or Submissive? Leader or Follower?
Interview With Dr. George Gee, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
Dr. George Gee
Wildlife Research Center: Crane-rearing facility (off-limits to
Zone where chicks are raised: no human sights or sounds allowed.
George Gee in costume by the swim exercise tank for baby chicks.
(His face is uncovered only because there were no chicks present.)
exercise pool for older chicks at Patuxent.
"Cranes are one of the birds that anyone can see and
relate to their moods and behaviors," Dr. George Gee told Journey North.
"We often give the crane names because they remind us of someone."
Dr. Gee is a leading scientist in learning that puppets and costumes could
be used in raising captive-bred cranes so they grow up to naturally behave
like cranes. Dr. Gee worked for many years at the USGS
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Many whooping cranes are bred and
hatched in captivity there, in hopes of gaining more members of this endangered
species. Dr. Gee explains how to tell dominant birds apart from submissive birds.
Language Tells A Story
Dominant birds are the ones that stand tall, with the back nearest
the neck somewhat elevated and sloping down in the rear. The neck is usually
held fairly straight and the birds often assume an alert stance. Dominant
birds appear larger than other birds of the same age--not because they
are, but because they stand more erect, hold feathers farther from the
body, etc. Older dominant birds extend their red crown well down the back
of the neck, exposing a large red area.
Submissive birds hold the body nearly horizontal to the ground.
The neck is usually bent and the head held lower than other birds in the
same area. Submissive birds will usually lower their head and move out
of the way when a more dominant bird approaches.
Pecking Order: Leaders and Followers
A group of birds establish a pecking order where the most dominant
bird pecks any bird in the group and never receives a peck from others
in the group. The most submissive bird never pecks another bird, but receives
pecks from all others in the group. Usually, the birds don't go out of
their way to attack. Pecks occur most often when a bird lower in the peck
order violates the more dominant bird's personal space.
Aggressive responses are more common in the young chick, with the older
larger bird picking on the smaller, younger bird. When a group has an
established pecking order (by 50 to 100 days of age), it doesn't usually
change. Things likely to change the dominance structure include disease,
separation from the group for a week or so, and pairing. In fact, a pair
that separates from a group may gang up on others in the group. The pair
may drive the other birds away or even kill them. In groups of older birds,
we have to be especially careful in the spring. We must remove the new
pairs when they form.
These behaviors start as soon as the chick hatches and contacts other
chicks. We raise chicks in separate pens and use plastic barriers between
pens. The plastic allows the birds to see other chicks. It allows them
to interact with other chicks and the adult imprint models, yet prevents
the chicks from injuring each other.
This! Activities and Journal Questions
- How do
you react when someone gets into your personal space? Do your reactions
depend on whether you know the person, like the person, or dislike the
person? How do you try to protect your boundaries of personal space?
- Do you
have two dogs, or two cats? If you don't, do you know somene who does?
Pay attention to them for a half hour. Do they obey some people in their
family better than others? Why? Which one seems to be dominant over
the other? How can you tell?
- If you
have two gerbils, hamsters, or guinea pigs at home or school, watch
them for a half hour. Which seems to be dominant? How can you tell?
- Has an
animal's personality ever reminded you of someone you know? Tell why.
notes about individual behaviors on the annual "Meet
the Flock" charts. Then choose a few cranes to classify
as dominant or submissive.
Some of the cranes may be difficult to figure out. Do you think
these may be in the middle of the pecking order?
more about this interesting subject!
Journey North is pleased to feature this
educational adventure made possible by the
Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP).