Meet the Whooping Crane Class of 2015
Hatch-year 2015 of the Eastern Flock
Back to Meet the Cranes 2015

Whooping Crane Chick #1-15
Operation Migration

Crane # 1-15
Date Hatched May 3, 2015
Gender Female

Temporary legband: Green

Left Leg Right Leg

Personality and Training:

Chick #1 hatched from an egg removed from the first nest of 7-07 39-07 and shipped to Patuxent WRC in Maryland.

All the chicks liked to swim in their special pool because it was so hot in Maryland. It was good exercise for keeping their fast-growing legs strong and straight.

The oldest in the class, she became a dominate bird. When she first socialized together with #2 and #3, she pecked the two other birds whenever they tried to get near whichever footbath she was guarding for her own use.

Later she did much more foraging than guarding the footbath, but she often paced along the fence. By mid June, #1-15 was just great. She followed the trike well, and had become calm and sweet.


Crane #1 often paced the fence.
June 18: Pacing the Fence
Opertion Migration

July 2 was arrival day in Wisconsin for the six young cinnamon- colored Whooping cranes. None of the birds showed any signs of stress from their airplane trip-in-a-box from Maryland where they hatched. They happily explored their new surroundings for "Flight School."

Here's Crane #1 on July 7, stretching her wings as the costume opens the gate for a training session. Those black primary feathers will help her be a good flier.

Crane #1 stretches her wings on July 7.
July 7: Out for Training!
Operation Migration

Young # 1-15 showed dominant behavior to one of the visiting adult whoopers on the training grounds on July 22. What do you imagine she's sayng? The colts are gowing and gaining the skills to be airborne behind the trike very soon! They are strong enough to fly close to the surface but not yet able to climb. "So our daily exercising consists of a high speed taxi down the length of the runway while the birds fly beside us," explains pilot Joe Duff.

"We also have early morning visitors," tells Joe. "As soon as they hear the engine approaching. Sub-adult Whooping cranes #4-12 and #3-14 fly in to see what is going on." Here, one of the young cranes chases off the older one!

#1-15 on July 22
Who's the Boss?
Deb Potts
By mid August all six young Whooping Cranes were airborne! By the third week in August they were flying for over 20 minutes at a time, doing really well as a group. To keep them busy during their non-flying hours in the large pen, the team put chunks of watermelon in the pen for the young birds to peck at and play with. They loved it!
Young cranes playing with watrmelon
We Love Watermelon!
Doug Pellerin

Ready! By September, Operation Migration pilots reported that all six birds are doing incredibly well—a big contrast to last year’s cohort at this time. They said, "No doubt about it, this cohort is ready to migrate!" The target departure date was set for September 20th! But it didn't happen because crops still covered the fields where the first stopover sites would be! The cranes continued to train on good-weather days, performing well—as usual.



Training flight September 9, 2015
September 9, 2015
Operation Migration
Delays: They were fogged in on the new target date of September 26th and again Sep. 27. The winds were wrong on the 28th and 29th. The team works hard to think of fun things to keep the cranes from being too bored. This photo shows #1, #2 and a third young crane attacking a sunflower for the seeds to eat!
Young cranes pass some time getting sunflower seeds from the flower.
Sunflower Seeds: Yum!
Operation Migration

Sep. 30: Migration Begins! Pilots call these birds the Super Six because they are such great followers—not a rebel or maverick among them this year. They easily flew the five miles to the first stopover and landed right next to the trike. They all stood at attention, heads up, eyes wide and moved closer to the aircraft as the only thing familiar in a strange new environment. The plane taxied close to the travel pen and the birds stopped chasing grasshoppers to obediently go inside. The Journey South is underway!

Crane #1 is the oldest bird and developed her adult voice way earlier than normal. Being more vocal has elevated her in the dominance structure. Keep an eye on her!

The Super Six flying with the aircraft
Sep. 30: Migration Begins!
Operation Migration

Exercise day on November 2 was a welcome relief after days of being penned due to un-flyable weather. The next possible day to fly didn't come until November 7, Day 39.

Nov. 7: Crane #1 is getting an attitude. On their first fly day in 12 days, she surprised pilot Joe when she threat postured the aircraft! She turned away from it, and the other four followed her—right back into their pen! All but Crane #2 had to be boxed and driven 57 miles to LaSalle County, Illinois.

