Class of 2014

 

 

Three release methods was used in 2014: Ultralight-guided (Group One); Direct Autumn Release (Group Two); and this is the second year the Parent Reared (PR) method is being employed. Any wild-hatched cranes are in Group Four.

 

Group 1 – Ultralight-guided Whooping cranes

Group 1 chicks are captive-born.

2-14 3-14 4-14 7-14 8-14

Died Mar ’15

 

 

 

Died Mar ’17

9-14 10-14

Died Jan ’16

Died Jan ’16


Group 2 – Direct Autumn Release (DAR) Whooping cranes 

Group 2 chicks are also captive-born. In fall the chicks are released on Horicon National Wildlife Refuge in the company of older cranes from whom the young birds learn the migration route in a program called Direct Autumn Release (DAR).
This year’s four DAR chicks were released into the non-migratory Whooping crane population at the White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area in southwest Louisiana instead of the Eastern Migratory Population (EMP) in Wisconsin.

Group 3 – Parent-Reared (PR) Whooping cranes 

Group 4 chicks are captive-born, reared by adult “parent cranes” in the captive breeding flock, and each was released in fall near a wild Whooping crane pair without chicks in hopes that the pair will adopt the youngster and lead it on migration. This is the second year for this part of the Whooping crane reintroduction program. Four parent-reared birds were released in Wisconsin before fall migration 2014.

Group 4 – Wild-Hatched Whooping cranes 

Group 4 chicks are wild-born. Their parents raise them and teach them to migrate. This is the natural way cranes learn to migrate. One day, this flock will be large enough for wild-born parents to take over. Then human-assisted migration will no longer be needed.
A total of 13 chicks hatched to wild pairs in Wisconsin this summer. Only W3-14 survived to fledge and complete fall migration. She was killed by a Wisconsin predator in April 2015, after completing her first spring migration.

 


Crane #2-14

Gender: Female
Hatch Date: May 12, 2014
Legbands: Left: red/green (PTT) Right: red/white

Personality and Training:  Crane chick #2-14 is a full sister to chick #3-14.

Little #2 first heard the trike engine turn on and off on May 21 when she was 7 days old. She handled it well. By May 26, chicks #2 and #3, the siblings from Necedah, were going around and around together in the circle pen as they followed the aircraft “trike” with no fear. They got along great with each other, too, unlike some siblings!

 

This is Crane #2-14 on June 13. How many days old is she here? She is the oldest (and the biggest) crane in the Class of 2014.

This is Crane #2-14 on July 7, the last day she spent at Patuxent WRC in Maryland. How many days old is she here? The next day she would be on a private jet going to Wisconsin for flight school. She is ready!

This is chick #2-14 on July 10, now in Wisconsin. She’s on the go, unfolding her wings to show off the growing black primary feathers that will help her achieve flight in a few more weeks. (photo – Doug Pellerin)


Flight School began with the chicks getting used to the new grass training strip in Wisconsin. The costume was the same as they had known at Ground School in Maryland, so they felt comfortable and safe. (photo – Tom Schultz)

Despite the downtime due to poor weather, all the girls did great flying with the aircraft, logging over 15 minutes of air time by the week of August 25! Crane #2 is always a good follower.

September 8, 2014: Brooke and the six girl Whooping cranes flew two sessions this day. The first lasted 18 minutes and the second just over 3 minutes, making this the longest training session to date.
(photo – Tom Schultz)

September 16, 2014: Crane #2 was one of three cranes to get the new backpack transmitters used this year for the first time. “There are negatives to attaching anything to a free-flying bird, but the risk of injury is low, and there is a lot to be learned,” writes Joe Duff.

September 16, 2014: Crane #2 was one of three cranes to get the new backpack transmitters used this year for the first time. This new way to track uses new technologies that make batteries last longer. A signal Teflon ribbon wraps around the wings, holding the unit centered on the bird’s back where the ribbon is exposed to the sun and can get a better signal than a leg-mounted transmitter that spends most of the time submerged in marshy water. If one side of the harness is damaged, the entire unit falls off instead of dangling from the bird’s other wing.

She tried desperately to follow the plane when she had the backpack, but it impeded flight. On September 26, the backpack transmitters were removed from all three birds wearing them: 2-14, 7-14 and 9-14. The decision was made after the team had clear evidence that the backpack transmitters inhibited the cranes’ normal flight ability. The next day all six cranes flew just great, and for a duration of 20 minutes and 9 seconds. Go cranes!

October 6, 2014: The cranes are almost ready for migration, but the weather is holding them up. The team trains them as often as weather permits. Pilot Joe says #2 is the group’s best flyer! Crane #2 is still a small bird, like #4. She still peeps like a baby even though she’s the oldest of the group.

Fall 2014: Ultralight-Guided Migration South

October 10, 2014: Migration Day 1!  The six girls took off for their first migration stop. Crane #2 flew the distance to Stopover #1: four miles.

October 11, 2014: Migration Day 2  Cranes #2, 7, 9 and 10 took off but dismayed the team when they returned to their old White River Marsh training pensite instead of following the plane to Stopover #2. This has never happened in the team’s past 13 seasons of leading cranes on migration! All were put in crates and driven to stop #2 in Marquette County, Wisconsin: 14 miles.

October 16, 2014: Migration Day 7  After being grounded by wrong winds or rain for 5 days, the birds were eager to move on. All seven formed up as pilot Richard took off, but the air grew trashy as they rose upward. They must have said NO WAY and turned back to their pen to await a day with better flight conditions!

Taking off for an attempt at migrating on Oct 16th

October 26, 2014: Migration Day 17  Finally a fly day! All seven took off, but cranes #3 and #8 were the only ones to successfully fly the 28 miles to Columbia Co., Wisconsin in 42 minutes of flying. The other five that dropped out were crated and driven to Stopover #3. Maybe #2 is still a bit set back from the time she was wearing the backpack transmitter.

November 3, 2014: Migration Day 23  It was a great take-off for all seven birds, but it didn’t last. They dropped out one by one. It became a miserable day of chasing, capturing and crating birds back to the same old Stopover #3. Crane #2 should have been freaked out after escaping into the woods with costumed Geoff in hot pursuit. Only by sheer luck was she caught when pilot Joe landed in a lucky spot and was able to grab her as she emerged down a path. But later that night, she happily took grapes and appeared to have forgotten the whole bad day! “It was like nothing had happened,” said a mightily relieved Geoff, who thought she’d never forgive him.

November 7, 2014: Migration Day 29  Today the team flew the birds in two separate shifts on a short 5-mile leg to an interim stop in Dane County, Wisconsin. Success! The best fliers, cranes #2, 3, 7 and 8, were in the first group while the others were left behind to wait their turn. 

In this photo Brooke appears over the horizon with the first group—on their way to Dane County, WI.

November 13, 2014: LEAP to TENNESSEE!  With no change in Wisconsin’s grim weather outlook, the team performed a first: They boxed up and transported this year’s group of cranes 600 miles by vehicle to start over again where the weather should be better. This is the longest segment of the migration route that will not be flown by the cranes since the initiation of this reintroduction in 2001. The birds were crated after sunset so the move could take place overnight, taking advantage of low light conditions, the least amount of traffic, and the time of day when the cranes would normally be roosting and less active. Cranes seldom eat or drink during the night so they were well hydrated and nourished before going to roost in their crates. The plan seems to have worked well. Upon release the next day, the happy birds ran right to a costumed Colleen for grape treats. The effects of not flying such a large section of the migration route are unknown, but the team is hopeful. Alas, the weather in Tennessee kept them grounded and there wasn’t a successful flight again until Nov. 25.   

