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.