Confidence Games

One of the biggest problems in life, as any self-respecting self-help guru will sell you, is confidence… or rather the lack of it.”Think BIG, little man, for the world is your oyster!” But to achieve confidence requires trust. What and whom we trust directs our lives and ultimately defines who we are and who we will become.

So it is with our little whoopers. Rearing whooper chicks is the ultimate confidence game. In fact, one of the very first things they see as their poor little awakening eyes strain for focus through the window of their ICU  is a white costumed, puppet-wielding-vocalizer-playing giant, looking in upon them holding a thought balloon that says ‘Trust me.’ Then, ‘Trust this puppet beak to lead yours to the food and water that will nourish and sustain your life,’ as we teach them how to eat and drink. Then, a day or two later, ‘Welcome to your very own pen – complete with food and water bowls, a hanging puppet head, heat lamp and brood model to comfort you and just wait till you meet your neighbors! You’re going to love it here. Trust me.’  This is followed by ‘In and Out the Door’ practice, leading to the outside half of the pen.  ‘It’s nice and sunny out here and the air is oh so sweet. You’ll like it. Trust me… and here’s a meal worm for your trouble.’

Then the big day finally arrives.  It’s out for the momentous first walk into the world. ‘Just follow me.  It’ll be fun. Trust me.’  It shouldn’t come as a surprise, because in nature, the formula is simple. No trust… No life.  Still, what comes next is for me the absolutely most profound, yet mind-boggling moment of the entire project because it is the critically essential key to the success of our migratory introduction technique. They must follow us.  And follow us they do.

Except on the rare occasion when they don’t, like #9 did this week. He just would not come out of his pen! Like a baby in the mother’s womb yelling out at the delivery doctor, “No way, Jose!” And when he finally did follow me out, it would not be for far or for long before he turned and ran in sheer panicked terror back to the pen. He was simply afraid. No trust. Perhaps he had good reason.  Maybe the pen/prison cell bar tap-tap beak communication from the adult whoopers penned nearby as imprint models had alerted him to the simple fact that the tens of millions of years of his evolution and genetic programming had designed him for a world which no longer existed; an unpolluted world with abundant habitat and forever wetlands, with horizons free of the desecrations of power lines, wind farms, cell towers, cityscapes and smog. A land free of off ramps, false geometries, pending apocalypse and the ultimate invasive species called man, for whom his new role would be to satisfy their universal need for something called hope. He was, in reality, a square peg about to be placed into a round hole. Could it be that our little #9 was consciously choosing to put his trust in his instincts rather than the white costumed creature standing before him?

After a number of failed attempts to win his confidence, I was ready to call Colonel Sanders to come make a pickup when Sharon offered to give it a try. Sharon Peregoy was a manager at the Baltimore Zoo before coming to Patuxent some years back and has a lot of experience training birds. Costumed up, out into the afternoon heat she went, returning a half an hour later dripping with sweat. (Ah…wait a minute!  Women don’t sweat. They GLOW) So, like I was saying, Sharon returned a half hour later dripping with GLOW, but she had succeeded in working her magic on the little fellow. She related how by using meal worms and patience, she coaxed him out the gate one long slow confidence building step at a time and into the nurturing shade of a nearby tree, allowing its soothing vibe to comfort and reassure him. Then after a calm respite, she built up enough trust in him that he followed her back to his pen.

Sharon’s magic held its power and after a couple of days, #9 was right where he needed to be developmentally. He handled long walks without pause and took in his stride, even the relatively violent trauma of on/off trike motor conditioning. And perhaps he accepted the ultimate concept that change is really evolution spelled backwards, that it’s inevitable and that denial, one of the most powerful forces in the universe, is an essential ingredient for a happy life. He was back in the lineup.

Chick rearing is a never ending series of daily, often hourly, challenges to be overcome. Some are great, some are small, some life and some death. But the victories, when they do come, whether great or small are the absolute sweetest most rewarding things there are in this or any other universe.

Trust me.

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  1. canadianhoot May 31, 2014 1:54 am

    Thank you for the picturesque reports. Just love to read your words. Thank you for all you do. Waiting for their arrival at the pen!

  2. Claire DeLand May 30, 2014 7:49 pm

    How VERY soothing and precious this entry is. I just feel good all over after reading it. I’m reminded just why I love these birds and everybody connected with them.

    Thank you, Brooke and Heather and Sharon and EVERYBODY!!!! See you in September!!!!!

  3. Janel May 30, 2014 10:14 am

    Enjoy hearing about the antics of both whooping cranes and humans in your reports. Thank you for providing all the information, much appreciated. I was at the Milwaukee County Zoo yesterday and was surprised to see 2 whooping cranes, they seemed to be “hidden” away and I don’t believe they are seen by most visitors. Is it common for whooping cranes to be at zoos?

    • Heather Ray May 30, 2014 11:31 am

      There are a number of zoo’s with captive whooping cranes throughout the U.S and Canada – It’s a good opportunity to educate.

    • Janel May 30, 2014 12:06 pm

      Do the captive whooping cranes produce eggs? If so, are they turned over to ICF or the Eastern Partnership?

      • Heather Ray May 30, 2014 1:30 pm

        Occasionally they do. For instance a pair of captive whoopers at the Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park in Florida produced eggs a couple of weeks ago. If they are determined to be fertile, they would be shipped to Patuxent for use in the various reintroduction methods.

        • Janel May 30, 2014 1:50 pm

          Thank you for the answers to my curious questions. You have been very helpful

  4. Janet H May 30, 2014 9:08 am

    I knew this had to be Brooke writing this!! Great story and great job with the little one!!

  5. Fran (Luvmolly) May 30, 2014 8:11 am

    Wow!! What a great story of trust… Thank you for this insight into the world of chick cranes… I love to read your reports and helps me appreciate what you guys do daily not only for the welfare of the whooping crane but also for us all.. Thank you , Thank you..


  6. Russell Allison May 30, 2014 7:32 am

    Have a great new year Brooke. Fly high and safe. Go Whoopers. Hope to see you in Sept.

  7. Warrenwesternpa May 30, 2014 7:24 am

    30 May 2014 Confidence Games Brooke Pennypacker

    Number 9 training session is a real treat in how we experience the learning process with “trust” being the key word. I vagley remember watching my father teaching our dogs to “gently” herd cattle with voice and hand signals. Brooke and Sharon have to remain silent and still lead the chick. Brooks comparison to a baby unwilling to leave,”home-womb”, seems to be the same fear adults have about dying and the unknown. But adults have a “Trust Me” opportunity to count on to relieve that uncomfortable notion.

    Very provoking thoughts today and a valuable lesson in being patient. Thanks Brooke!

  8. Kay May 30, 2014 7:03 am

    Thank you, Brooke. Your words soothe. Your work is so very hopeful. I’m fixed on 100% in, 100% out this year.

  9. Patti May 30, 2014 5:47 am

    All I can do is…:) And as this year’s endeavour begins again… Cannot wait to see these chics-soon! WTG Brooke & Sharon!!