November 25, 2014: Migration Day 47  Hooray! Crane #2 and all the others except #4 and #10, who were held back because they drop out soon after take-off, flew 65 miles with Joe’s plane to Hardin County, TN.

November 26, 2014: Migration Day 48  Sixty-seven miles to Winston County, Alabama!

November 28, 2014: Migration Day 50  Thanks to 15 mph tailwinds, they were able to skip right over another stop this morning to fly a total of 111 miles. In the 2 hours and 7 minutes they were airborne, they climbed to 5200 feet altitude. Thrilling!

December 2, 2014: Migration Day 54  Forty-six miles to Lowndes County, Alabama—for all seven birds! The five following Joe had to work hard in headwinds and heat while #7 hogged the “sweet spot” and had an easy flight. Cranes #4 and #10 flew with Brooke’s plane on their first real flight of the migration.

December 3, 2014: Migration Day 55  Sixty-four miles to Pike County, ALABAMA! Again today, five flew with Joe and two with Brooke.

December 9, 2014: Migration Day 61  All seven cranes flew again this morning, covering 117 miles and crossing Georgia! Here they are in Decatur County, GA. with only two flights to go!

December 10, 2014: Migration Day 62  Another good day! All seven cranes flew 33 miles to Leon County, FLORIDA in 47 minutes. They flew just shy of 2,000 feet altitude at a ground speed of 51 mph, thanks to a nice tailwind. Only 28 miles to go!

December 11, 2014: Migration Day 63  This morning after a 28-mile flight lasting 50 minutes, the seven 7-month-old Whooping Cranes landed for the first time on their new winter home at St. Marks NWR in Florida! Soon they can be truly wild cranes—flying free and wary of people and all things human. Team member Colleen and pilot Brooke Pennypacker will watch over the youngsters during their first winter of freedom on the wintering grounds.

December 23, 2014: Freedom!  The cranes were released to freedom on the morning of Dec. 23. This is the first year they won’t have a final health check.

January 5, 2015: Each bird was quickly caught one more time to get permanent legbands and tracking transmitters. You can see #2’s colors on this photo.

March 31, 2015: Female crane #2-14 was killed by a predator late on the evening of March 15. Brooke reported that she did not return to the release enclosure as darkness fell. Since it was odd for her not to return with the others after a day of exploring the coastal marsh, Brooke feared the worst. He went out the next day to search for her radio signal and found her remains very near to the location where 5-13 was killed by a predator 4 months earlier. Everyone was so sorry. She was a great bird.

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Crane #3-14

Gender: Female
Hatch Date: May 13, 2014
Legbands: Left: white/red (PTT) Right: red/green

Personality and Training: Crane chick #3-14 is the little sister of #2-14 from eggs laid by a wild pair at Necedah NWR. She was the fluffiest-headed chick in the Class of 2014. She was introduced to the trike on May 19 at the age of 6 days. By May 26, #3 and her sister got along great. They happily went together around in the circle pen, following the trike.

Crane #3-14 needed toe splints in her first days. Her middle toes are taped to a stick to help those toes grow straighter. 

This photo was taken on June 13. How many days old is she here? What do you think is in her beak?

Chick #3-14 gave the team a scare on June 25. They had a day out in the big White Series pond pen, where they learn to be social with one another. A Patuxent crane crew member led birds 2-14 through 9-14 back, while Geoff stayed back with 10-14 so she wouldn’t get pecky with the other birds on the walk back. But when they all got back to the the pen, chick 3-14 was nowhere to be found! Always one of the last birds to make it back to her pen, she often got sidetracked by her search for worms and grubs and fell behind the group. This time, after a long, frantic search by everyone, she was found inside #2-14’s pen! She was never lost: She just wandered into the wrong pen by mistake.

Crane #3-14 had the fluffiest head of all the chicks! She had the fluffiest head the team members have ever seen!

Fall 2014: Ultralight-Guided Migration South

October 10, 2014: Migration Day 1!  The six girls took off for their first migration stop. Crane #3 flew the distance to Stopover #1: four miles.

October 11, 2014: Migration Day 2  Cranes #3-14 and #8-14 started off great, but the rest of the birds turned back. Instead of continuing the 14 miles to stop #2 with the two flying birds, the pilot turned back to Stopover #1 again and landed. The two were crated, along with #4-14, and driven to the second Stopover Site in Marquette County. Meanwhile, the other four turned back to their training site and had to be crated and driven. It was a long and disappointing day for the team!

October 16, 2014: Migration Day 7  After being grounded by wrong winds or rain for 5 days, the birds were eager to move on. All seven formed up as pilot Richard took off, but the air grew trashy as they rose upward. They must have said NO WAY and turned back to their pen to await a day with better flight conditions!

October 26, 2014: Migration Day 17  Finally a fly day! Whooping cranes #3-14 and #8-14 were the only ones to successfully fly the 28 miles to Columbia Co., Wisconsin in 42 minutes of flying. The other five had to be crated and driven to Stopover #3.

November 3, 2014: Migration Day 26  Crane #3-14 followed Brooke’s plane longer than any of the others before she landed in the Lodi Marsh south of town. All of the birds were captured and crated back to their enclosure in Columbia County, Wisconsin.

November 7, 2014: Migration Day 29  Today the team flew the birds in two separate shifts on a short 5-mile leg to an interim stop in Dane County, Wisconsin. Success! The best fliers, cranes #2, 3, 7 and 8, were in the first group while the others were left behind to wait their turn. 

November 13, 2014: LEAP to TENNESSEE!  With no change in Wisconsin’s grim weather outlook, the team performed a first: They boxed up and transported this year’s group of cranes 600 miles by vehicle to start over again where the weather should be better. This is the longest segment of the migration route that will not be flown by the cranes since the initiation of this reintroduction in 2001. The birds were crated after sunset so the move could take place overnight, taking advantage of low light conditions, the least amount of traffic, and the time of day when the cranes would normally be roosting and less active. Cranes seldom eat or drink during the night so they were well hydrated and nourished before going to roost in their crates. The plan seems to have worked well. Upon release the next day, the happy birds ran right to a costumed Colleen for grape treats. The effects of not flying such a large section of the migration route are unknown, but the team is hopeful. Alas, the weather in Tennessee kept them grounded the first few days.

November 25, 2014: Migration Day 47  Hooray! Crane #3 and all the others except #4 and #10, who were held back because they drop out soon after take-off, flew 65 miles with Joe’s plane to Hardin County, TN.

November 26, 2014: Migration Day 48  Sixty-seven miles to Winston County, Alabama!

November 28, 2014: Migration Day 50  Thanks to 15 mph tailwinds, they were able to skip right over another stop this morning to fly a total of 111 miles. In the 2 hours and 7 minutes they were airborne, they climbed to 5200 feet altitude. Thrilling!

December 2, 2014: Migration Day 54  Forty-six miles to Lowndes County, Alabama—for all seven birds! The five following Joe had to work hard in headwinds and heat while #7 hogged the “sweet spot” and had an easy flight. Cranes #4 and #10 flew with Brooke’s plane on their first real flight of the migration.

