How Do Experts Recapture a Wild Whooping Crane?
Contributed by Sara Zimorski, ICF
Sara captures #209 in 2003. Why? See below.
The crane is crated in a box...
and driven to a private jet for the trip to the reloaction site, in this case Necedah NWR.

Background: The WCEP team never wants to interfere with an "ultra-crane" after it's learned to be wild. But sometimes recapture becomes the last resort. For example, it happened in May 2003 when #209 was captured, crated and flown home from Ohio in a plane after a hide-and-seek game in 3 states during her first journey north. It happened in August 2003 when 3 females wandered into South Dakota upon returning from Florida in the spring. It was discussed again in the spring of 2005, when 3 hatch year 2003 cranes got off-course and ended up in Canada, as well as on a few other occasions after that. Sara shares the thinking that goes into the decision making:
#301, #309 and #318 leave South Carolina on their 2005 journey north, but later become lost. Photo Walt Sturgeon.

May 12, 2005: "In regards to capturing the birds in Canada (or rather now just #309, who remains in Canada), we probably won't be able to do it—so we're really glad two of the three have crossed back into the US. The paperwork and permits required to capture them, but especially to transport them across the border, would be extremely difficult to obtain. The permits can take weeks to get, and they have an
expiration date; so even if we applied for them now, we might not be able to find and capture the bird before the paperwork expires. Finally, there would likely be a requirement to quarantine the bird before releasing it. The logistics of doing this would be a nightmare. Where would we hold the bird? Would the bird still be releasable after a month in captivity or would it have become too tame?

However, #301 and #318 have made it back. Crane #309 is close and could still cross back into the US. If she does, we will attempt to capture her—just as we'll do with the two in Michigan once they settle down and we have the staff and resources to go after them.
The trap. (Click to enlarge)

Laying the Capture Plan
In order to capture wild whoopers, we need to set up a trap and bait it with corn. It could take several days for the crane(s) to get used to the trap and start coming to the bait. We will, of course, use the costumes and the brood call, and maybe even the unison call to get their attention. But it's hard to tell how attracted the birds will be to us after they've been wild. We hope they won't be afraid of us. Then with some time, we'll be able to get closer to them and herd them into the trap. This is basically how we've caught all the birds, whether for relocation or for replacing a transmitter.

Our success depends on the individual birds: Are they still attracted to the costume? How wary are they? What habitat are they in? Are they with sandhill cranes?

If they settle down in one location and establish a pattern of where they spend time feeding and roosting, I think we'll be able to capture them. I don't think it will be easy, but I think it's possible.
Ideally we would prefer to do this sooner and get them back to Necedah for the summer and fall—but we'll simply have to wait and see what #301, #309 and #318 do, and where they end up.


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