Whooping Crane Whooping Crane

September 9, 2002
Crisis Management
By Joe Duff, Operation Migration Team Leader

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, if they are captured these options are not available to them 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. It is a concern the health and banding teams must consider seriously when handling birds.

For the banding and health exams that took place in late August, handlers entered the pen and corralled one bird at a time, out the door. Each bird's eyes were covered with a hood to prevent them from seeing the un-costumed staff and they were picked up and carried to the examination area. Since they arrived at Necedah the handlers have cajoled, charmed and coaxed the birds to get them to do what we want. To


New Bands. Which Crane is This?


Dan Feeds Smelt Treats
Photos J. Duff for WCEP

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. So when we grab them for the banding exercise it is considered an affront that they are slow to forgive. For several days they are suspicious of our intention whenever we enter their enclosures and 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. Additionally they are now encumbered with coloured 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.

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.

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

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