Pilot Joe Duff leading the Class of 2014 (photo – Heather Ray)

December 3, 2014: Migration Day 55  Sixty-four miles to Pike County, ALABAMA! Again today, five flew with Joe and two with Brooke.

December 9, 2014: Migration Day 61  All seven cranes flew again this morning, covering 117 miles and crossing Georgia! 

December 10, 2014: Migration Day 62  Another good day! All seven cranes flew 33 miles to Leon County, FLORIDA in 47 minutes. They flew just shy of 2,000 feet altitude at a ground speed of 51 mph, thanks to a nice tailwind. Only 28 miles to go!

December 11, 2014: Migration Day 63  This morning after a 28-mile flight lasting 50 minutes, the seven 7-month-old Whooping Cranes landed for the first time on their new winter home at St. Marks NWR in Florida! Soon they can be truly wild cranes—flying free and wary of people and all things human. Team member Colleen and pilot Brooke Pennypacker will watch over the youngsters during their first winter of freedom on the wintering grounds.

December 23, 2014: Freedom!  The cranes were released to freedom on the morning of Dec. 23. This is the first year they won’t have a final health check.

January 5, 2015:  Each bird was quickly caught one more time to get permanent legbands and tracking transmitters. 

Here’s 3-14 sporting her new leg bands

Spring 2015: First Unaided Spring Migration North:  Departed St. Marks with #5-12 and the other four remaining juveniles in the Class of 2014 on April 3! Everyone hopes these crane-kids, who have a gap in their knowledge of the migration route between Tennessee and Wisconsin due to being trucked most of the way, will stick with #5-12. He led them and stayed with them into northern Illinois but left them there on April 8 (see map). While the youngsters stayed in that location due to stormy weather, Brooke and Colleen monitored them from a safe distance so as not to spook them. They wandered when weather permitted, and landed at Union County, Kentucky—one of their migration stops on the journey south—week ending April 25. They seem to be restless and know they need to migrate, but can’t “find north.” The team decided it was time to help them get home.

They flew nearly 200 miles on their northward departure day, reaching Elmore County, Alabama. In the next three days the group passed through Tennessee and Kentucky, entering territory unfamiliar to them, but #5-12 knew the way. On April 6 they didn’t depart from Calloway County, KY but on April 7 they gained 80 miles to Saline County, Illinois before being stopped by a storm. The weather remained windy and stormy, but on April 8 it appeared that #5-12 flew the coop and left the group, as no further signals were received from his radio transmitter. The five young cranes remained at least through April 9 as stormy weather continued in northern Illinois. Brooke and Colleen were still monitoring them from a safe distance so as not to spook them.

April 29, 2015:  When a storm separated #3 (and also #4), Brooke and Colleen couldn’t get to them for capture and relocation. Crane #3’s signal didn’t move for two days, and she was found on an island. Brooke swam (in his costume, with his puppet!) to the island and found her alive and stuck in a thick growth of cattails. Brooke trampled down an area in front of her so that she could take the needed 3-4 steps needed for takeoff and she was immediately airborne. Her latest signal put her in Pulaski County, Illinois. Crane 3’s remote tracking device will help her be easy to find for capture and relocation—or maybe she’ll somehow make it home by herself?

May 15, 2015: Crane #3-14 steps out upon her release at the White River Marsh SWA after her all night drive in the van from Ohio to Wisconsin. Adult crane #4-12 was calling in the distance. (photo – Doug Pellerin)

May 12: Heather and Joe successfully captured #3-14! Luckily, they found her in an accessible ag field in southern Illinois rather than her very remote roosting site. She was kept in a temporary pen while Heather and Joe made plans to capture #4-14. That capture took place on May 13, and #4-14 was transported on Illinois roads about 50 miles to be reunited with #3-14. On the night of May 14, the two wayward cranes were crated and driven through the darkness to Wisconsin. They were released by Heather and Joe at White River Marsh at sunrise on May 15—”migration” complete! Satellite readings indicated locations near the Lake Michigan shoreline in Washington County, Wisconsin, on May 19 and at the Horicon NWR in Dodge County, by roost on the next day. She remained at the Horicon NWR until moving north to Waushara County on May 23. She was observed there alone on 27 May and later returned to White River Marsh. In June she managed to find her old pal #4-12.

June, 2015: Here’s #3-14 with her old pal, #4-12. The young female has barely a tinge of her juvenile coloring at the nape of her neck, according to Operation Migration’s Heather Ray, who took the photo.

They continued to spend time together all summer. Their “summer pals” group consisted of three males:#4-12, 5-12 and 4-14 (Peanut) and three females: 3-14, 9-14 and 10-14. They often visited the White River Marsh training site where the Class of 2015 was training for their fall migration with the ultralight aircraft.

Fall 2015: First Unaided Fall Migration South: Eyes are on the Class of 2014 to see whether they will find their way south after being trucked nearly half of their first journey south, thus missing route knowledge gained by flight (see above).

On Nov. 6, sub-adult female #3-14’s satellite transmitter showed that she was on the move. On Nov. 12 her transmitter placed her in Christian County, Kentucky.

By late November, she and female #10-14 were in Jenkins County, Georgia. Late on Dec. 8, cranes #3-14 and #10-14 (still with males #4-12 and #4-14, or “Peanut”) arrived at St. Marks NWR in Florida! These four late arrivals had been blown east into east-central Georgia in mid-November and made one foray to McIntosh County, GA on the Atlantic coast. Very soon after that, they returned north to Jenkins County. On Dec. 8, a hit came in for #3-14, placing her near Live Oak, FL, about 80 miles east of St. Marks. Hooray! Every crane in the Class of 2014 has now made it to their Florida winter home!

Cranes 3-14 and 4-12 continued their close relationship after arriving at St. Marks. They hung out together near the pen, but moved about 80 miles north when the remains of #9-14 were discovered (bobcat predation likely) at the end of January, 2016. Perhaps they saw the predation of their cohort mate and decided it was time to move.

Spring 2016: Female #3-14 and male 4-12 stayed together through the winter. The two were at St. Marks NWR for a short time before moving north to Miller County, Georgia in late January. A PTT hit showed #3-14 migrating north (perhaps still with #4-12, who does not have a transmitter), reaching northwest Kentucky by March 8 after traveling 250 miles the first day and 180 miles the next. On March 16, a PTT hit indicated female Whooping crane #3-14 roosted just off the north end of the White River Marsh training site in Wisconsin. Her mate #4-12 was later confirmed still with her and the pair hung out in the area for the summer, along with several other Whooping cranes. In September, two of the 2016 Parent Reared crane colts were released near them in hopes that adults 3-14 and 4-12 would adopt one or both colts before fall migration.

Fall 2016: On October 7, it finally appeared that a new family was formed when #3-14 and mate #4-12 flew off to their roost location for the night with PR colt #30-16! Time passed and the new family was still together., and seemed to be the only “adoption” working as it was hoped to. 

4-12, 3-14 with 30-16 (photo – Heather Ray)

Alloparents #3-14 and #4-12, with young PR #30-16, were a firm family and still at White River Marsh in Green Lake County, Wisconsin, as of Dec. 4. The family began migration on December 7 and reached Floyd Co, GA.

