 2014.

Colleen Chase
Once again, #5-12 and pal #4-12 hung out at the St. Marks pen site where the Class of 2014 resides during their first winter. On Dec. 24, #5-12 was chased away by#4-12. This kept up, so he stayed on a nearby ranch with the cows.



#5-12 at feeder in pen, about to gobble a free handout

Operation Migration
#5-12 often returned to the St. Marks pen to dart in from his hiding spot to madly gulp down as much food as possible before #4-12 came back to kick him out!




#5-12 at the feeders again on March 23, 2015
Operation Migration
"Will 5-12 take 8-14? They don’t seem bonded but they do hang together, sort of," observed Colleen. On March 23, Brooke was sure #5 was lonely; the crane left the feeders to come stand by costumed Brooke as the remaining five youngsters returned from a day of foraging elsewhere. Brooke also joked that, with all his food gobbling, #5 may be to heavy to take off and migrate!
Spring 2015: He started hanging out at the Florida release pen after males #4-12 and #4-13 began migration. Then, as everyone hoped would happen, he departed St. Marks with the five remaining juveniles in the Class of 2014 on April 3! Everyone hopes this two-year-old will lead the way for these crane-kids, who have a gap in their knowledge of the migration route between Tennessee and Wisconsin due to being trucked most of the way. He led the juveniles north but left them on day 7 when they were at their stopover in Saline County, Illinois.

Map of cranes' journey northDetails of migration days 1-7

#5-12 in Adams County, WI  upon completing spring migration 2015
Doug Pellerin
Wisconsin DNR pilot Bev Paulan heard #5-12's radio signal in Adams County, Wisconsin on April 14. He was hanging out with #4-12 and #9-13 near White River Marsh State Wildlife Area in Green Lake County on April 21st. He showed up May 4 to welcome young #8, 9 and 10-14 when they were released. (These youngsters failed to find their way home after he left them on their first northward migration.)

Fall 2015: It seems male #5-12 was holding out, hoping and waiting for some female company and his patience finally paid off! He was seen Sep. 17 and 18 in the field adjacent to Operation Migration's training camp with TWO gal pals: sub-adults #9-14 and #10-14. He was spotted November 17 at Florida's St. Marks NWR—his winter home—where he was happily foraging a short distance from the winter release pen with young female #9-14. Migration complete!

Most of the winter, cranes 5-12, 4-13 and 7-14 stand watch and guard. They seem to think the pen for the youngsters belongs to them. They stay in the pen most, if not all of the day, loving the unlimited food, fresh water and hot-wired fenced security. They pretty much rule the roost. They chase the chicks at will and refuse any olive branches the chicks might offer. So, the chicks have learned to stay away from them, except on very occasional forays into the marsh and on the oyster bar at night.

Spring/Summer 2016: Crane #5-12 left on migration with 4-13 and 7-14 and juvenile 2-15 on March 22. The group separated within a few days and all but juvenile #2-15 were back at Necedah by March 30. Male #5-12 hung out in his former training area, White River Marsh, with several other cranes during the summer. Finally, on July 4, he was observed with female #8-14. As noted on the website of Operation Migration, "This is exciting news as we’ve all been hoping this male and female would find each other!" Since 5-12 has not had the best of luck with female cranes, the team was hopeful when he was photographed in August with female 8-14. Everyone hopes they become a bonded pair.
Male 5-12 (left) and female 8-14 (right) in August 2016
#5-12 and girlfriend #8-14
Doug Pellerin
Fall 2016: Male 5-12 and new girlfriend 8-14 were often seen in the White River Marsh area where two other adults were bonding with one of the 2016 PR colts. On September 30, male from the other duo drove off #5-12 and stole away 8-14. Crane #5-12 seems unwilling fight for romance and instead flies off to safety. By October 11, the new pair was still together and #5-12 was nowhere to be found. Joe Duff wrote on October 21: "After being dumped twice, #5-12 likely decided it was time to migrate or at least get a head start. The bird was in Columbia County, WI. until Dec. 4, but just a week later was seen with three other adult whoopers spending time in and around the winter release pen located on ST. Marks NWR in Wakulla County, FL. 

Poor #5-12 really needed a friend, and he got one on the wintering grounds when #4-14 (a.k.a. Peanut) hung out with him. Peanut stuck with his buddy #5-12 even after the other adult pair left on the spring journey north. Will the two buddies migrate together? Where will they end up?


5-12  and 4-14 at St. Marks NWR, Dec. 2016
5-12 and 4-14
Operation Migration

Spring/Summer 2017: Crane #5-12 left March 24th on migration with 4-14 (a.k.a. Peanut). He was back at Wisconsin's White River Marsh on March 31st! The mystery is: Where is his good buddy, 4-14? A week after #5-12's return, there was still no sign of Peanut.

Tom Schultz found and photographed # 5-12 on Friday evening, March 31st at White River Marsh in Green Lake County, WI. In April #5-12 was seen a lot with yearling male #30-16. We hope they'll be good buddies, as it seems #5-12 could sure use a friend after being twice dumped by girlfriends and now Peanut left him too.


Crane 5-12 returned alone to Wisconsin
5-12 on March 31 in Wisconsin
Tom Schultz

Last updated: 4/20/2017