Fall Migration 2016 Looking Back 2001-2015

Welcome! Transition Year Begins
September 19, 2016 by Jane Duden

Five of the Class of 2016 in enclosure
Operation Migration

September 19, 2016

Fall migration 2016 is a year of change. For the previous 15 years (2001-2015), aircraft-led migrations and Direct Autumn Releases (DAR) established a new eastern migratory flock (EMP). The goal has been to bring whoopers back to the upper Midwest where they died out a century ago.

Now changes are being made because the new flock has had poor success in raising babies. Just one chick survived from 23 hatched this summer. Experts now ask: How can cranes learn to be parents if they were never raised by their own species?

The new plan limits the captive-hatched chicks from all human contact, including costumed handlers and ultralight airplanes. Each chick in the Class of 2016 was raised by a pair of cranes in a captive breeding flock in Maryland, or at the International Crane Foundation( ICF). Experts watched video screens showing the behaviors of the adult Whooping cranes to learn how they raised the little chicks this summer.

On September 14, the chicks from Maryland—nine in all, with three more to come later from ICF—arrived in Wisconsin. Soon they were released near selected alloparents (the term for wildlife adoptive parents) in hopes the experienced adult cranes will lead them on fall migration.

Will the new chick-rearing methods improve breeding so the flock can grow by itself? We won't know until these newest cranes reach breeding age in four or five years. Will the Class of 2016 get adopted and learn the migration route this fall? No one knows what will happen next, or how the migration will go. Together we'll watch and see!