No More Costumes or Aircraft-led Migrations: Why?

The Whooping cranes in the new eastern flock don't have much success in raising young cranes to grow the flock and self-sustain the population. The adults wander from their eggs, sometimes abandoning their eggs for good. Is it due to poor food supply? Too many predators? Warm-weather outbreaks of black flies that pester the parents off the nests? The 2016 decision to end aircraft-led migrations and costume-rearing of young cranes came mostly from a hunch: The cranes simply aren't catching on because they are not learning how to be parents from other cranes.

The experts made a new plan to eliminate as much of the human intervention as possible. Both the Direct Autumn Releases (DAR) and aircraft-guided migrations ended with the Class of 2015. "We're just trying to have birds raising birds," noted Peter Fasbender, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service field supervisor for Minnesota and Wisconsin.

One part of the new plan will involve chicks being reared not by costumed humans—but by adult cranes living in captive breeding centers at Maryland's Patuxent Wildlife Research Center or Wisconsin's International Crane Foundation (ICF). Before autumn migration, the chicks will be transported to the flock's summer grounds in Wisconsin. Then they'll be released to wild adult pairs that have shown good ability for parenting and fledging chicks. Operation Migration team members will join other WCEP partners in helping with this part of the plan. They will help to monitor and track the young birds after their release, and they'll take you along with them!

Wisconsin crane parent with a chick hatched in 2015. The chick did not survive to fledge.

Beverly Paulan, Wisconsin DNR