The Coiffed Whooping Crane

Imagine what it would be like if feathers were like hair. What if they kept growing endlessly and needed to be cut, coiffed or styled. Maybe we could measure the personalities of the birds based on how they wear their feathers. We might have Peanut with messy curls to match his independent attitude or the be-crowned locks of the Royal Couple. 

Luckily, that is not the case, but feathers do get split ends. Not surprising when you consider they beat up and down every two seconds and can carry the weight of their owner halfway across the country. I wish my hair could to that. So when those feathers begin to wear out, they simply grow new ones. But first the old ones fall out and while that happens, they can’t fly. Welcome to our world.

Usually you don’t see wild Whooping cranes during their molt. It generally happens during the time when they would be nurturing chicks which is when they shouldn’t be flying anyway. When we worked at Necedah, a breeding pair set up a territory near one of our training fields. They would occasionally try to chase us off but there came a time each summer when we wouldn’t see them. We could hear them call but they stayed deep in the safety of the marsh while they were flightless and we didn’t see them again until they could fly once more. 

This shot of a Whooping crane in full molt is very unusual. In fact, this is the first time I have seen this in the wild in twenty or more years of working with cranes. But it is a lot like when a close friend gets a haircut or shaves a beard. It takes a while to recognize what’s different.

Male Whooping crane #14-12. Photo: Andrew Simon

Male Whooping crane #14-12. Photo: Andrew Simon

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  1. Susanne Shrader June 20, 2017 6:30 pm

    That is a very strange adaptation of nature, especially for a bird that lives through important cycles on the ground. Many bird GE uses (genera)do a progressive molt and never become absolutely flightless. Cranes are fairly heavy bodied for the size of the wings, I wonder abut other crane species and other large birds having the same problem.

  2. Jean P. aka CrabtowneMd June 20, 2017 7:56 am

    WOW ! — bustle-less, no black primaries ! Awesome photos. thank you for sharing them.