Banding and Capture Myopathy
(Whooper Stress!)

By Joe Duff, Operation Migration Team Leader (September 9, 2002)

Joe Duff, Operation Migration Team Leader and Pilot

Research suggests that crisis management is not the strong suit of most birds. When faced with a perceived danger, they become so alarmed they react with either a "fight or flight" response. When their safety is threatened they will either take to the air or stand their ground. However, these options are not available to captured birds and the resulting stress can be harmful. Known as capture myopathy, the condition can cause paralysis and can even be fatal. In other words, birds can be frightened to death. The health and banding teams must consider this seriously when handling birds.

Trying to Minimize Whoopers' Stress

For the banding and health exams that took place in late August, handlers entered the pen and corralled one bird out the door at a time. Each bird's eyes were covered with a hood to prevent them from seeing the non-costumed staff; they were picked up and carried to the examination area. Since the birds arrived at Necedah, the handlers have cajoled, charmed and coaxed them to get them to do what we want. To move them back into the pens after training, we entice them with treats and patiently wait until the move becomes their own idea. Despite the frustration, we use positive reinforcement and rarely attempt to herd them.


New Bands. Which Crane is This?


Dan Feeds Smelt Treats
Photos J. Duff for WCEP

Sore and Suspicious
we grab them for the banding exercise, they consider it an affront that they are slow to forgive. For several days they are suspicious of our intention whenever we enter their enclosures; the chicks that once ran to greet us are now apprehensive.

Although the handlers are very experienced, the restrained birds often struggle and the resulting sore muscles contribute to their general post-exam/banding depression. They are also now encumbered with colored leg bands and a radio-tracking device that makes them walk much like a puppy wearing slippers. The health check and banding procedure is a necessary but unavoidably disruptive period for the birds, leaving them wary of us and reluctant to fly. The field team takes a step back and spends many hours luring them with smelt to re-win their confidence. Rather than resume their flying schedule, we go back to taxi-training until they have had a chance to recover.

Recovered and Moving Toward Departure
Before long the soreness abates; the leg bands become familiar and they begin to relax their guard. As they resume their normal schedule, we begin to amalgamate the three cohorts into one flock. When their endurance allows, we lead one group across Rynearson Pond and move them in with the other. Eventually all three will be housed at one site. After a few days of confrontations as they establish a new dominance structure, a new hierarchy will evolve and become the basis of a migrating flock.

Weather, crew readiness, endurance and social compatibility will all dictate the date we can begin migration. Based on all these factors and consulting the records from last year, we have estimated a tentative departure date of October 7th. In the meantime, we go back to coaxing, cajoling and coddling and keep all our primaries crossed.

National Science Education Standards

  • The behavior of individual organisms is influenced by internal cues (such as hunger) and by external cues (such as a change in the environment).

Journey North is pleased to feature this educational adventure made possible by the

Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP).