Whooping Crane Whooping Crane

September 11, 2001

Health Check-ups . . .and a Loss

Audio Clip
Hear lead pilot Joe Duff talk about the loss of #11.

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On Tuesday, September 11, veterinarians gave each bird a thorough pre-migration health check before migration. Joe says, "Handling the birds is so disruptive to their social order and their perception of us, so we prefer to get it out of the way at least a few weeks ahead of time." A hood is slipped over the crane's head to prevent it from seeing the helpers who were not in crane costume. This allowed the vets to work without wearing the awkward costumes and headgear.

Dr. Barry Hartup is a world-class crane doctor and an expert crew of careful handlers helped him check the cranes. Blood samples were taken from the birds and injections given to protect the birds against Eastern Equine Encephalitis. Then the birds' legs were fitted with radio tracking devices and colored identification bands. This is a necessary but

Dr. Barry Hartup, Crane Veterinarian

slow process. Someone held each bird still for 30 minutes or longer while the bands and radio were placed around the upper leg. These were glued together to keep them from coming off.

Because the crew noticed that birds #4 and #9 seem to have less endurance than the others, their wings and flight feathers were carefully checked for clues to problems. Joe explains: "Growing feathers is not easy for a bird. If a bird is under stress, fault lines or defects will appear in the portion of the feather that is developing at the time of stress. These weaknesses later show up as lines across the feather." Number 9's feathers showed many lines, and the resulting weakness is likely to mean that #9 cannot fly any great distance. Bird #4 had fewer stress bars and its wing joints felt smoother, so the crew hopes that #4 will be okay for the migration.

Despite their size, cranes are delicate creatures. They can easily be overcome by stress. Number 11's exam went smoothly, but he was not behaving normally when put back in his pen. He was carefully watched and helped when his illness progressed, and everyone was saddened when crane #11 died just before midnight. The cause is believed to be capture myopathy from becoming overly stressed. Joe wrote, "Number 11 was the first bird in group 2 to follow the ultralight into the air and we are saddened by the loss. Each member of the medical team did their job well and no mistakes were made, so we must accept that some things are beyond our control. We take consolation in the fact that fewer of these birds would have survived this long if they'd been raised in the wild."

Try This! Journaling Questions
The reintroduction of whooping cranes through captive breeding and ultralight-led migration has been called a bold experiment.
  • Why is the word "bold" used to describe this project?
  • What are the risks, and to whom?
  • 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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