Nov. 8: On this fly-day, the team decided to box up #1 and not let her fly with the group. Being more vocal has elevated her in the dominance structure and she has started to challenge the aircraft with aggressive threat posturing. She traveled in a crate by road.

Nov. 9: On the third fly-day in a row, all six took off and flew to Piatt County, Illinois!

Exercise Day: Nov. 2
Nov. 2: Exercise Day
Operation Migration

Nov. 20: The cranes finally got to fly again after a long weather delay in Piatt County. Cranes #1 and #2 challenged the pilot for lead position in today's mischief. Here's #1, honking in flight! The birds and planes got completed six flights in November.


Dec. 15: The cranes crossed into Alabama. Winston county of the first of three stops in this state.

Dec. 18: An attempt to advance on Dec. 18 was turned back in very rough air. They had only three flights in the whole month of December because of undependable weather.

The persistent south winds have delayed the migration many days. The team took a week off for the holiday break and returned Dec. 28th. The weather wasn't flyable for the cranes and planes until January 3rd!



Crane #1 is honking during the Nov. 20 flight!
Nov. 20: Honking #1
Operation Migration
Dec. 18th flight
Dec. 18: #1 is 3rd from left
January, 2016: Migration continued, slowed by weather delays and crane behavior challenges. They flew on January 3, 11, 13 and 14. Crane #1 was often challenged for lead position by Crane #2—who was crated and driven more than once, to avoid aerial battles or turnbacks.
Crane #1 in lead position
Jan. 14: #1 Leads
Screengrab captured from Gopro footage

February 6, 2016: The migration came to a strange ending on Feb. 6, 2016. Instead of being guided the final 24 miles to their new winter home by aircraft, the Class of 2015 arrived in crates. With no decent weather ahead and not wanting to delay the migration any longer, the team felt it was the best decision. This photo journey lets you go along on the final day. They will be supervised from a distance by pilot Brooke Pennypacker until they take off on their first unaided migration north this spring.

Project leader Joe Duff assures us that being trucked this short distance will not hamper their ability to navigate back to Wisconsin in the spring. The Class of 2015 is the final cohort to be taught their migration route by costumed pilots in tiny yellow airplanes.

Releasing cranes from crates on arrival day at St. Marks NWR in Florida
Feb. 6: The Finish
Operation Migration

Crane #1 was banded with her lifetime colors and tracking transmitter on Feb. 9. She is one of three wearing the new GSM tracking units.

February 14 was FREEDOM DAY, when their costumed caretakers pulled open the gates to the top-netted pen and released the birds to freedom.

The birds can now come and go from the enclosure, learning to forage for their own food as they become wild and free.


Crane #1 after banding
Feb. 9: Banding
Operation Migration
Spring 2016: First Unaided Spring Migration North

The remaining five juvenile Whooping cranes (1-15, 6-15, 8-15, 10-15 and 11-15) departed St. Marks NWR at 10:05 a.m. March 30 for their first journey north! (Their flock mate #2-15 left March 22 with four older whoopers from St. Marks leading the way.) They covered just over 200 miles on the first day, roosting in Elmore County, Alabama. This site is within 30 miles of the Lowndes County, AL location where they stopped on their fall migration south. Thunderstorms in the area them there on April 1 but in the next two days they covered close to 400 miles, reaching Henderson County, Kentucky on April 3 (map). They continued northward April 4 and made it to Gibson County, Indiana. On April 6 they reached Putnam County, Illinois and by April 10 they were in Bureau County, Illinois. Rain and northwinds are keeping them in the area. On April 15 a satellite hit for #10-15 placed her in Green Lake County, Wisconsin! She (and very likely the other four traveling companions—including #1-15) roosted approximately 5 miles from their former pen site that night. Once home, they soon began the spring wanderings normal for juveniles during their first summer home. Female #1-15 hung out in Columbia County, WI.,but then moved around in Columbia County, WI and then later in a great location in Rock County, Wisconsin, where she remained for the summer and early fall.

Fall 2016: Sad news came after mid October when DNR pilot Mike Callahan spotted the carcass of female # 1-15 in Rock County, WI.

northward migration progress map as of April 7 a.m.
Progress Map
Last Updated: 10/21/2016