Raising Crane

It’s been about three weeks since the young Whooping cranes first arrived here in Wisconsin. And I’m sure you all are interested in hearing about the latest misadventures our kids have been getting into.

Well, I can say that for the most part, they have been behaving themselves. Most of them come out the double doors for training and once they’re out, they generally stay latched onto the trike. Oddly, they seem to keep their distance as they go down to the south end of the runway.

It’s hard to know if there’s something distracting or spooking them. But I do remember the 2012 flock doing the same thing every now and then. Brooke suspects it may be the doors and that they get an urge to go back in as they pass by it.  But whatever it is, it’s purely a behavior issue, and a minor one at that. All it’ll take is some discipline and some more good training days and they won’t stop for anything on that runway.

But no flock is without its challenges. Now, I said early on that most of the birds come out the door for training. However, 8-13 is not like most cranes. For the past three or four mornings, we’ve had trouble getting her out the door.  This isn’t anything new. What is new is how increasingly hard it is.  Normally, when she’s late coming out, she comes right up to the costume and lets us lead her out the door. But with each passing day, she was more and more reluctant to come out the door.

I noticed that she tends to freeze as soon as she reaches the door and starts turning back, which is usually a sign that they’re scared of the door.  It’s no surprise.  No matter how big or small a flock is, we always get one bird who always gives the door a sideways glance.  In their defense, they may think the door is every bit as alive as they are, and that it may turn on them if it’s in a bad mood. Richard and I decided to try pulling the feeders, hoping that’d make her hungry for treats and rush out to the trike.  Not only did she run through the gate the next morning but she did it again yesterday. I like to think this means she’s gotten over her door-o-phobia.  But only time will tell whether this trend continues.

I also said that most of the birds are following the trike up and down the runway. But 1-13 doesn’t always like running with the pack. She’s already learned how to fly, and can easily go forty feet in the air and fly the length of the runway. I became all too familiar with this as she flew right over my head and landed behind the wet pen. Once again, no matter which flock we’re talking about, there’s always one bird who’ll go exploring.  Sometimes, she’ll meet up with the trike on her own. Other days, she needs a little one-on-one help escaping the marshy wilderness.  Her problem is that she hasn’t learned to lock onto the sweet spot on the wing just yet and until she does, she’ll be flying around aimlessly. The only other youngsters capable of flight are 2-13 and 3-13 so until the rest catch up, we can’t go flying after the aimless #1-13. All we can do is try to wean her onto the sweet spot of the wing, or wait until the other birds start flying. They shouldn’t be far behind considering  how close everyone is in age.

And I’m sure as some of you have seen on our webcam, but we have some special guest visitors every now and then. It’s well known that 4-12 and 5-12 have been hanging out fairly close to their former training site.  Recently, they’ve been dropping by on the runway, looking for food, and possibly trying to recapture some of the magic of their youth.  Unfortunately, these birds haven’t quite figured out that you can’t always go home, as they’ve tried to jump in during training. They tried challenging 1-13 during one of her sojourns to the marsh but being the alpha lady of her flock, she held her own and got back to the trike unscathed.

Two adult Whooping cranes and one juvenile Whooping crane

The young female crane #1-13 got more than she bargained for when she flew off into the marsh last Saturday morning. There to ‘greet’ her were Whooping cranes 4 & 5-12. Photo: Doug Pellerin

Later, one of them tried challenging 2-13 until Richard chased him off. One of them even tried coming in the pen with the other chicks! These past two days, they’ve been somewhat sly. Always dropping in on the runway before or after training. They know as long as the trike is around they won’t be welcome.  They’ve approached me a couple times, probably fishing for mealworms or grapes.  It’s somewhat unnerving being approached by a full-grown whooping crane, even if it’s one you raised. I’ve been pursued and pecked at by whoopers before, and it’s not fun.

Oddly, these two were brood calling as they approached me. In all my years as a crane handler, never have I seen an adult whooper approach me with a friendly brood call. I’m sure he was trying to shmooze me for a grape, like I said but who knows?  Maybe he does recognize me from last year. I’m sure I smell just as bad now as I did back then. Maybe that’s how he remembers me. Again, only time will tell if we see those two come back again.

Other than that it’s been pretty quiet here. I’m not complaining — I know that if I ask for something exciting, I’m wading through chest-high grass aimlessly looking for 1-13. Or that we get a bunch of rebels, like we did with the class of 2011. However, I’m pretty sure the first scenario will come up once or twice before we leave. It’s become a tradition ever since I was raising these birds in Necedah. But if we’re lucky, that’s all the drama we’ll have to expect out of these birds. Cross your fingers!

Whooping cranes

The two ‘outsiders’ observe the goings on inside the wetpen.

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  1. Patricia Ewing July 31, 2013 4:25 pm

    This is my almost 3rd year– came in half way thru 2011, watched all of 2012 even when ultra lite left them in FL– I teared up that day. Now 2013 and each morning gets started with the cam and learning new things about Whoopers- especially today when #1 defended her territory. Thanks OM for all you do and teaching us about these beautiful birds.

  2. Kay July 31, 2013 1:24 pm

    I’m new to crane watching, but I’m getting addicted. I thought last night that, if the two wanna-be-chicks are any indication, in a few years at this site you may be overwhelmed by flocks of well-imprinted cranes! My, those meal worms and grapes must be tasty.

  3. BigDan Harvey July 31, 2013 8:05 am

    Thanks for the article Geoff. You provide us with details that make us feel like we are part of the team!