The Hurdle of Health Checks
From Field Journal by Joe Duff, Operation Migration Team Leader

Hooded for the health check
Photo Richard van Heuvelen, Operation Migration

Set up for Health Checks Panels from our travel pen are used to create a visual barrier and a portable shade shelter for the examinations. These items, along with a table, weigh scales, and all the vet equipment, are hauled out onto the runway before sunrise.

Handling the Birds
A costumed handler stays in the pen. One at a time and in numerical order, the birds are ushered through the front gate into the waiting arms of two aviculturists, who pick up the crane. To pick up a crane you extend one arm over the bird’s back letting its head and neck extend under your arm and out the back. With that same arm you hold the wings from extending, and clasp the legs between your fingers just above the hock. It sounds easy, but I can assure you it is not. The bird will rake with its feet, poke with its beak and squirm. You have to restrain it without squeezing, calm it without talking, and avoid straining muscles, twisting joints, or damaging feathers, all the while under the watchful eye of the vets and other crane experts — ever mindful that you are holding one of the rarest birds in North America, in which several thousand dollars and an equal number of hours have already been invested.

The Exam, Banding, and Weighing

Photo Richard van Heuvelen, Operation Migration

Once the bird is in hand, the other aviculturist examines the eyes, beak and throat before placing a hood over its head. This allows the rest of the team to work on the bird behind the visual barrier without having to wear the cumbersome costume head gear.

After the medical examination is complete each bird is fitted with identification bands and a snap-on tracking device.

Photo Richard van Heuvelen, Operation Migration

Then it is weighed, measured, and returned to the pen. It takes an average of 9 minutes to do it all. Back in the pen, the birds are watched for signs of stress. They also get some sympathy treats for the ordeal they just endured.

Relief When It's Over!
Some birds take this capture and handling in stride. Most are sore, but some are indignant. It might take a few days before they are again greeting us at the gate. Even then, the extra band on the other leg causes them to walk like a cat with tape on its foot.

The examinations for all the birds usually go without surprises, just as you would expect from a team of expert crane handlers. But we all still breathed our relief. It's another hurdle cleared!


Try This! Journal Questions

  • Describe how the bird is being weighed in the photo above. How does the vet know how much the crane weighs? How is it helpful to weigh the cranes this way?
  • Why do you think the team feels relief when the exams are done and the birds safely back in the pen? Click here to read about a time when it didn't turn out that way.