Banding the New Flock's Wild-born Chicks: Why?

The First Family, June 2006
Photo WCEP

When the new Eastern flock welcomed its first wild-hatched chicks in June 2006, the chicks' parents still wore leg bands that were attached when they were chicks in 2002. Those bands and their radio signals have helped keep track of the these special cranes. The babies of these wild "ultra-crane" parents will get leg bands, too.

Why would experts try to catch these wild babies — as well as future wild babies — and put bands on their legs before their family's first migration?

1. Legal Reasons for Banding the Wild-hatched Babies
These chicks are part of an endangered species, but the new flock has special rules. Agreements require that for the first 10 years of the project, Whooping cranes in the reintroduced Eastern Migratory Population be distinguishable from the cranes in the endangered natural population (the Western flock).

2. Biological Reasons for Banding the Wild-hatched Babies
Identifying and radio tracking each bird in the new flock is necessary to help experts help the flock. It will help them keep track of and check on each bird's

  • movements;
  • integration into the rest of the population; and
  • survival.

The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) has been working hard to establish this population of Whooping cranes since 2001, with the first ultralight-led migration. Experts say the scientific data collected via tracking and monitoring will help the WCEP as it works to build and protect the new flock.

What Do the Cranes Think?
Of course, we don't know! But the flock's first parents brought their chicks for visits to their former "Flight School" training site. This shows that the First Family parents still accept the "costumes" that taught them their migration route when they were only 7 months old. The First Family parents still accept being near the ultralight planes. By their behavior, the parents have shown their chicks that these "strange things" are okay. This helped experts safely capture and band the flocks first wild chicks. The chicks got health exams at the same time. Experts followed strict rules as they captured, banded, and radio tagged the wild chicks. Still, there are always risks in handling wild birds that are not used to being touched.
We hope all goes as well for the wild-born chicks that will be added to the flock in the future.

Try This! Journaling Question

  • Do you think the new flock's wild-hatched babies should be captured, checked, and banded? Or do you think they should be left alone, as chicks in the natural flock are left alone? Give two or more reasons why you think so.

Journey North is pleased to feature this educational adventure made possible by the
Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP).