Gearing UP for the Season

So far, the Eastern Migratory Population (EMP) has been the most successful attempt to reintroduce Whooping cranes. They have learned to migrate along the eastern flyway, and have taught their offspring that same behavior. Their survival rates are comparable to the only naturally occurring flock.

With very few exceptions, they select appropriate habitat and avoid humans – just as wild cranes should. They mate with the correct species, defend their nesting territories, produce viable eggs and hatch healthy chicks in sufficient numbers to become self-sustaining. The last challenge is to get those chicks to survive the eighty days it takes them to learn to fly.

Whooping cranes and Sandhill cranes are similar species that use comparable habitat, and exhibit similar nesting and rearing behaviors. Knowing how one is surviving in a specific environment should indicate whether the other at least has a chance. Based on that, Operation Migration’s Field Researcher, Jeff Fox, assisted the Fish & Wildlife Service last year in conducting chick mortality research of both species.

Although one year is a small sample size and nothing on which to base management decisions, indications from last year’s data suggest that the Whooping cranes in the study area are doing just as well as their Sandhill counterparts at keeping their chicks alive until they fledge.

This year, while the Fish and Wildlife Service continue their research, OM will conduct a similar study at White River Marsh in Green Lake County. It is critical research and, looking back, it should have been done earlier.

With fingers crossed, we have two potential pairs that could breed in or around the White River Marsh this year. Craniacs know one of the pairs as “The Royal Couple” and they are already back at White River Marsh. We hope to deploy our 24-hour camera once again and, with luck, we will capture the first live broadcast of a successful Whooping crane nesting. This, of course, depends on where the pair chooses to build their nest.

You may recall their first attempt at nesting took place last spring but ended abruptly when a third Whooper (#4-14/aka Peanut) landed nearby. Both nesting adults chased the interloper away, which allowed a coyote to move in to the nest.

The Royal Couple (above) returned to White River Marsh last week. We are hopeful they learned from their nesting experience last year, and are more vigilant this season. Photo: Doug Pellerin

In the recovery of Whooping cranes, the naturally occurring flock that migrates from Canada to Texas is, by far, the most important asset. It is now up to 430 individuals and growing at the rate of four percent per year. The second most valuable resource is the Eastern Migratory Population with 103 individuals and 22 breeding pairs. It has taken eighteen years, lots of hard work and millions of dollars to create this flock and it is one step – albeit a big one – away from success.

We owe our continued effort and our undying dedication to those cranes and the people who helped put them there. Please support us in conducting the research that will help the flock clear that last hurdle.

To help us carry out this important work, please click here.

Alternatively, we have created a “wish list” on, which lists most of the items needed to conduct the Sandhill crane mortality study. Have a look at the list and select the item(s) you would like to purchase for our work this year! 

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