One Day at a Time

So far, we have one bird that appears to have been adopted. Until recently, the two crane colts that Brooke and Colleen are watching, have mostly ignored the adults despite sharing the same area. And Heather’s two haven’t seen another Whooping crane since September 30th. Comparing the diverse behavior of these discrete groups is like observing separate species.

Parent Reared crane number 30-16, in the company of adult Whooping cranes 3-14 and 4-12 and known as the Royal Couple, have been roosting near our old pen site at White River and foraging in a cow pasture, a mile to the north.

In contrast, the pair of young cranes Heather has been watching have been bopping around like one of those erratic rubber balls you regret buying for your kids cause all of your glassware is in jeopardy. She barely tracks them down and off they go again, leaving her wandering the back roads in search of that elusive beep-beep.

At the low end of the activity spectrum, the two chicks Brooke and Colleen are monitoring, forage and roost in the same field and for weeks, barely flew a few hundred yards.

It is hard to imagine how these young cranes perceive life so far. Hatched this spring, each day is a new experience and they have no concept of what the future holds.

There are hundreds of Sandhills gathering in preparation for the migration. The Royal Couple and their newfound chick ignore them as they keep to themselves and choose isolated surroundings, close to water. They maintain vigilance and whether they intend to or not, they are teaching good lessons to this callow chick.

Heather’s birds are making it up as they go. Other than a few short lessons at Patuxent, they have never been taught to roost in water but they seem to make good choices in that aspect. They have shared wetlands with as many as 1000 Sandhills but are often seen alone during the day. They seem oblivious to cars and once walked in the direction of a coyote, drawn by curiosity rather than repelled by caution or fear.

Young Whooping cranes 31 & 38-16 stalk a coyote. Photo: H. Ray

Young Whooping cranes 31 & 38-16 stalk a coyote. Photo: H. Ray

Zugunruhe is a compound German word (movement – anxiety) that describes the hormone driven excitement preceding and during migration. It is obvious in the Sandhills gathering in large flocks and you can see it rubbing off on Heather’s chicks. They are active but don’t really have a direction yet. Let’s hope they take some cues from the Sandhills or that the wind is blowing to the south when they do decide to leave.

My chick is taking in the lessons his adoptive parents are teaching. His adults know what to expect and when they are ready, they’ll show him the way south without much fanfare.

Brooke and Colleen’s pair is another story. They just recently discovered the joys of roosting in water after more than 50 high risk nights spent roosting on dry land. They have barely left their bedroom let alone explored the neighborhood so migration might come as a shock. They have just begun to hang out with the adults so maybe when the older birds leave, they will take the hint. We hope they’ll be able to keep up.

After fifteen years of controlling every aspect of our birds lives, from the habitat they experienced to the route they took south, it is hard to sit helplessly, watching this abbreviated version of nurture and nature take its course.

What these birds lack in experience is countered by all of the good wishes and high expectations from the teams watching their every move. Hopefully that’s enough.

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  1. Barb November 23, 2016 6:34 pm

    Hello, It may seem that I am negative in some of my comments. Simetimes, iI am brought tears with what I read, and feel the the Cranes are suffering due to people’s ignorance. Your work, OM, is outstanding, and should be learning example for those in charge from the government. You know what you are doing because you have been able fine tune techniques over 15 years, and the team is responsible for the success of the Whooping Crane thus far. I understand what Thunder meant in his comments. I don’t believe he was being disrespectful, but rather offering a comment on the low numbers of surviors, and now so many birds don’t have clue about mugration, and no one bird or person to guide them. TeamOM worked thousands of hours, with fabulous results…. birds that survived, learned to find food, learned how to roost in wetlands, learned to migrate, and most importantly had a fear of humans. I hope the aircrafts are not stored too deep in the barns… They are needed, again. With appreciation for you, TeamOM.

  2. Barb November 21, 2016 12:44 pm

    I wrote a comment yesterday regarding this post, and it hasn’t been posted. Was it lost in cyberspace?

  3. Catherine Wohlfeil November 20, 2016 9:25 pm

    The chicks hear and listen to your thoughts and wishes. Here’s hoping that their instincts will lead them to follow them. Watch and learn Fletcher Lynd.

  4. thunder November 20, 2016 8:02 pm

    I have only been watching a few years but I think anyone can see that this is not working! You can capture and bring them to Florida but why would they even want to return. They don’t know the way. A total lost year…in my opinion. OM you did your job. Thank you for keeping an eye on these beauties.

    • Heather Ray November 21, 2016 6:29 am

      How is it you can see this as “a total lost year”? The past 4 years of Parent Reared experiments have seen all colts head south to suitable locations for the winter and then return the following spring. Did they always get adopted? No, but they did migrate – and continue to migrate… Jumping to the conclusion this is a total lost year is more than premature and a bit harsh.

      • thunder November 21, 2016 2:29 pm

        Your right. I didn’t mean to come across harsh. I guess its just seeing these colts having a hard time. Total emotions speaking. I wish only success for these colts…always!!

        • Heather Ray November 21, 2016 3:32 pm

          but they’re really not having a hard time at all. They’re doing and behaving exactly as crane colts hatched and raised in the wild would. The only exception is that the majority of them do not have Whooping crane role models but they do have the next best thing – Sandhill cranes.

    • nita moccia November 21, 2016 11:16 am

      A wasted lost year Thunder??? Time for Ornithology 101…and a short course in manners

  5. Patricia Ewing November 20, 2016 11:48 am

    I feel so bad for these young corks wandering goth out any guidance ?

  6. Sally Seyal November 20, 2016 9:27 am

    Thank you for all that you do and the painful work this must be watching and waiting with no control. God Speed to those clueless babies. Is there any consideration of placing the colts at a much younger age with paired adults that have tried to nest thus show a little parental instinct if the colts are younger? Look at me- as if you scientists haven’t thought of that…I guess I am asking why not?

    • Joe Duff November 23, 2016 10:23 am

      Thanks for all the ideas. They are all being considered. The WCEP Rearing and Release Team is compiling a list of all the problems we have encountered this year and some possible solutions. We have discussed starting at a younger age but people are reluctant to release chicks that can’t yet fly.

      One could argue that reluctance, because it seems that birds fledged in captivity are not good flyers anyway, at least for a week or two.
      Still, even those birds could fly to escape a predator, whereas a younger chick might not.

      Also if we released prefledge chicks, we are guaranteed they will not follow the adults to roost.

      The reluctance of the R&R Team is based on fear of high mortality and all good intentions.

      The other issue is manageability. These birds are very fearful of humans which means unless we use traps or net guns, the chances of recapturing them are slim — and risky. If we could, recapturing would give us a chance at trying again. A good example would be to relocate the birds Heather is watching with the other couple at White River. The male of that pair is familiar with them anyway. But how do you capture two birds that hate people without risking injury, especially now that they are moving around. All good questions. Now we need good answers. Thanks

  7. Dora Giles November 20, 2016 9:20 am

    Thank you Joe for continuing to monitor these beautiful creatures of God and keeping us lurkers informed. My only concern is for the birds not associating with adults when winter hits. What will happen if they don’t fly south? Will they be captured and transported south? I pray for their safety and that zugunruhe kicks in and they have adults to follow.


  8. Jean P. aka CrabtowneMd November 20, 2016 8:16 am

    Great report Joe, but that picture scared me speechless !—
    ———-until I read further along. This has been quite the science experiment. I keep checking windytv to see if the winds have set-up a good “migration express” and today’s look encouraging. May all the PR colts get onboard and complete a successful migration. Many thanks for all OM does and for keeping us informed.