Whooping Crane 5-01/Levi

Yesterday, Colleen Chase, Joe Duff and I traveled from St. Marks to Orlando, FL and along the way we decided to stop at the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park to pay a visit to Whooping crane 5-01 (now named Levi) and his friend Peepers.

Here’s a photo of the two together yesterday and below the photo is their story…


(Originally published July, 2011)

Whooping crane 5-01/Romeo/Levi had been searching for love since 2007 when his first mate was predated in Hernando County, Florida. He succeeded in finding another only to lose her to a bobcat. Perhaps because he had lost two loves to predators or because there weren’t a lot of available females of his kind; for whatever reason, this unlucky-in-love male Whooping crane – a member of the first-ever ultralight-led cohort from 2001, decided to select a pretty little female Whooper named Peepers as his eventual soul mate.

Peepers was safe from wild predators so the chances of him losing her were slim. Peepers was one of two captive Whooping cranes that resided at the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. She shared her space with a male whooping crane named Rocky but theirs was a purely platonic relationship. Whereas 5-01/Romeo/Levi had other intentions.

Six times in the past few years, our lovelorn male crane has flown to the park to visit Peepers in her enclosure. And six times his visits ended with him being crated and transported away. Not the happy ending he had been seeking.

In spring 2007, a few weeks after his first mate was found dead, 5-01/Romeo/Levi paid his first visit to Peepers, much to the surprise of the staff at the Park in Citrus County. Costumed handlers, who were nearby monitoring the newest cohort of ultra-cranes were called in to remove him so that he would continue to migrate with the rest of the Eastern Migratory Population. They released him in Pasco County and the next day he returned to Peepers.

He was captured again and this time driven to the Hiwassee State Wildlife Area in southeast Tennessee. Later that spring, he returned to Wisconsin to summer and migrated south to Florida the next fall. In the spring months of 2008, 5-01/Romeo/Levi met a new lady crane and on at least two occasions, over the next two years, he brought her to the Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park to also visit Peepers. In the spring of 2010 a bobcat predated his second love.

Again he returned alone to Wisconsin to spend the summer and migrated back to Florida last fall – by himself – and promptly stopped in to visit his girl Peepers.

What to do with a tenacious-in-love Whooping crane who refuses to leave his captive love? After much consideration and weighing of options, the tough decision was made to pull him from the migratory population and allow him to stay with Peepers.

But what to do with Rocky – Peepers’ buddy with whom she shared her enclosure? You see, Rocky had a condition which made it difficult for him to vocalize and produce unison calls – and that is how Whooping cranes and other crane species reinforce pair bonds. 5-01/Romeo/Levi was a professional unison caller as evidenced by the two previous loves he had wooed and then lost.

The Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington D.C had been on the waiting list of facilities approved for an educational Whooping crane but needed more time to get their display ready. Officials at Homosassa Park agreed to keep all three Whooping cranes until the National Zoo was ready to receive their newest resident Rocky.

Park staff divided the Whooping crane exhibit and kept Rocky and Peepers together on one side and placed 5-01/Romeo/Levi, who will from now on, officially be known as Levi, on the other side. Too much change at once can cause displaced aggression.

A few weeks ago, Rocky made the trip to the nation’s capital. A few days ago, Levi made the trip through the gate, to at last be with his love Peepers.

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  1. Kathie Rushlow April 23, 2016 7:51 pm

    I remember seeing all three of them when Levi was separated and pacing the fence line. What a wonderful story, and one that I shared with our 2nd Graders that year. I had forgotten the particulars, but even after my recent retirement, students still refer to me as the “Whooping Crane Lady” when I visit the Campus as a volunteer. Sharing the adventures of Operation Migration stuck with these kids throughout the Project!

  2. Cheryl N. April 22, 2016 10:47 am

    What a gorgeous update photo of Levi and his lady love, Peepers. I, too, am wondering if they will ever be able to produce a fertile egg and hopefully a chick someday. Please let us know if it happens, Heather (I know you will). I wish I could go and see them – could be my only chance to see whooping cranes. Thank you for the update and have fun at Disneyworld for Earth Day.

  3. Shirley Green April 22, 2016 7:17 am

    What a lovely way to start my day, Levi and Peepers story (love her name). So happy this girl is in a safe place so Levi can enjoy her company without facing another loss. Thank you.

