As the Marsh Churns…

It’s very difficult not to anthropomorphize these cranes… or any animal one has the pleasure of working with, I suppose.

Anyone with an interest in whooping cranes has heard that they possess a virtuous quality – that is – they mate for life. Well, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news but they don’t. Oh sure, some very likely do but others, well, not so much.

Take male 4-13. He spent the entire summer and most of the fall of last year with female 7-14 in Marquette County, WI. For all intents and purposes, they seemed a bonded pair. So much so that they were the target pair to release parent reared crane colts 31 & 38-16 with. For two weeks, Jo-Anne and I watched this foursome during the day. 

They foraged together and flew short distances together but when it came time to head off to roost, the two youngsters just didn’t have the flight ability to follow their alloparents and stayed behind in an ag field. Each day, we held our breath as we approached that field.

Then on 30 September, only the adult male #4-13 appeared. Female 7-14 didn’t show up with him. I knew this wasn’t a good sign and that something must’ve happened to her. The male spent a couple of hours with the two youngsters before flying off. 

The next day he appeared, albeit later than normal and he again only stayed a couple of hours. Later that day, Joe called to say he had spotted him at White River Marsh in neighboring Green Lake County. It seems he was near the newly formed pair of male 5-12 and female 8-14. 

The next day, while flying a survey in the area, Bev Paulan watched an aerial pursuit with 4-13 chasing 5-12 from the area. The victor, number 4-13 won female 8-14 and 5-12 flew a couple of counties south to lick his wounds. Imagine how awkward it was when 5-12 showed up at St. Marks NWR in Florida only to find 4-13 and 8-14 already there?!

Fast forward to mid-March when the pair left St. Marks to head back to Wisconsin. Sadly, female 8-14 met her fate in Alabama a few miles from our former migration stop in Lowndes County. The male, alone again, returned to White River Marsh in Green Lake County, Wisconsin. For those keeping score, this was the second mate he has lost.

Last Wednesday, Bev Paulan flew a survey and saw 4-13 with another new female! He sure has a way with the ladies and has now successfully wooed 10-15* from 11-15. Before you get too sad for 11-15, he is now in the company of parent reared juvenile male 30-16… 

Tom Schultz saw the two of them foraging near White River Marsh over the weekend and sent along some photos to share with you.

The young male #30-16 is easy to spot with his still tawny coloring. Male 11-15 is on the left. Photo: Tom Schultz

Two male whooping cranes in flight. Photo: Tom Schultz

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  1. kristen esbensen April 14, 2017 12:29 am

    How do you get these photos? They are astounding!!!! And how does this numbering work? I am new to this site. My daughter just sent me the link because she saw that the Sandhills were up again for hunting, perhaps, and she knows my love for them. For years. Ever since I saw these marvelous creatures by chance in Manistee Michigan, didn’t know what they were, and began to educate my interest in them.

    • Heather Ray April 14, 2017 5:39 am

      Welcome Kristen!
      The numbering system works this way – the first digit(s) represent the hatch order and the second set indication the hatch year. So, 3-14 was the third whooping crane to hatch at the captive facility in 2014. #4-12 was the fourth to hatch in 2012.

      • kristen esbensen April 14, 2017 7:57 am

        Gracias!! I finally figured out the year part, but couldn’t figure out the other number!!! How can I get involved with you guys? Cranes are my passion. Years ago I went to the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo after I first saw cranes in Michigan and when I returned to Madison. I’d like to do something, even if it’s small..

  2. Catherine Wohlfeil April 13, 2017 9:33 pm

    I always felt 4-13 would be the best breeder, but his determination to move forward despite obstacles and loss are inspirational. He never gives up. And I’m glad that 11-15 has found a new flight buddy.

  3. Marilyn (DMBM) April 13, 2017 10:56 am

    “As the Marsh Churns” could also be “The not-so-Young and the Restless”.

    Thank you for this wonderful saga. God bless you and our beloved whoopers.

  4. Barb April 13, 2017 10:31 am

    Who needs afternoon soap operas when OM Staff and volunteers give us daily installments of “As the Whopper Turns” ? I know this is serious business, but a little levity helps. Thanks for a great job and great pictures.

  5. Mollie Cook April 13, 2017 9:49 am

    I just wish I could adapt to change & go on with life as well as the Whoopers! Such a Romeo that 4-13!!!! And glad 30-16 now has a buddy to hang with. Thanks for keeping us updated on all the Whooper drama……..can’t wait for the Beast!!!

  6. Agneta Sand April 13, 2017 8:44 am

    This beats daytime soap operas by a mile or two ! ! !
    Just hope that there will be fertile eggs and then chicks as a result ! ! !