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

Whooping Crane Chick #6-15
Operation Migration

Crane # 6-15
Date Hatched May 10, 2015
Gender Female

Temporary legband: Yellow

Left Leg Right Leg

Personality and Training:

Chick #6 was the mean girl during her days at At Patuxent WRC, noted handler Colleen. "It will be interesting to see if she keeps the dominate position or as they get older another crane puts her in her place."

She was an independent girl from the start, and good at training.



Early training with the trike at Patuxent WRC
"Ground School" begins.
Operation 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 #6 taking grapes from the costume during her first days in Wisconsin.

Crane #6 gets grape treats from the costumed handler.
Grapes: Yum!
Operation Migration

By July 22 the young colts were not yet flying well, but that could change any day! Here is #6, surveying the landscape, still showing many of her rusty-color chick feathers.

By the end of July, the colts 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."


#6-15 on July 22
Growing Fast
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 like watermelon!
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.




Creane #6 is on the right.
Sep. 20: #6 on the right
Doug Pellerin

Delay: The departure didn't happen on September 20th 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. They were fogged in on the new target date of September 26th and again Sep. 27.

In the meantime, the team works hard to think of fun things to keep the cranes from being too bored. They have fun attacking a sunflower for the seeds to eat!

Attacking a sunflower for the seeds to eat
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. Crane #11 was first in, crossing the threshold as if it were everyday stuff. Crane #2 was next and then they all came in. The Journey South is underway!


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

Nov. 7: Crane #6 took off well as usual, but turned back with four of the other birds to land at the pen. All five then refused to take off again and were boxed and driven the entire 57 miles to LaSalle County, Illinois. Only #2-15 completed the flight.

Nov. 8: Crane #6 completed the fflight to Livingston County, IL with four flock mates flying with Brooke's plane.

Nov. 9, 20, 22: Nov. 9 was the third fly-day in a row! All six took off together and flew to Piatt County, Illinois. They were grounded there by wind or weather delays until flying again Nov. 20. They also flew Nov. 22, reaching the final stop (Wayne County) in the long state of Illinois.

Migration flight with ultralight aircraft

#6 is a Good Flyer!
Operation Migration
Persistent south winds delayed the migration many days. They took only four flights in December. The team took a week off for the holiday break and returned Dec. 28 but weather kept them gounded until January 3rd in the new year.

January, 2016: Migration continued, slowed by weather delays and crane behavior challenges after being penned so long at a stopover. They flew on January 3, 11, 13, 14, 24 and 30 (when they crossed the border into Florida). The longest ultralight-led migration is finally near an end.


Class of 2015
Still Migrating in January
Operation Migration

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.

Feb. 6: #2 leads
Operation Migration

Crane #6 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. Crane #6 was first to come out of the pen.

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


Crane #6-15 enjoys  February freedom.
Operation Migration
Spring 2016: First Unaided 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. 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! It appears that she (and very likely the other four traveling companions—including #6-15) roosted approximately 5 miles from their former pen site that night!

northward migration progress map as of April 7 a.m.
Progress Map
Once home, they soon began the spring wanderings normal for juveniles. Cranes 6-15, 8-15, 10-15 and 11-15 were in Marquette County, WI before flying off. (See Google Earth map of this group's May travels.) They went up to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and back to Wisconsin, where the foursome split up. On July 1, female #6-15 was observed in Winnebago County, WI as her wandering continued.
#6, #8, #10 and #11-15 in June 2016
Summer Wandering
Doug Pellerin

Fall 2016: Female #6-15 spent early December in Greene County, IN associating with 38-09. The two then moved to wintering grounds at Wheeler NWR in Morgan Co, AL by the end of December.

Spring 2017: Female #6-15 spent the winter at Wheeler NWR in north Alabama and her remote device hits indicate she and male #38-09.DAR moved north to Greene County, Indiana over the weekend of Feb. 18-19. They were back in Juneau County, Wisconsin before April 1.


Last Updated: 6/4/2017