Spring 2017: Female #3-14 and her mate #4-12 completed migration back to White River Marsh in Wisconsin on the evening of March 21. The chick they adopted, Parent Reared #30-16, was in the marsh, too, but about 300 yards from the adults. “They likely chased him away now that they are back home,” noted Operation Migration’s Joe Duff. “That’s a good sign that they may breed this year and produce their own offspring. They taught PR #30-16 how to migrate and to be wild, and maybe he taught them how to be good parents.”

4-12 and 3-14 built the first nest in White River Marsh (photo – Bev Paulan, WI DNR)

The Royal Couple (female #3-14 and male #4-12) made BIG excitement when their new nest was discovered in mid April on White River Marsh! It’s the first nest at the marsh since the aircraft-led chick training was moved here in 2011—safely out of territory of the black fly species that feed on birds, causing so many nest abandonments on Necedah NWR. The pair, both hatched in incubators, also had the good instincts to build an incredible, symmetrical and tall nest platform in an ideal location surrounded by water, deep in the marsh. When heavy rains in late April made the water rise, the pair pulled additional cattails and vegetation onto the platform. Operation Migration’s Heather Ray said on April 27, “We’re hopeful their instincts will continue to guide this pair for another 10-12 days, which is when we anticipate a hatch (or two).” Watch it all on the nest cam!

The Royal Couple chases away Peanut (4-14), the interloper.

A sad outcome was in store as video feed revealed the nest was predated May 8th at 7:20 pm by a hungry coyote.  The two eggs both were viable. Egg fragments were collected. The nest is surrounded by water. The video feed showed the nesting adults doing everything they could to chase away another crane that intruded into their nesting territory. As the pair was distracted in those efforts, a determined coyote lurking nearby was able to get to their nest and eat the eggs. The eggs were due to hatch within a day or two at the most. We were reminded again that nature can be cruel.

The empty nest. (photo – Brooke Pennypacker)

The pair returned to the site of the empty nest the next day. Now we are left hoping and wondering: Will they try to nest again this season? Sadly, it turns out they did not. 

Fall 2017: At the end of November, this pair was spotted in Jasper County, Indiana. They were on their way south to their winter location. In mid-January, Brooke Pennypacker confirmed they were back on their winter home in Seminold County, Georgia – the same location they have used since 2016.

Spring 2018:  On April 2nd, Doug Pellerin spotted the pair already back at White River Marsh in Green Lake County, WI. By the beginning of May, it seems this pair was nesting again! Heather noted the last time the two were spotted on the CraneCam was on May 2nd. For a few weeks after, all we were able to see was a single bird foraging. We were able to confirm which bird using legbands and it seems both were taking incubation duties. 

We suspect the nest has hatched as the last time we observed a single crane foraging was on May 30. It’s very possible both adults are in the marsh – busy provisioning for a newly hatched chick(s).

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Crane #4-14

Gender: Male
Hatch Date: May 15, 2014
Legbands: Left: white/red/white Right: red/green

Personality and Training:  Crane chick #4-14 was dubbed “Peanut” by Brooke soon after hatching because he was so small. “I swear he’s a mouse disguised as a crane chick!” exclaimed Brooke, who was one of his daily caretakers. This chick turned out to be the ONLY male in the Class of 2014!

Chick #4 got a late start due to health problems, but soon he was back in the lineup for ground school training. He had his first On/Off trike engine conditioning session May 25 and wasn’t scared at all. Soon he was following the trike around the circle pen along with the other six chicks, all girls. He joined right in.

July 7, 2014

Here’s crane #4 on July 10, exploring his new pen in Wisconsin. He’s checking out the shallow basin that holds water for the chicks to drink. The crane puppet shows him that he can get a drink here!

This year’s only male crane, #4-14 developed a limp Aug. 26 while playing in the winds during a strong storm the day before. He was on the disabled list to allow it to heal. On some days the team let him out on the runway for exercise. Everybody just loves his good-natured ways and hopes his leg heals in time for migration.

September 19: This is #4-14 (also known as “Peanut”) with his new hinged leg brace. 

Crane #4’s leg has not healed as quickly as hoped and was re-injured a week ago as he played on the runway. He has been patient and brave and good-natured, even when the doctor put a leg brace on him September 19. He was grounded for about 3 weeks. During that time the team let him out for exercise on days when it’s too windy for the aircraft to fly to help build muscles and endurance.

September 28, 2014: Crane #4 enjoys some easy exercise and flying when let out of confinement during his healing time. You can see his leg brace. Isn’t he handsome with his black primary feathers at the wingtips? (photo – Tom Schultz)

 


Crane #4-14, a.k.a. “Peanut,” is getting back to normal! He received his leg-mounted radio transmitter Oct. 2 after getting his leg brace removed earlier in the day. At first he poked and prodded at it, seeming annoyed by the antenna.

October 6, 2014: The birds got a day of training but didn’t leave on migration today. The six girls trained before #4-14 got a turn with the aircraft by himself. When his turn came, older cranes #4-12 and #5-12 invaded and cut the session short. Do you see #4 by the aircraft? (Crew member Colleen took the photo through the peephole of the cranes’ enclosure.)

October 6: Weather won’t permit the migration to begin today, but the team hopes to give #4 a private training session so he gets the benefit of the air currents off the wing to help his flight as he gains endurance. How will he do on migration? Heather says: “The team may fly the six girls to the first migration stop, then come back and get him so he has his own aircraft. If he can’t make the entire five miles, we’ll have to crate him, but he was a great follower prior to his hock injury so we’re hopeful he still is!”

Crane #4 HATES puppets but he’s very docile to the costume. Like a little puppy, he will follow the costume anywhere.

Fall 2014: Ultralight-Guided Migration South

October 10, 2014: Migration Day 1!  The six girls took off for their first migration stop. The plan was for the aircraft to return for Peanut (#4) so he could have the wing to himself for extra help in flight. By the time the plane returned, the air had gotten bumpy. Crane #4 tried his best before he dropped out after flying 7 minutes. It was the longest he’d flown in over a month! He was boxed up to finish the short distance to Stopover #1 where his flockmates waited. Migration is underway!

October 11, 2014: Migration Day 2  At the first stopover site and for the first time since his injury, Peanut was released to fly with the other six cranes. He landed after a couple of circuits of flying. He wasn’t the only one that didn’t fly the distance to stopover #2 today. None of the others cooperated to do that either, and all were crated and driven the 14 miles to Marquette County. Eventually they’ll get used to the drill—hang in there!

October 16, 2014: Migration Day 7  After being grounded by wrong winds or rain for 5 days, the birds were eager to move on. All seven formed up as pilot Richard took off, but the air grew trashy as they rose upward. They must have said NO WAY and turned back to their pen to await a day with better flight conditions! Richard later said the second bird from the wing was Peanut, #4-14, making a great start!

October 26, 2014: Migration Day 17  Finally a fly day! Whooping cranes #3-14 and #8-14 were the only ones to successfully fly the 28 miles to Columbia Co., Wisconsin in 42 minutes of flying. The other five had to be crated and driven to Stopover #3. Leg issues may still be bothering #4, but he’s trying!

November 3, 2014: Migration Day 26  Crane #4 took off with the group just fine, but none of them stuck with the plane very long. All dropped out and had to be captured and crated back to their enclosure in Columbia County, Wisconsin.

November 7, 2014: Migration Day 29 Today the team flew the birds in two separate shifts on a short 5-mile leg to an interim stop in Dane County, Wisconsin. Success! The photo shows cranes #4, 9 and 10, who were in the second group. All few the distance with Richard to join their flockmates in Dane County, WI.

November 13, 2014: LEAP to TENNESSEE!  With no change in Wisconsin’s grim weather outlook, the team performed a first: They boxed up and transported this year’s group of cranes 600 miles by vehicle to start over again where the weather should be better. This is the longest segment of the migration route that will not be flown by the cranes since the initiation of this reintroduction in 2001. The birds were crated after sunset so the move could take place overnight, taking advantage of low light conditions, the least amount of traffic, and the time of day when the cranes would normally be roosting and less active. Cranes seldom eat or drink during the night so they were well hydrated and nourished before going to roost in their crates. The plan seems to have worked well. Upon release the next day, the happy birds ran right to a costumed Colleen for grape treats. The effects of not flying such a large section of the migration route are unknown, but the team is hopeful. Alas, the weather in Tennessee kept them grounded the first few days.

November, 2014: Cranes #4 and #10 were held back on the last three flights in November because they had dropped out of earlier flights and decoyed the other birds to land out with them. 

November 25, 26, and 28, 2014: Days 47, 48 & 50 Cranes #4 and #10 were held back on these three flights and were slipped into their crates before the aircraft arrived to take off with the others. They were driven while the others flew. Without #4 and #10 to lead them in dropping out, the other five flew with no problems at all. All seven birds were reunited again at the new stopovers.

Cranes #4 and #10 were held back because they’ve dropped out of the flights, leading the other birds with them. It’s not their fault: Crane #4’s issues started with his leg injury, and Crane #10 learned the wrong lesson after weeks of not flying due to all the bad-weather days in the north. They traveled much of this migration in a cardboard box (see right), riding over roads aboard a van.

The team still hopes to include these two birds, one at a time, in hopes it learns by example and falls into line with the others. They also hope that the five good followers have regained their lost loyalty to the plane and will be less inclined to follow one dropout bird if the lesson doesn’t take on the first try.

December 2, 2014: Cranes #4 and #10 had their first real flight of the migration today. They were boxed up until after the other five took off with Joe’s plane. Then these two formerly reluctant fliers were released to follow pilot Brooke in his plane. Crane #4 was in the lead! They climbed to 2,500 feet altitude. Go cranes! (photo – Heather Ray)

December 2, 2014: Migration Day 54  Hooray! Cranes #4 and #10 got the chance to take off and fly today’s segment of the migration route. They flew 46 miles to Lowndes County, Alabama. Finally, this was their first real flight of the migration. Crane #4 was in the lead, and both birds are back in the game!

December 3, 2014: Migration Day 55 Sixty-four miles to Pike County, ALABAMA! It was a warm day with some headwinds, which would take their toll on the birds. The team debated releasing all seven together but felt that 4 and 10 would lose the battle for the lead to the five that have now found their own order in the air. That means #4 and #10 would be at the back of the line where they would have to work the hardest. So again today, these two took off with Brooke and had his plane all to themselves as they flew the distance!

December 9, 2014: Migration Day 61  All seven cranes flew again this morning, covering 117 miles and crossing Georgia! 

December 10, 2014: Migration Day 62  Another good day! All seven cranes flew 33 miles to Leon County, FLORIDA in 47 minutes. They flew just shy of 2,000 feet altitude at a ground speed of 51 mph, thanks to a nice tailwind. Only 28 miles to go!

December 11, 2014: Migration Day 63  This morning after a 28-mile flight lasting 50 minutes, the seven 7-month-old Whooping Cranes landed for the first time on their new winter home at St. Marks NWR in Florida! Soon they can be truly wild cranes—flying free and wary of people and all things human. Team member Colleen and pilot Brooke Pennypacker will watch over the youngsters during their first winter of freedom on the wintering grounds.

December 23, 2014: Freedom!  The cranes were released to freedom on the morning of Dec. 23. This is the first year they won’t have a final health check.

January 5, 2015:  Each bird was quickly caught one more time to get permanent legbands and tracking transmitters. 

March 1, 2015: This is Crane #4-14 (far right) on the wintering grounds with pals #10-14 and #9-14. Notice their still-juvenile plumage. Their red crown bare patches are just starting to appear. (photo – Bev Paulan)

Spring 2015: First Unaided Spring Migration North:  Departed St. Marks with #5-12 and the other four remaining juveniles in the Class of 2014 on April 3! Everyone hopes these crane-kids, who have a gap in their knowledge of the migration route between Tennessee and Wisconsin due to being trucked most of the way, will stick with #5-12. He led them and stayed with them into northern Illinois but left them there on April 8 (click on map). While the youngsters stayed in that location due to stormy weather, Brooke and Colleen monitored them from a safe distance so as not to spook them. They wandered when weather permitted, and landed at Union County, Kentucky—one of their migration stops on the journey south—week ending April 25. They seem to be restless and know they need to migrate, but can’t “find north.”

May:  The team decided it was time to help them get home, but cranes #4 and #3 had gotten separated from the other three during one of the many storms. Crane #4-14 (aka Peanut) was in good habitat and very close to the area where number #3-14 was found, but both were inaccessible for capture. Crane #4 does not have a remote tracking device and must be tracked using the receiver and antenna that detects the beep from his radio transmitter. The team will keep trying and plans to recapture and relocate #4 and #3 to Wisconsin to join their other flock mates, already safely there and released.

On May 13 Peanut was located and safely captured in Union County, Kentucky and transported approximately 50 miles the pen where the previously captured #3-14 was being kept. On the night of May 14, the two wayward cranes were crated and driven through the darkness to Wisconsin. They were released by Heather and Joe at White River Marsh at sunrise on May 15—”migration” complete!

He wandered for a while but ended up with a “summer pals” group that included males #4-12 and 5-12 and three females: #3-14, 9-14 and 10-14.

Fall 2015: First Unaided Fall Migration South:  Eyes are on the Class of 2014 to see whether they will find their way south after missing large segments of their first journey south (see above).

Satellite readings on Nov. 6 from two females in #4-14’s “summer pals” group showed them on the move, but it was not known whether the group was traveling together. It turned out that they were: Late on Dec. 8, crane #4-14, his two female cohort mates, and older male #4-12 arrived at St. Marks NWR in Florida! The new arrivals had been blown east into east-central Georgia in mid-November and made one foray to McIntosh County, GA on the Atlantic coast on their journey south before finding their way to St. Marks. Hooray! Every crane in the Class of 2014 has now made it to their Florida winter home!

This photo shows 4-14’s bright red crown in March 2016. He liked to hang around the release pen with the youngsters in the Class of 2015. If they leave as a group to forage and explore, he often flies with the group. Brooke thinks it’s not so much to chaperone as just to get away from the other older birds that so often harass him. “At times you think he must be wearing a T-shirt that says, ‘Chase Me’ that only they can see,” said Brooke.

Spring 2016: “Peanut” (4-14) left Florida with cranes 4-12, 3-14 and 5-12. The team noted, “It is interesting that in the end, Peanut, who was for most of the winter treated as an outcast by the older birds, went along in the first wave north.” The three other birds returned to Wisconsin, but Peanut’s departure from Florida was the last sighting of him for several months, and no one knows where he spent the summer and fall.

