#706: The Boss — Or Mommy's Little Boy?
By Eva Szyszkoski
Meet Eva

Since I have been monitoring the older whooping cranes and helping to raise this year's chicks, I can’t help but have some favorites. One of the ultralight-led chicks, one in particular has gotten my attention more than the others. Male #706 is the second oldest bird of the ultralight class of 2007. He is one of the most aggressive towards a costume, but I also like to refer to him as "mommy’s little boy." Here's why:

Early in March, I was standing in the pen in order to keep the birds from flying out before roost because they were all pretty active that night. The night before, a female adult sandhill crane had roosted in the pen with the chicks, and we were concerned that she might return and upset them.

From Toe-tapping to Stare Down
As I stood on the artificially constructed oyster bar, #6 stayed nearby. Eventually he wandered right next to me. He started poking at the tip of my boot, which was under the water. After a few seconds of gentle tapping, #706 began to pound on my boot with brute force! I gently nudged him away with my puppet head, triggering the aggression I talked about earlier. Backing slightly away from me, he raised his head as high as he could, challenging me to a stand-off. I obliged by raising my puppet head higher and initiating the stare down. What happened next? Read on! >>

I took this photo of Sara in a standoff with #706 in the "Chass" pen. How is Sara using the puppet to show her dominance? How do you know this is #706?

From Stare Down to Jump Rake
As costumed handlers, we do not want to show that we are intimidated by the chicks, as they would probably gang up on us and try to push us to the bottom of the social pack. (I do not want to be attacked by a bunch of birds with sharp claws and pointy beaks!) After about 30 seconds of stare down, #706 jumped in the air and brought his feet forward, trying to rake me with his claws. This is called jump raking, for obvious reasons. I persisted, holding my puppet head high and began to close the distance between him and me. I was forcing him backwards, while keeping my puppet head out in front of me in order to keep his attack as far away from the rest of my body as possible. E
ventually he backed down, lowered his head and turned away. I also backed off. I put a few feet of distance between us and went back to my position on the oyster bar.

Instant Replay
Crane #706 stayed away for a minute or so, and then began again. First he slowly approached me and then eventually pecked on my submerged boots until the pecking became pounding. I once again nudged him away, bringing back his aggression.

Still A Favorite
Even though his intentions were most likely to scare and intimidate, he is still one of my favorite ultralight chicks because he likes to hang around the costume and only gets aggressive when we want him to stop investigating us.

Soon the chicks’ migration will start. Once #706 and the others leave the pen on the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge and officially begin their independent lifestyles, they will not need costumed caretakers any longer. What will the future bring to Mommy's Little Boy?

More About Crane Dominance and Submission
  • Who's in Charge? >>
  • Me First! Whooping Crane Pecking Order >>
  • Pecking Order Simulation Game >>
  • Dominant or Submissive? Leader or Follower? >>