Whooping Crane Whooping Crane

August 27-29 , 2003

Health Checks and Leg Bands
Heather Ray, Administrative Director of Operation Migration

The pre-migratory health checks for the 2001 and 2002 flocks were times of high stress and even disaster. This year was different! Operation Migration's Heather Ray describes the events:

Two separately scheduled pre-migration health checks were carried out on the evening of Aug. 27th and the early morning of Aug. 29th. High temperatures could add to the cranes' stress level, so the check-ups were done in the cooler evening and morning hours. Results show the young cranes are doing very well. The doctor looks at body condition, weight, and blood chemistry tests. All birds received an initial dose of vaccine against Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) virus, a disease of special concern to Whooping crane recovery. The disease has appeared in NW Wisconsin and throughout the eastern seaboard this year. (The birds will get an EEE booster shot upon arrival in Florida after the fall migration.)

New "Bad Guy" Costumes
Based on past experiences, some changes were made to the health check/banding procedure this year: In the past, a person in the normal white costume would enter the pen and get each crane and carry it to the waiting health team. A hood was then slipped over the crane's head to help reduce its stress. The young, innocent chicks likely viewed this as the first time their parents handled them and led them to an unpleasant procedure, and it was as long as two weeks before the pilots would gain back the trust of the birds to the point where normal flight-training schedules could resume. This year, the persons collecting the birds wore gray "bad guy" costumes. Once each bird's health check was complete, the bad guy would carry the crane to the enclosure and release it to the waiting "good guy" white-costumed handlers that the birds know and trust. The team' says the use of the "gray, bad-guy blob" costumes helped to minimize negative impacts to the crucial bond that the cranes have with the normal white costume. Thanks to the bad guy costume and the very short handling time of 5 minutes per bird, it was hoped that the cohort would resume training shortly after the required health checks.

New snap-on transmitters
Photos WCEP

New Banding Procedure
FWS biologist, Richard Urbanek quickly placed temporary radio-transmitters on each bird during the exams. The new leg bands hold a short-term radio transmitter. These new bands, designed for the 2003 flock, simply snap together when placed above the tarsus on a bird's leg; it takes almost no time because there's no glue that needs to dry. That means less handling time for the birds. You may remember that before they left Patuxent where they were hatched, each chick was fitted with a plastic band so they could get used to wearing a leg band/transmitter unit. The only difference between that first band and the second-stage, temporary unit they received during the health-check is the antenna, necessary for the radio transmitter. As a result of these new procedures, the young birds didn't seem to mind their new bands at all. The only attention they paid to it was in trying to preen their new antenna. Once the fall migration is completed and the birds are at their Chassahowitzka NWR wintering location, they will each undergo a final health check. That's when they get a permanent leg-band that holds a long-life transmitter.

The new procedures worked! Just two days later, on August 29, the young cranes were in the air with the ultralight--back in training for their first journey south next month.

Try This! Journaling Question
  • Despite their size, cranes are delicate creatures. They can easily be overcome by stress. What are two changes made this year to protect the cranes from stress? What evidence suggests the improvements were good ones?

Journey North is pleased to feature this educational adventure made possible by the

Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP).

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