27-29 , 2003
Checks and Leg Bands
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:
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.
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.
This! Journaling Question
Journey North is pleased to feature this educational
adventure made possible by the
Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP).
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