Killer Instinct…

When Whooping crane chicks hatch, their first inclination is to imprint on their parents. Their second is to eradicate any competition for that attention. These downy soft, balls of fluff only a few inches tall harbor a killer instinct that is evident almost before they can walk.

It is hard to understand why an animal would produce two eggs if only one offspring results, but even slight advantages of one behavior over another begins to dominate when multiplied by millions of generations. Obviously there is a benefit to their early aggression but for the training team, it means an extra step.

Just when their agonistic behavior ends and they begin to socialize depends entirely on their personality.  Some are willing to get along almost from the beginning, while others hold a grudge for weeks or even months. Brooke and Geoff must test the tolerance of each bird to slowly build a cohesive flock that will get along with only minor assertions of dominance to establish leadership.

It also makes the training more effective. When they first start following the trike around a circular pen at Patuxent, they do it individually. Each session takes 20-30 minutes, so exercising 8 birds can take all morning. When you can group them together in small congenial cohorts you can get the training done before it gets too hot.

Once the “follow me around the circle pen” lesson is learned and the birds are social enough to work together, Brooke and Geoff move the training to the Half Mood Field. This is a crescent shaped opening in the back lot at Patuxent where the birds can run behind the trike to prepare them for the runway at White River. As added protection, a low fence to stretch down the center with the birds on one side and the trike on the other. They will continue with this exercise until it is time to ship them to Wisconsin.

cohort of Whooping crane chicks

The Class of 2013 at the Half Moon Field. Look how much they’ve grown!

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  1. Margie Tomlinson July 2, 2013 1:58 pm

    Joe, does their “killer instinct” include humans as well as each other?

    • Margie Tomlinson July 3, 2013 9:27 pm

      P.S. Joe, can I get an answer, (even if my question sounds dumb)? I’m serious! Would they attack humans? They do give that “threatening posture”, and the male Whooper at ICF was not afraid to come right at me when I visited there in June. As a matter of fact, it rather “spooked” me because that didn’t seem normal for a wild animal to do.

      • Heather Ray July 4, 2013 8:37 am

        Margie, if they were defending a young chick they may charge at a human and carry out a lot of threat posturing. Typically we want the cranes to be wary of humans. The display crane you saw at ICF is quite familiar with people.

  2. Christy July 1, 2013 5:52 pm

    What beauties!
    What beauties!!
    What beauties!!!
    I have to repeat this because the form is telling me my message is too short.
    The birds really are beautiful!

  3. Babs – WA July 1, 2013 4:13 pm

    “…why an animal would produce two eggs if only one offspring results…”

    Is it an evolutionary instinct? Does knowing only (hopefully) one survives triggers laying a minimum of two eggs?

    On the abandoned nests, how many eggs were there? If there is an evolutionary survival factor, does only laying one egg result in abandonment?

    Sitting here sweltering in the heat brings up such random thoughts and questions!!

  4. M L Walsh aka maxgreenwing July 1, 2013 9:47 am

    love the post, Thanks Joe! Wondering which is #5, Brooke’s pal. 😉

    • M L Walsh aka maxgreenwing July 1, 2013 9:48 am

      p.s. first time I have see all 8 together…. I’m getting excited !! whoop whoop

  5. Ruth Mitchell (Redlegsix) July 1, 2013 9:14 am

    I had never stopped to think that the aggression that is evident at birth wouldn’t just “go away”…silly me!!! So many things to accomplish with these little ones!!!! And just LOOK how they have grown!! I am in love already!!!

  6. R.T. Wolfe July 1, 2013 8:04 am

    I was wondering how many chicks there were this year. Thank you for answering my unspoken question. It makes me awe in wonder of the days when there were over 20. Thank you for taking your time in the update, Joe. You have a nation of followers rooting for you!
    -R.T. Wolfe