Class of 2016 Arrival and Release
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September 14, 2016 is a big day for nine young cranes. They are precious passengers aboard a small private aircraft, traveling from a wildlife center in Maryland to the marshes of Wisconsin. They fly in individual sturdy cardboard boxes sized for a standing whooping crane. The boxes are then driven in air-conditioned vans to White River Marsh Wildlife Area, the staging grounds for last year’s aircraft-led Class of 2015.

The nine cargo boxes are carefully unloaded and carried into the same temporary enclosure used for last year’s aircraft-led youngsters. Unlike past years, the handlers wear no costumes and give no treats of juicy grapes.

When all birds are unloaded, the cartons are opened one by one. How strange to see the young birds with people who aren’t silent or hidden under white costumes! Joe Duff of Operation Migration explains: “So far, these birds have been reared by real Whooping crane parents. Their only experience with humans was when the vet checked them periodically or when handlers changed their water and added crane chow to their feeders. None of that was done in costume because most of the encounters were negative, which (we hope) should make them wary of people.”

Each of the birds steps out of the box into a new future. They stand and stretch nearly to their adult height of five feet!

Finally, each banded crane is moved to a release pen near older Whooping cranes chosen as likely to let the young youngster join them. In the pen is young female 32-16, taken to another county and put near two older cranes. Just minutes later, the two adult Whooping cranes that experts had “targeted” for becoming alloparents (wild adoptive parents) appear. They visit the pen many times—a good sign! The next day, the experts from Operation Migration release the young bird. Will the two adult cranes bring #32-16 on the journey south? No one knows. We’ll watch to see!