Parent-Reared Whooper Colts

This year, the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership plans to release 12 Whooping cranes, which have been raised by adult cranes at the captive breeding centers. 

Eleven of the dozen, will come from the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and one from the International Crane Foundation. This is the final group that the dedicated crane crew at Patuxent will send to Wisconsin. 

The first five arrived here at 11:30 am Tuesday on-board a Windway Aviation aircraft piloted by Mike Frakes. The fact that we’ve lost track of how many such flights Windway has made means it’s a lot. Patriarch Terry Kohler would be proud that the tradition he began many years ago with wife Mary, is carrying on.

Pilot Mike Frakes maneuvers the Cessna Caravan on the tarmac at the Oshkosh airport.

Next the side door is opened to reveal the cardboard crane crates inside. Mike said the one at the back was the crane that caused the most trouble for the crew trying to capture/crate them.

Brooke, Joe, Dr. Olsen and I loaded the five cranes into our air-conditioned van and made the 30 minute drive back to White River Marsh where each was removed from the van one-at-a-time for banding and a quick health-check.

The logic behind banding them immediately was that it would probably be more stressful for them if they had been placed inside the temporary pen and then recaptured in another day or two for the procedure. Why not get it over with and then allow them a day or two to recover.

Dr. Richard Urbanek retired in 2016 after a long career with US Fish and Wildlife Service and since his retirement, he’s been volunteering with Operation Migration. Richard has many years experience at banding cranes and we’re grateful for his support.

Each of the five Whooping cranes received a color-coded combination, which is unique to that crane and allows trackers to identify them.

Once legbands are applied and the glue has cured, each is given a brief exam by Dr. Olsen. He checks their respiration and each wing to check for possible broken feathers.

Marianne Wellington from the International Crane Foundation holds the young Whooping crane while Dr. Olsen listens for pulse and respiration.

Richard Urbanek measures the tarsus of each bird.

The tarsus (leg-bone) gives an overall indication of the size of the crane. Of these five, the largest is male number 28-17 with a tarsus measuring 331 millimeters and the smallest is male number 24-17 with a 297 mm leg-bone.

The entire procedure lasted an average of 14 minutes from the time the bird was un-crated to the time it was placed in the temporary enclosure. Each crane is hooded during the procedure to reduce stress.

Joe and Marianne head off to place this young Whooping crane inside the enclosure.

All of them are fine two days later and seem no worse for wear following their first cross-country flight and the leg-banding procedure. 

The only anomaly noticed – and one that the Patuxent crew were aware of already, is that number 19-17 is missing the tip of his outer left toe on his left foot. Colleen says it happened while quite young and while they don’t know for certain how it happened, it’s likely a result of a snapping turtle.

Whooping crane #19-17 is missing the tip of his outer left toe.

Of the five young cranes that arrived Tuesday, four are males and one, a female. The oldest hatched May 17th and the youngest of the group hatched May 23rd. 

Many thanks to everyone that participated in the banding: Hillary Thompson and Marianne Doyle from ICF, Dr. Glenn Olsen with Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, and Brooke Pennypacker, Colleen Chase, Joe Duff and yours truly. 

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One Comment

  1. Kay Huey September 15, 2017 8:53 am

    I’ve watched chicks arriving in the past. It has seemed a blur of activity of many hands. Thanks for a more detailed description of what’s happening. . . . I especially love seeing the overwhelmingly cooperative spirit — all on behalf of the cranes.