Last year I was fortunate enough to monitor the only Parent Reared chick that was properly adopted. There were two pairs of adult Whooping cranes using White River Marsh and we hoped one of them would take number 30-16 under their wing.
Both of those pairs used an open ag field a mile from our pen but they weren’t what you would call close. Unlike Sandhills, Whooping cranes don’t gather together in large social groups. They may use the same habitat and tolerate each other but only if the buffer zones are respected. Prior to selecting mates, they will often form bachelor cohorts so when you see more than a few Whooping cranes together, there’s a good chance that most of them are sub-adults.
We thought the best way to expose little 30-16 to both pairs was to put him in a temporary pen on that favored field and see which one was interested. Turns out neither of them were. Or maybe it turned into a mutually agreed to neutral zone that they all avoided because no one seem to take any interest.
After a couple of days, we released 30-16 closer to the pen and shortly thereafter 3-14 & 4-12 (locally known as the Royal Couple) accepted him. He spent the rest of the fall with them – roosting in safe territory deep in the marsh and foraging in isolated fields.
On the day of the first serious snowfall I watched them head south, all three in perfect order. They wintered in south Georgia and led him back to White River in the spring. He hung around until they chased him off and began to build their first nest. Those familiar will know that they incubated two eggs until the last day before hatch when a coyote took them – live – on camera.
Interestingly enough, that chick is buddies with another male 5-12 (locally known as Uncle Henry). These two are now busy showing the ropes to our Costume-reared cohort.
It would seem logical to give the Royal Couple another chick this year but things haven’t work out. They don’t use that open field anymore and they roost so far into the marsh that we have no hope of carrying a crate out there. Seems a shame.
When you work with Whooping cranes you soon realize that they don’t follow our plans no matter how carefully conceived.