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

Back to Meet the Cranes 2012

Baby crane #7-12
Photo: Operation Migration
Crane #7-12
Date Hatched May 4, 2012
Gender Female
Left Leg Right Leg
(VHF radio transmitter)


Personality and Training: After she hatched, this little female's toes needed to be taped so they would grow straight (see photo). When crane #7-12 was moved into a new pen at a few days of age, she was scared by her own reflection in the Plexiglas. The costumed humans solved it by taping a piece of carpet to the window to mask the reflection; then she calmed down. She really liked sticking close to the costumed "parent," but she is curious too. At first she was at the bottom of the pecking order.

At flight school in Wisconsin, she became a good follower. Sometimes she wandered over to the fence, but always came back to follow when the trike taxied off for another chase down the training strip. By July 15 all the birds could flap and run behind the ultralight. On July 30, when the hot weather cooled, #7 and the others finally found out what their big wings are for: They lifted off and flew behind the ultralight, down the training strip and back. Airborne!!


Crane #7 looks up at wild cranes flying overhead.
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! They passed right over Stop #1 and flew onward to Stop #2 (Marquette County, WI). Well done!

Day 4, October 1: Onward to Stop #4, Columbia County, Wisconsin. All six birds stayed on Brooke's wing the whole way, despite headwinds. With new stuff to poke and prod, they dawdled along through the cornfield and it took Brooke and Richard 20 minutes to coax them into the pen.

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

Day 9, October 7: Onward to Illinois!

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.

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-miles flight was the longest yet for #7-12. Whoopee!

A pumpkin in the travel pen for the young cranes to play with
Image: Operation Migration

Day 35, November 1: She and all her classmates except #6 covered 119 miles in almost two hours of flying. 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: See Crane #7 in flight! She and all her flock mates flew the 45 miles to to Union County, Kentucky in 1 hour 11 minutes today. They've completed 453 miles of the 1101-mile journey south.

Crane 7 on Nov. 4 flight
Image: Operation Migration

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 #7 made the 1 hour 52-minute flight just fine! Even though she's not the youngest crane in this group, she has more rusty brown feathers from her "chickhood" than the others in the Class of 2012.

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 #7 has the most brown feathers of the Class of 2012.

Cranes #5 and #7 on Nov. 11.

Day 50, November 16: Whoopee! A great 46-mile flight to Lowndes County leaves one more stop in Alabama! Cranes #7 and #11 battled back and forth for lead position, even cruising ahead for most of the flight. This made it harder for the last cranes (#4 and #6) to keep up. The humid air and the temperature of ~12 degrees Celsius also made it more difficult for the birds at the rear of the line, but they all made it and landed together with pilot Richard.

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!

Five young cranes in flight with ultralight plane

Image: Sarah Jones

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!

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.

Florida: January, 2013: The young cranes are hunting and eating blue crabs in the salty marshes. Can you identify the five in the Class of 2012? The sixth crane, in the back and standing taller than the rest, is a plastic crane. It's purpose is to be an example, as cranes are safest when in the water. They can hear predators splash as they approach, have have time to fly away. Brooke says #7 continues in her "detached and aloof" manner.

Five young cranes stand in their pond, along with the plastic brood model
Florida: January, 2013: The young cranes all head to the pond to roost as darkness falls. Crane #7 leads the way. Click the photo to see all five.
Cranes 7 and 4 head to the water to roost as darkness falls.
Florida: February, 2013:Offering the puppet beak to the cranes allows the handlers to get a good close-up look at each bird to check if all is well.

The five birds spend a lot of time together.

On Feb. 3, a bobcat killed Crane #6, and the other four acted spooked for a few days. Then...

Costumed handler uses puppet to interact with cranes. Class of 2012 in pond

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. They are still there, under Brooke's watchful eyes. Crane #4 was back by Feb. 13. Has #11 begun spring migration? Winds have been right for migration, and many sandhill cranes have already headed north.

Four flying Whooping cranes from the Class of 2012
Feb. 27: The "Treasured Trio" —now cranes #4, #5, and #7—spends most of their time foraging and preening, keeping their feathers in top condition for flight.
The three remaining members of the Class of 2012
Crane 7 (back) shares the water with crane #5 in their Florida enclosure. Cranes #4, #7, and #5 in March in their pond The three cranes in the Class of 2012 right before they began their first spring migration
Crane 7 (back) shares the water with crane #5 (front) in their Florida enclosure in March. Cranes #4, #7 and #5 have changed a lot over the winter!

March 10: The three were in their St. Marks pond this morning, but the pen was empty by evening, and again the next morning. Migration winds were favorable. Did they go? Stay tuned!

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 the same date as the very first ultralight-led crane kids completed their first solo migration in spring 2002! Female #7-12* unfortunately has a leg or foot injury. She has been observed by both tracker Eva and pilot Brooke as she foraged and roosted with the other two cranes from her cohort. They monitored her more closely, but planed no intervention unless the condition worsened.

Class of 2012 cranes 4, 5, and 7 complete their first solo spring migration to Wisconsin!
Image: Brooke Pennypacker, Operation Migration

Eva Szyszkoski and Brooke frequently checked on her. On May 9 they reported her foot still swollen (photo below), but she was getting around better and using the foot occasionally.

Female #7-12 with a swollen foot
Image: Brooke Pennypacker, Operation Migration

By April 27 her two flockmates moved to nearby Dane County. Thankfully, watching and waiting paid off! ICF’s Hillary Thompson checked on# 7-12 on May 17 and reported no limp. Crane 7-12 now appeared to be doing just fine. 7-12 was reported in Marquette County on June 12, and in Waushara County, Wisconsin, by August 16 and remained in the county through at least September 19.

Fall 2013: On the Nov. 8 tracking flight, Crane #7-12 was seen in Winnebago County, where she had relocated in early October. She completed migration to Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama on December 4 or sooner.

Spring 2014: Female #7-12 departed Wheeler NWR in Alabama on March 5 with #6-11, #15-11 DAR, #17-07 and the young DAR 59-13 (Latke). They made it to Hardin/Chester Counties in Tennessee that night. They continued north to Jasper County, IL on March 11, Tazewell County, IL on March 15 and Woodford County, IL on March 17 and Dane County, WI on March 18. Crane #7-12 apparently followed pair # 6-11 and #15-11 to Wood County, Wisconsin, on March 21. She later moved to Adams County, WI, where she began associating with male #3-11. They were still there together in early October..

Group of five Whooping Cranes, including Latke, after completing spring migration to Wisconsin.
Image: Eva Szyszkoski, International Crane Foundation

Fall 2014: Crane #7-12 departed Oct. 31 from Adams County, Wisconsin to migrate south with with #3-11, #24-13 and #38-09 DAR (remained with them in Knox County, Indiana, except for a brief trip north into Greene County around 23-25 November). Pair #29-08 and #W3-10 joined this group by 18 November and #18-09 joined them by 23 November. By early January, up to 11 Whooping Cranes were associating in this area.

Spring 2015: Female #7-12 remained in Greene County, Indiana, through at least March 25th when she was observed with wild-hatched female #W3-14, whose dad had departed on spring migration. Neither she nor W3-14 were detected at this location during a check on March 29th, but she made it back to her territory for the nesting season. Sad news came when her death was discovered and her remains were recovered on June 10, 2015. Unfortunately, cause of death could not be determined due to post-mortem scavenging. (Her mate's remains were found on territory on June 30, cause of death unknown.)

Last updated: 9/9/2015