Fall 2016:  Hooray! Crane #4-14 was finally located! In December, he showed up at St. Marks NWR in Wakulla Co, FL, spending time around the pen where the Class of 2014 was released upon their arrival last year in Florida. He was with three other Whooping Cranes, and the team was thrilled to get the news. He spent time with mateless male 5-12 at the St. Marks pen site where both these birds had landed as juveniles on their aircraft-led migration.

Peanut stuck with his buddy #5-12 even after the other adult pair left March 11 on their migration. Will Peanut and #5-12 migrate north together as buddies? Will Peanut return to Wisconsin? Last spring he did not, and was missing until he showed up back at St. Mark’s one day in December. (The team thinks maybe Peanut went back to S. Illinois and the Ohio River, where he was caught for relocation the spring before.)

Spring 2017:  Crane #4-14 (aka Peanut) began migration March 24 with buddy #5-12. He did not, however, return to Wisconsin’s White River Marsh on March 31st with #5-12. He DID show up later and dismayed everyone when, on the evening of May 8, he intruded on the pair of cranes incubating the very first nest in White River Marsh. As the nesting pair frantically attempted to drive #4-14 away from the nest, their precious eggs — just one day away from hatching — were eaten by a determined coyote in a stunning loss. The event was recorded on the nest cam placed there in hopes of seeing the eggs hatch.

For the rest of the summer and into the fall/winter, Peanut hung out with another bachelor male #11-15. The two were spotted by Heather and Jo-Anne at Grand River Marsh in neighboring Marquette County, WI. It appears they found one of the female parent-reared Whooping cranes, #26-17 and took her under their wing. All three began heading south but sadly, the remains of #26-17 were found in southern Indiana in late December. It appears she had been predated. 

The two male Whooping cranes eventually turned up at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Morgan County, AL where they stayed for the winter.

Spring 2018: Whooping crane 4-14 was confirmed back in Green Lake County, WI in early May when Heather spotted him along the flooded Fox River in Princeton, Wisconsin. He wasn’t with male #11-15 however. Instead, he was with one of the female costume-raised cranes, #7-17! 

Peanut’s W/R/W legbands make him easily identifiable. His transmitter no longer works. Photo: H. Ray

The team is pleased he is associating with a young female crane (for obvious reasons), however, there is another reason. Number 7-17’s transmitter is functioning so we’ll be able to locate him as long as he stays with his new female partner.

 

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Crane 7-14

Gender: Female
Hatch Date: May 18, 2014
Legbands: Left: white/green (PTT) Right: red/green

Personality and Training:  Crane chick #7-14 hatched May 18. She had splayed legs and a toe problem, but it was decided that since cranes in the wild don’t hitchhike with their toes, she was pronounced recovered after having the toes taped for a while. She went out to see the trike May 25 and started her official ground school training soon after. She was a good follower!

 

The young chicks start following the aircraft around a large circle pen in the early days at “chick boot camp,” or ground school, when they are just a few days old. Here, the fast-growing chicks are a few weeks old. The pilot uses that long crane puppet to drop mealworms as rewards for the chicks following as the pilot drived the trike around the outside of the pen. The fence keeps the chicks safe from the aircraft/trike wheels.

This is crane #7 on July 7, the last day she would spend at her hatch place of Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland. The next day she would be aboard a private jet on her way to Wisconsin for Flight School!

September 16: Crane #7 was one of three cranes to get the new backpack transmitters used this year for the first time. “There are negatives to attaching anything to a free-flying bird, but the risk of injury is low, and there is a lot to be learned,” writes Joe Duff.

On September 26, the backpack transmitters were removed from all three birds wearing them: 2-14, 7-14 and 9-14. The decision was made after the team had evidence that the backpack transmitters were inhibiting the cranes’ normal flight ability. The next day, all six cranes flew just great, and for a duration of 20 minutes and 9 seconds. Go cranes!

When #7 takes a grape from the crane puppet, she still takes the grape tentatively and always tries to wash it off first! 

Team member Geoff says #7 and #8 are cut from the same cloth. Both are fairly solitary and independent. They both prefer to be left alone. “Crane #7 will flap her wings at me while #8 just keeps her distance from me. Neither bird likes being locked in the dry pen and will resist every step of the way if anyone tries to get them out of the wet pen.”

Heather says #7 has very pretty eyes compared to the others!

Fall 2014: Ultralight-Guided Migration South

October 10, 2014: Migration Day 1!  The six girls took off for their first migration stop. Crane #7 flew the distance to Stopover #1: four miles.

October 11, 2014: Migration Day 2  Cranes #2, #7, #9 and #10 took off but dismayed the team when they returned to their old White River Marsh training pen site instead of following the plane to Stopover #2. This has never happened in the team’s past 13 seasons of leading cranes on migration! All were put in crates and driven to stop #2 in Marquette County, Wisconsin: 14 miles.

October 16, 2014: Migration Day 7  After being grounded by wrong winds or rain for 5 days, the birds were eager to move on. All seven formed up as pilot Richard took off, but the air grew trashy as they rose upward. They must have said NO WAY and turned back to their pen to await a day with better flight conditions!

October 26, 2014: Migration Day 17  Finally a fly day! All seven took off, but cranes #3 and #8 were the only ones to successfully fly the 28 miles to Columbia Co., Wisconsin in 42 minutes of flying. The other five that dropped out were crated and driven to Stopover #3. Maybe #7 is still a bit set back from the time she was wearing the backpack transmitter.

November 3, 2014: Migration Day 26  Crane #7-14 was in the perfect lineup on both of today’s takeoffs with Brooke and his aircraft. The birds, however, didn’t want to climb and ended up dropping out, one by one. All were captured and crated back to their enclosure in Columbia County, Wisconsin.

November 7, 2014: Migration Day 29  Today the team flew the birds in two separate shifts on a short 5-mile leg to an interim stop in Dane County, Wisconsin. Success! The best fliers, cranes #2, #3, #7 and #8, were in the first group while the others were left behind to wait their turn. In this photo Brooke appears over the horizon with the first group—on their way to Dane County, WI.

November 13, 2014: LEAP to TENNESSEE!  With no change in Wisconsin’s grim weather outlook, the team performed a first: They boxed up and transported this year’s group of cranes 600 miles by vehicle to start over again where the weather should be better. This is the longest segment of the migration route that will not be flown by the cranes since the initiation of this reintroduction in 2001. The birds were crated after sunset so the move could take place overnight, taking advantage of low light conditions, the least amount of traffic, and the time of day when the cranes would normally be roosting and less active. Cranes seldom eat or drink during the night so they were well hydrated and nourished before going to roost in their crates. The plan seems to have worked well. Upon release the next day, the happy birds ran right to a costumed Colleen for grape treats. The effects of not flying such a large section of the migration route are unknown, but the team is hopeful. Alas, the weather in Tennessee kept them grounded the first few days.

November 25, 2014: Migration Day 47  Hooray! Crane #7 and all the others except #4 and #10, who were held back because they drop out soon after take-off, flew 65 miles with Joe’s plane to Hardin County, TN.

November 26, 2014: Migration Day 48  Sixty-seven miles to Winston County, Alabama!

November 28, 2014: Migration Day 50  Thanks to 15 mph tailwinds, they were able to skip right over another stop this morning to fly a total of 111 miles. In the 2 hours and 7 minutes they were airborne, they climbed to 5200 feet altitude. Thrilling!