  4. Karen Anne April 21, 2016 9:29 pm

    Is Peppers not physically up to being in the wild?

  5. Dorothy N April 21, 2016 9:08 pm

    Great story with such a happy ending!! Thanks.

  6. thunder April 21, 2016 2:40 pm

    What a sweet picture of these two. ~ohmygosh ~ This goes right back to the situation of needing more wild cranes in the mix that migrate. This is truly such a sweet, happy, sad and endearing story.

    Thank you Heather for bringing this wonderful story back up to light. I wish them peace and happiness for the rest of their lives.

    I can hear them now “Good Night Peepers. Good Night Levi. I am so glad you came back. I am too Peepers.” With a heavy sigh they both settle down as the evening closes in. But with both eyes wide open they can only wonder and hope that they can stay together…Always!!

  7. Sidney Burr April 21, 2016 1:06 pm

    What a moving story of true love, especially for those of us who live in the DC metro area. Must look for Rocky on my next visit to the zoo.

  8. Donna Jovich April 21, 2016 1:04 pm

    Levi and Peepers, a true love story. Thanks for visiting them and giving an update. I am so glad he is with his lady love and she with him.

  9. Mindy April 21, 2016 12:32 pm

    So from 2011 to a few weeks ago, did 5-01 have a chance to mate with Peepers? Is it too late for them to want to nest this year now that they are in the same enclosure. I feel sorry for Rocky though. Wonder if they have another Whooper there or at least Sandies?

    • Mindy April 21, 2016 12:36 pm

      Oh I see….that story was from 2011 so they have been together since then in the same enclosure?

  10. Joy April 21, 2016 12:03 pm

    If “Levi” knows how to migrate, couldn’t he teach Peepers the migration or more importantly, their offspring? I think of the stork in Europe whose mate cannot fly but he returns to her each year.

  11. P. Doms April 21, 2016 11:56 am

    Nobody could made this ‘love story’ up~~~ Made my heart flutter. What a guy, that Levi. True love exists forever. Thanks ever-so-much for this chapter of Enduring Love.

  12. Bethany Stewart April 21, 2016 11:55 am

    Love this story and the photograph is breath taking. Thank you for taking the time to share it. So happy for Levi.

  13. Kathy Moore April 21, 2016 10:28 am

    Love this story! I live outside of DC, am a member of Friends of the National Zoo, and I subscribe to all zoo updates available. This is the first I’ve heard of the zoo taking in another whooping crane. Thanks to OM for keeping us up to date on all things whooping crane.

  14. Dave Sapko April 21, 2016 9:51 am

    It is normal for Levi to migrate, so how will that be handled? Peepers can join him or is she unable to fly?

    • Heather Ray April 22, 2016 7:36 am

      She is not releasable due to her original injury to her upper mandible.

  15. vannie zychowicz April 21, 2016 9:42 am

    Thank you for this loveabl story hope they are happy together that there new home


  16. Sue McCurdy April 21, 2016 9:28 am

    We love Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park and will be visiting these love birds soon. Loved your story.

    • Marsha Lynn Walsh April 21, 2016 5:32 pm

      Me, too !! In May.

  17. Emilie Burnett April 21, 2016 9:06 am

    What a beautiful tale. Thanks

  18. Barb April 21, 2016 9:04 am

    If I am reading the code correctly, 5-01 means that Romeo was born in 2001? If so, is he nearing the end of his natural life? Has Romeo and Peppers produced any eggs that hatched into Chicks? I can only imagine the adventures he has had in 15 years. Thanks for the lovely story.

    • Heather Ray April 21, 2016 9:44 am

      Yes, he was one of the original ultralight cranes. Cranes in captivity can live well into their 40s. They have produced eggs but all have been infertile to the best of my knowledge.

      • Barb April 21, 2016 9:56 am

        Wow… 40 years. Then he is still a teenager, at least in the human sense. Thanks for the response. I imagine if the National Zoo tries for chicks, they might succeed. They are very good at achieving success with difficult breedings.

  19. Margie Tomlinson April 21, 2016 8:31 am

    AW! What a sweet, romantic story. Hope they go on to produce offspring & raise them well. You can not stop real love. Shows you how much man knows. Should have let him visit/stay with Peepers in the first place. LOL! Thank you for posting this wonderful story! <3 🙂

  20. M April 21, 2016 8:04 am

    I hope they live “happily ever after!”