The Puppet Family Tree

Some of you may have witnessed me getting pummeled by crane colt #10 one afternoon last week during roost check. I was trying to distribute grapes to the bunch of beach-side begging birds, but I pretty much had to take cover because #10 was poking my arm, my ribs, my back, my butt, and my puppet. And by poking, I mean BANGING – after all, this is a large beak that has enough force behind it to poke holes in watermelon!

I raised my puppet high to establish dominance in hopes that would calm her down, but she just stretched up and wailed away at the puppet. I heard a quiet “psssst” and turned to see Heather waving me over. She whispered “she doesn’t like your puppet, here, take mine”, so I did. Too late though – apparently in #10’s mind I had been contaminated by the “bad puppet” so the flogging continued when I knelt over the footbath to float mealworms for bobbing. I finally escaped to lick my wounds – the emotional ones – she didn’t cause any actual bruising.

The next time I had an opportunity to go into the pen for roost check, I took Heather’s puppet to see what would happen. I was hoping #10 would forget about my contamination-by-old-puppet and, sure enough, she did. She cozied up to me for grapes and mealworms just like the other colts, like we’d never had our shootout at the OK corral just nights before.

I thought to myself (like who else could I think to!), “hmmmmm… either she has multiple personality disorder or they really do distinguish between puppets.” Well, everyone on the team agrees that they can tell the different puppets apart, and that they like some and don’t like others. In fact, last year when Brooke was taking me to do pen checks, he had me use his puppet because, as he said, they were used to it from Patuxent and therefore they’d take to me, a newbie, more quickly.

Chatters on our live CraneCam have been asking ever since that we explain the differences between the puppets. First of all, there are different “generations” of puppets. With everything in our protocols for costume-rearing and ultralight-guiding young Whooping Cranes, when we see a way to improve something, we do it, and puppets are no exception.

The oldest puppets currently in use are actually quite sophisticated – they consist of welded and bolted steel innards attached so that the holder can squeeze a handle to open and close the beak. This way, costume-pocketed grapes can be grabbed by the beak and delivered to an anxiously-awaiting young crane. The steel innards are of course covered by a puppet dress which covers the handlers hand and forearm.

The next generation of puppet is what I was carrying that fateful afternoon. It is constructed of a resin head-with-beak used by taxidermists that is attached to a PVC pipe contraption that stores and dispenses mealworms ala a Joe Duff design. Felt of the appropriate crane colors is glued onto the head, the beak is painted, and the mustache is sharpied on. Because all the adornment on the resin head is hand-crafted, each of these puppets looks a little different, so it’s hard to say if it’s ALL of this generation of puppet that #10 despises, or just the particular one I have.

The newest model is pretty darn fancy – it even has a tongue! It’s another molded crane-head that is professionally painted appropriately, but, unlike mine, there’s no PVC pipe behind the head. Just a short handle and a metal “trigger” to close the beak. The tongue is actually mounted so as to serve as a spring that keeps the beak open unless you pull the trigger. Heather has this style puppet and both times that I have been back to the pen, I have borrowed it. Colt #10 apparently likes this one!

Puppets dressed

Puppet innards

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  1. Cheryl N. September 27, 2015 12:22 pm

    Thank you very much for the description and pictures of the puppet heads and their construction.

  2. Maxgreenwing Walsh September 24, 2015 3:27 pm

    These pictures look sad. Like dead cranes or storks 🙁

  3. birdlady9 September 24, 2015 3:12 pm

    Thank you for the comparison, Jo. Really enjoyed this post!

  4. Cathy September 24, 2015 8:56 am

    Very interesting, thank you!

  5. Ann Gillis September 24, 2015 8:11 am

    Maybe they are more like us that we ever would have known. Most interesting story. Thanks, Jo-Anne.

  6. RACHEL PARENT September 24, 2015 8:09 am

    He was showing affection Jo-Anne! You were being courted! Lol

  7. Lindi Allen September 24, 2015 8:03 am

    That is interesting and I am glad you showed pictures with the lesson. thanks 🙂

  8. Maggie Turk September 24, 2015 7:41 am

    Seems like never a day goes by without learning something new.Thanks Jo for the update on whooper puppets . Being 84 years old it is nice to keep learning more about these magnificent creatures.Just logging on to OM each day makes each day that much more meaningful . Thanks to all of you at OM—you do marvelous deeds every day

  9. Bobbie September 24, 2015 6:51 am

    WOW! Jo-Anne, that is so interesting! So does this mean the same puppet(s) will be used from Patuxent and shipped with the Crane chicks when they arrive at WRM next year? To keep the same puppet with the youngster(s)?