December 2, 2014: Migration Day 54  Forty-six miles to Lowndes County, Alabama—for all seven birds! They had to work hard in headwinds and heat. As usual, #7 was in the lead. She dominates the sweet spot right behind the wingtip. Here she can glide along, hardly ever flapping her wings, while all the birds behind her must work ever harder. She annoys Joe by moving ahead of the wing and destroying the lift on one side, making Joe’s job harder. Then she dropped below the wing and flew beside Joe. The other birds follow her like good “wing men.” So, while she plays with the energy she saved, the other birds must struggle to keep up. Their beaks were open and they panted all the way. Today she pulled another prank: pulling on the string that holds in the wingtip batten. When she swooped in to pull the string with her beak, Joe dodged while the other four tried to follow her or him. Hard work for all!

December 3, 2014: Migration Day 55  Sixty-four miles to Pike County, ALABAMA! Again today, five flew with Joe and two with Brooke. Crane #7 led again, and again her fooling around in the sweet spot made it harder for the other birds but all arrived safely.

December 9, 2014: Migration Day 61  All seven cranes flew again this morning, covering 117 miles and crossing Georgia! 

December 10, 2014: Migration Day 62  Another good day! All seven cranes flew 33 miles to Leon County, FLORIDA in 47 minutes. They flew just shy of 2,000 feet altitude at a ground speed of 51 mph, thanks to a nice tailwind. Only 28 miles to go!

December 11, 2014: Migration Day 63  This morning after a 28-mile flight lasting 50 minutes, the seven 7-month-old Whooping Cranes landed for the first time on their new winter home at St. Marks NWR in Florida! Soon they can be truly wild cranes—flying free and wary of people and all things human. Team member Colleen and pilot Brooke Pennypacker will watch over the youngsters during the their first winter of freedom on the wintering grounds.

December 23, 2014: Freedom!  The cranes were released to freedom on the morning of Dec. 23. This is the first year they won’t have a final health check.

January 5, 2015:  Each bird was quickly caught one more time to get permanent legbands and tracking transmitters. 

Spring 2015: First Unaided Spring Migration North  

March 11: Juvenile female #7-14 failed to return to the winter pen with the other six in the Class of 2014 cohort the night of March 11. She had taken off with adult cranes #4-12 and #4-13, becoming the first in her cohort to start the journey north! (She is the crane that kept getting in front of Joe’s aircraft wing on the southward migration. As Operation Migration’s Heather notes, “She always was in a hurry!”).

First to migrate! (photo – Colleen Chase)

Crane #7-14 was the only crane in the Class of 2015 to make the entire northward migration from Florida. She returned with #4-13 and #9-13. High quality PTT hits placed her in northwest Alabama the morning of March 17. Her PTT signals on March 23 placed her firmly in northern Illinois. By March 25, her signals were in Carroll County, IL. The three cranes took their time on the migration but arrived in Green County, Wisconsin, by roost on March 26th and Marquette County, Wisconsin, by roost on March 28th.

She was seen, still with male #4-13, in mid May on Horicon NWR (photo, right). They had been visiting various wetlands in central Wisconsin since their late March return. She was still with the older pair as August began.

Fall 2015 – First Unaided Fall Migration South:  Eyes are on the Class of 2014 to see whether they will find their way south after missing large segments of their first journey south (see above).

Crane #7-14 made it safely to St. Marks NWR in Florida in early December with crane #4-13, her older pal from her first spring migration, leading the way. All eight of the Class of 2014 successfully completed their first solo fall migration to St. Marks!

Spring 2016: Crane #7-14, with #4-13, departed St. Marks NWR March 22 and arrived home in Marquette County, Wisconsin on March 28. They later moved to White River Marsh (the training marsh for their first migration south with aircraft leaders) in Green Lake County, WI, but in June moved back to their Marquette County territoryThe pair spent the summer there.

Fall 2016: She was last seen September 30 after which, her mate (#4-13) re-paired with another female. The WCEP team suspects #7-14 may be dead, but no carcass has been found in the area so it cannot be confirmed. 

Crane #7-14 was removed from the population totals in November 2017. Her remains were never located but her PTT device indicated she was in Marquette County, WI when predated.

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Crane #8-14 

Gender: Female
Hatch Date: May 19, 2014
Legbands: Left: green/white (PTT) Right: red/green

Personality and Training:  Crane chick #8-14 hatched May 19. At 6 days of age, she was led out to see the trike (the tiny aircraft without its wing) for the first time.

 


This photo, taken June 13, 2014, shows the three youngest chicks in the Class of 2014. (Chick #8’s leg band is light blue.) How old is chick #8 here?

This photo, taken July 7, 2014, shows how much chick #8 has changed since hatching! It was taken on her last day at Patuxent WRC in Maryland. The next day she would be transported to Wisconsin, her new summer home, for “Flight School.”

She wasn’t so confident once she was in Wisconsin for Flight School: On July 11, the day the chicks saw the large wing attached to the aircraft for the very first time, she was the only one who had to be coaxed out of the enclosure and onto the training strip to join her flock mates in chasing after the plane. But July 12, she joined in like a pro as all seven chicks toddled and hopped behind the plane as it taxied down the grassy strip. But then she developed the habit of being shy of the gate and needed to be coaxed out of the chicks’ enclosure (along with chick #10). The team hopes she gives up this habit!

August 9-10, 2014: For the very first time, the Class of 2014 flew for over two minutes with the aircraft! GO, CHICKS! (photo – Ruth Peterson)

Despite the downtime due to recent poor weather, all the girls did great flying with the aircraft, logging over 15 minutes of air time by the week of August 25!

But #8 is a little more easily enticed than #7 when it comes time to leave the wet pen. She may come right up to the “costume” that has grapes to give out! Like #8, she is fairly solitary and independent and prefers to be left alone. She’s a good flyer!

October 6, 2014: Crane #8 is BIG. “She prefers grapes to cranberries and has reached the dominant stage where she will not accept a grape directly from the puppet. She’ll only eat it if you toss it on the ground, says Heather.

Fall 2014: Ultralight-Guided Migration South

October 10, 2014: Migration Day 1!  The six girls took off for their first migration stop. About 2 miles out, #8-14 got tired and dropped back, so Richard flew in so she could fly along his wing. She made it to the first stopover, four miles. Hooray!

October 11, 2014: Migration Day 2  Cranes #3-14 and #8-14 started off great, but the rest of the birds turned back. Instead of continuing the 14 miles to stop #2 with the two flying birds, the pilot turned back to Stopover #1 again and landed. The two were crated, along with #4-14, and driven to the second Stopover Site in Marquette County. Meanwhile, the other four turned back to their training site and had to be crated and driven. It was a long and disappointing day for the team!

October 16, 2014: Migration Day 7  After being grounded by wrong winds or rain for 5 days, the birds were eager to move on. All seven formed up as pilot Richard took off, but the air grew trashy as they rose upward. They must have said NO WAY and turned back to their pen to await a day with better flight conditions!

October 26, 2014: Migration Day 17  Finally a fly day! Whooping cranes #3-14 and #8-14 were the only ones to successfully fly the 28 miles to Columbia Co., Wisconsin in 42 minutes of flying. The other five had to be crated and driven to Stopover #3.

November 7, 2014: Migration Day 29  Today the team flew the birds in two separate shifts on a short 5-mile leg to an interim stop in Dane County, Wisconsin. Success! The best fliers, cranes #2, #3, #7 and #8, were in the first group. 

