Fall Migration 2016 Looking Back 2001-2015

Heading South (Or Not)
October 24, 2016 by Jane Duden

PR #31-16 jumping on the back of PR #38-16
PR #31-16 and PR #38-16 played rough on October 23!
Heather Ray, Operation Migration

October 24, 2016

The humans of WCEP planned for birds to lead birds on migration this year, but at least one Whooping Crane colt didn't get that memo. On October 20, female PR #33-16 left on her first migration with no one to teach her the route. She headed south and flew 116 miles before landing south of Dubuque—and she did it alone!

Young PR #33-16 isn't the only Whooping Crane migrating. Pair #36-09 DAR and mate #18-03 are the first confirmed on their winter territory: Greene County, Indiana. Many others are moving around in readiness to leave. The main migratory flock is also on the move. Their journey south, this year with an estimated 45 fledged young, puts well over 300 migrating Whooping Cranes in the in the flyway between northern Canada and the Gulf Coast of Texas. The first Whooping Cranes usually arrive at their winter home in early October after a migration that can take up to 50 days to complete.

Meanwhile, all but one in our Class of 2016 colts are still in the flock's Wisconsin summer range. The air is crisp, autumn leaves are falling, and the birds are getting restless. They sometimes play rough—especially after a snooze and in windy conditions like Oct. 23 brought. Observer Heather Ray snapped the photo above while two youngsters had their fun. "It’s easy to tell them apart at this point because the younger #38-16 is darker than his buddy #31-16," explains Heather.

Heather is one of several experts, each assigned to a crane or two, that keeps watch over the young colts all day every day. From a distance, they take notes on the everything that happens — or doesn't happen — with the cranes. Colts raised by real Whooping crane parents and then released in the company of experienced Whooping cranes have much to learn. The hope is that the older ones will teach them the ways of the wild and how and where to migrate.

Since the colts arrived in September, three have been lost to predation. The single wild-hatched chick of the summer has also vanished. One colt started migrating, but alone. One colt is still in captivity, healing from a wing injury. Of the surviving colts, only one appears to have a new mom and dad to teach him the migration route and the ways of wild cranes. What do you think will happen next? We're glad you're here to share the suspense! More: