December 17, 2004: Wrap Up
How are the crane-kids doing in their new winter home? They spent their first few days in a top-netted part of the enclosure. This provided a sure food supply. It also kept them captive for the final health check and banding, which took place Dec. 13 and 14. As each crane's turn came, a hood was put over its head. Then the bird got checked over. Blood samples were drawn. Next, the hooded crane was carried over to FWS biologist Dr. Richard Urbanek. He carefully attached the bird's permanent leg bands. Each new band has a radio transmitter with a fresh battery. These units will help trackers find the location of each young crane over the next couple of years—or until the batteries wear out. All the 2004 birds received their permanent leg bands with long-life radio transmitters. Three of the 13 also received Platform Terminal Transmitters (PTTs) on their other leg. The PTTs will help the monitoring team track future movements of those birds through satellite telemetry.
After the worrisome task of the health check, costumed handlers will feed the birds many treats over the next few days. (There's nothing like treats to help win back their trust.) Finally, the top net will be removed. At last the cranes will fly free! They will come and go from their winter pen whenever they want to. They will learn about delicious, nutritious blue crabs. They will learn about tides. And if their instincts are correct, they'll head north in spring to the Wisconsin wetlands.
As for the pilots and other WCEP partners, they don't want to be flying birds to Florida forever. Four successful ultralight migrations are now behind them. They hope to teach this same migration route to a new generation of captive-bred chicks each fall for a few more years. When they had to leave behind chick #418 in October 2004, they started the next part of the reintroduction effort: seeing if experienced whoopers in the flock will lead any newly-introduced chicks on the migration route to Florida. Eventually they will stop leading birds with the ultralights. They will start depending on the veteran whoopers instead. They hope the older birds will teach the route to new captive-bred chicks released into the flock, just as with #418 this year. They'll kow they're successful when the next generation starts to learn migration from the older birds.
Off Till Spring
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