Whooping Crane Whooping Crane

August 27, 2002

ARGH! Health Checks and Banding

Banding in 2001. Photo OM


Newly Banded Crane, 2002. Which Crane is This?
Photo J. Duff for WCEP

For three days, WCEP's Health Team will perform pre-migration health checks on all 17 birds. Joe Duff explains, "Before we head south the birds must be fitted with radio tracking devices and checked by the veterinarians. To do this we must grab the birds one at a time and place a hood over their heads so they can't see the handlers." A hood is slipped over the crane's head to keep it from seeing the veterinarians. The hoods allowed the veterinarians to work without wearing the awkward costumes and headgear. Handling the birds is traumatic for them. It is very disruptive to their social order and their perception of the handlers and trainers. That's why they do this a few weeks ahead of migration time. .

Two world-class crane doctors performed the exams. Dr. Barry Hartup from the International Crane Foundation and Dr. Julie Langenberg from the Wisconsin DNR took blood samples and weighed and examined each crane. They want to make sure each is healthy and ready for the 1200-mile journey south in October. Richard Urbanek of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service does the banding. The colored bands on their legs offer an easy way to identify them through binoculars. Radio transmitters, each programmed with a unique frequency, were placed on each crane. The radio bands let project staff track and monitor the birds' movements to about a 15-mile distance. Each bird also received its USFWS legband. The banding takes about 30 minutes of holding the bird very still, so it's stressful for all. See their banding codes here, and you may be able to identify the cranes in photos. Try it with the photo at the right!

The good news is that all 17 chicks are in good health. After the troubles last year (see link below) with the first ultralight flock, the whole team was very relieved. Still, the next days will be tough. Joe says, "After this ordeal they are suspicious of us for a few days. And now that they have to carry leg bands and radios, they will be reluctant to fly."

Try This! Journaling Questions

  • Contrast this year's health checks and banding with that of last year's tiny pioneer flock. What else happened in the world on the 2001 banding day? Read about it here:

Health Check-ups--and a Loss

  • The reintroduction of whooping cranes through captive breeding and ultralight-led migration has been called a bold experiment. From today until the birds return on their own next spring, keep your thoughts about these Big Questions in a journal:

1. Why is the word "bold" used to describe this project?
2. What are the risks, and to whom?
3. How do the risks to these cranes compare to the risks the natural wild flock faces during migrations between Texas and Canada?

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

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