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December 17, 2004: Wrap Up

Flying Free!
This 2002 crane has a PTT on the right leg and radio transmitter on the left leg (red/white). Use the chart to identify the crane by the banding code.
Photo Sara Zimorski

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.

What's Next?
Our crane-kids are flying free for the first time in their young lives. Even so, they will be watched over during their first winter. Sara Zimorski and Lara Fondow, Mark Nipper and Marianne Wellington make up the winter monitoring team. Twice each day, morning and evening, one or more of them will take the 40-minute airboat ride to check the cranes. They'll slog through the black muck of the marsh, trying to keep their rubber boots from being sucked off by the mud. The cranes do much better in the marsh. They have a blast probing for snails and playing with the black sludge. The monitor's final job on leaving the enclosure each evening is to activate the electric fence. Any predator would get zapped with a good jolt of electricity. This is necessary to protect the priceless and still-inexperienced birds inside.

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.

Crane Cousins Arriving
On December 15 the last three white birds to depart from Wisconsin (#211, 212 and 217) arrived at the winter pen in Florida. These three made the 1200-mile trek in only 4 1/2 days! Six out of thirty-four white birds (older ultracranes) have returned to the winter pen site this year. A few weeks ago cranes #214, 105 and 204 each checked in. They moved on after finding nobody home and no free food.

Signing Off Till Spring
In mythology, Whooping cranes represent long lives, peace and tranquility. That is our wish for this young flock of ancestors of the Whooping cranes YOUR descendants will see in the skies over North America's Midwest and East in years to come. This is Jane Duden saying "over and out" at the end of the 2004 Ultralight-led Migration. Please join us again in the spring to track these youngsters on their first unaided journey north!

What adaptations help cranes live in wetlands?
Photo Ramirez


Try This! Journaling Question
  • How are Whooping cranes adapted to live in the salt marshes of Florida? Look at the photos on this page and list as many adaptations as you can. Then check our adaptations lesson for more fascinating details. Edit your journal to include adaptations for the head, neck, body, legs and feet.


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

Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP).

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