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

Whooping Crane Chick #10-15
Operation Migration

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

Temporary legband: White

Left Leg Right Leg


Personality and Training:

Chick #10 was handler Colleen's favorite at Patuxent WRC, and she described her as adorable. Colleen wrote: "Brooke let me name her when she was a little tiny thing and doing the engine on/off training. At first she was terrified and cowered in my lap for this training. To encourage her, I kneeled down and spread the costume flat on the ground between my knees. When Brooke started the engine, the chick could run into my lap if she was scared . So, I named her Chicken Little. She was still the scared one. When Brooke leaves the pen or the Sandhill cranes give their alarm call, she melts down and tries to climb the fence.

1 month of age
One month old
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 Crane #10 (white legband) on July 7, following her flock mates down the training strip as the trike races in the lead.

Crane #10  trains during "Flight School."
"Flight School" begins
Operation Migration

Here's #10 chasing behind the aircraft trike during training on July 22. The young Whooping crane colts are not yet flying very well, but that could change any day now!

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."

#10-15 on July 22
Soon Taking Flight
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 were doing incredibly well—a big contrast to last year’s cohort at this time." 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. In the meantime, Crane #10 showed how smart these birds are about telling the difference between puppets used by the crane handlers. She hates the puppet Jo-anne used and pecked (hard!) not only the puppet, but at Joanne! The next time, Jo-anne used Heather's puppet and #10 cozied right up to her for treats of mealworms and grapes.

Training flight September 9, 2015
September, 2015
Operation Migration

Delays: 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!

Young crane pecking a sunflower for the seeds.
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: After 12 days of no migrating, the next possible day to fly didn't come until November 7, Day 39. None of the birds except #2 would cooperate with the pilots. Crane #10 and the four others who wouldn't stay with the plane were boxed and driven the 57 miles to LaSalle County, Illinois as #2 completed the flight without her flock mates.

Nov. 8: Today #10 and four of the others (#1 was boxed) flew the 55 miles to Livingston County, Illinois.

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.

Crane #10 on Nov. 2 exercise day.
Exercise Day
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. 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.

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

The young cranes were banded with tracking transmitters and their lifetime color codes on Feb. 9. Crane #10 is one of two cranes wearing a PTT for tracking.

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 #10 after banding
Banded Feb. 9
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! t appears that she (and very likely the other four she traveled with) 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 Michigam and back to Wisconsin, where the foursome split up.

On July 1, female #10-15 and male #11-15 were together in LaSalle County, IL. In late July the two moved to Dane County, WI, where ((between wanderings) they spent the summer. Later they moved to Outagamie County and then to Winnebago County.

#6, #8, #10 and #11-15 in June 2016
Summer Wandering
Doug Pellerin

Fall 2016: By October 22, female #10-15, along with male #11-15, was in LaSalle County, Illinois and by November 25 she (most likely still with #11-15) was in Obion Co, Tennessee. They continued migration to Wheeler NWR in Morgan County, Alabama, where they remained for the winter.  

Spring 2017: Female 10-15, still with male 11-15, began migration from Wheeler NWR, AL and the two were seen in Lasalle Co, IL by the end of February.  They returned on March 26 and on April 2nd were seen in flight in Green Lake County, Wisconsin.
Last Updated: 4/3/2017