November 13, 2014: LEAP to TENNESSEE!  With no change in Wisconsin’s grim weather outlook, the team performed a first: They boxed up and transported this year’s group of cranes 600 miles by vehicle to start over again where the weather should be better. This is the longest segment of the migration route that will not be flown by the cranes since the initiation of this reintroduction in 2001. The birds were crated after sunset so the move could take place overnight, taking advantage of low light conditions, the least amount of traffic, and the time of day when the cranes would normally be roosting and less active. Cranes seldom eat or drink during the night so they were well hydrated and nourished before going to roost in their crates. The plan seems to have worked well. Upon release the next day, the happy birds ran right to a costumed Colleen for grape treats. The effects of not flying such a large section of the migration route are unknown, but the team is hopeful. Alas, the weather in Tennessee kept them grounded the first few days.

November 25, 2014: Migration Day 47  Hooray! Crane #8 and all the others except #4 and #10, who were held back because they drop out soon after take-off, flew 65 miles with Joe’s plane to Hardin County, TN.

November 26, 2014: Migration Day 48  Sixty-seven miles to Winston County, Alabama!

November 28, 2014: Migration Day 50  Thanks to 15 mph tailwinds, they were able to skip right over another stop this morning to fly a total of 111 miles. In the 2 hours and 7 minutes they were airborne, they climbed to 5200 feet altitude. Thrilling!

December 2, 2014: Migration Day 54  Forty-six miles to Lowndes County, Alabama—for all seven birds! The five following Joe had to work hard in headwinds and heat while #7 hogged the “sweet spot” and had an easy flight. Cranes #4 and #10 flew with Brooke’s plane on their first real flight of the migration.

December 3, 2014: Migration Day 55  Sixty-four miles to Pike County, ALABAMA! During the flight, the pilots noticed #8 was missing two or three primary feathers on her left side. She was panting from the warmer air but she moved to Joe’s left wing so she was getting lots of benefit from the wing’s air current. But it was not long until #7-14 moved over and stole that sweet spot from #8. Even though #7 made #8’s flight harder, everyone made it safely.

December 9, 2014: Migration Day 61  All seven cranes flew again this morning, covering 117 miles and crossing Georgia! 

December 10, 2014: Migration Day 62  Another good day! All seven cranes flew 33 miles to Leon County, FLORIDA in 47 minutes. They flew just shy of 2,000 feet altitude at a ground speed of 51 mph, thanks to a nice tailwind. Only 28 miles to go!

December 11, 2014: Migration Day 63  This morning after a 28-mile flight lasting 50 minutes, the seven 7-month-old Whooping Cranes landed for the first time on their new winter home at St. Marks NWR in Florida! Soon they can be truly wild cranes—flying free and wary of people and all things human. Team member Colleen and pilot Brooke Pennypacker will watch over the youngsters during the their first winter of freedom on the wintering grounds.

December 23, 2014: Freedom!  The cranes were released to freedom on the morning of Dec. 23. This is the first year they won’t have a final health check.

January 5, 2015:  Each bird was quickly caught one more time to get permanent legbands and tracking transmitters. 

Spring 2015: First Unaided Spring Migration North

Departed St. Marks with #5-12 and the other four remaining juveniles in the Class of 2014 on April 3! Everyone hopes these crane-kids, who have a gap in their knowledge of the migration route between Tennessee and Wisconsin due to being trucked most of the way, will stick with #5-12. He led them and stayed with them into northern Illinois but left them there on April 8 (map below).

While the youngsters stayed in that location due to stormy weather, Brooke and Colleen monitored them from a safe distance so as not to spook them. The cranes wandered when weather permitted, and landed at Union County, Kentucky—one of their migration stops on the journey south—in the week ending April 25. They seem to be restless and know they need to migrate, but can’t “find north.” The team decided it was time to help them get home.

May 4, 2015: The cranes were captured and driven by van to be released on their home “training ground” at White River Marsh in Wisconsin after they failed to find their way home on spring migration. Here, #8 (“Tiny Dancer” is likely showing her joy at being in familiar territory once more! With her are cranes #9 and #10.

On May 2, Brooke and Colleen captured 8, 9 and 10 (the other two got separated from them in stormy weather and weren’t immediately accessible). The birds were crated, driven during the night, and released on White River Marsh on May 4, 2015. HOME! The three were still together the end of May, in Columbia County and wandered a bit in the area.

Then, a surprising thing happened. Female #8-14 was often seen with females 9-14 and 10-14, and she was with them June 17 on the grass training strip at White River Marsh. They next bounced to Lake Winnebago near Oshkosh, Wisconsin. From there, young 8-14 headed south! By July 22 the Operation Migration team gets PTT data on her. They were astonished that by July 22 she had moved in Livingston County to a spot within a 1/4 mile of the team’s southward migration stop—which she has never visited! She spent about a month there and for several days was on the actual stopover location even though she did not visit there last fall on her first southward migration. Later that month she began heading north again and returned to Dodge County, Wisconsin, south of the Horicon marsh area. In early September moved SW to Dane County, WI.

Of all of the 2014 cohort, #8-14 definitely has logged the most air miles!

Fall 2015, First Unaided Fall Migration South: Eyes are on the Class of 2014 to see whether they will find their way south after missing large segments of their first journey south (see above). 

Fall 2015: A PTT signal from #8-14 placed her in Hamilton County, Tennessee in late November. On Nov. 29 a PTT signal showed her in Highlands County, FLORIDA! This is way south of St. Marks NWR, but the good news is that she definitely knows the way to Florida and will be able to navigate back to Wisconsin next spring. Well done!

Spring/Summer 2016: Female 8-14 finally started on April 7 from her wintering grounds near Highlands County, Florida. She flew about 190 miles to the northwest on day 1 of her journey north. By April 10, her location was in Warren County, Kentucky. She was back in Dane County, Wisconsin, by April 16. At the end of May, she surprised crane cam watchers when she flew back to White River Marsh ( the training marsh), where she sometimes interacted with male #5-12. She was still there in June, often by herself, but she was observed near or with with male #5-12 in July and August. WCEP team members hoped these two would find each other, pair up and stay together! They were together a short time, but female 8-14 paired with male 4-13 after he drove off the unlucky male #5-12.

Female #8-14 on the right with #5-12 (photo – Doug Pellerin)

New mates #4-13 and #8-14 (photo Heather Ray)

Fall 2016: At the end of October, female #8-14 was still with her newest mate, male #4-13, in Green Lake Co, WI.

On Nov. 6, young PR #30-16 joined them to say hello and take a flight together (see photo), but then left them to roost with his alloparents, the other resident pair in White River Marsh.

The new pair was still in Green Lake County, WI on Nov. 18 but on On November 25, they were confirmed on the wintering grounds at St. Marks NWR in Florida!

Spring 2017: March 6, 2017 brought good migration weather, and #8-14 and her new mate #4-13 left St. Marks NWR on their northward migration! PTT hits put her in Lowndes County, GA on the same day. Her remains were collected on March 26th and the cause of death is not yet determined.

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Crane #9-14

Gender: Female
Hatch Date: May 19, 2014
Legbands: Left: red/green Right: red/green/white

Personality and Training:  Crane chick #9-14 has a little sister (#10-14) in the Class of 2014. She was timid from the start, reluctant to exit her pen and enter the “Big World.” On May 26 Brooke was sure she would be ready, But no! On May 30, still no. It was like she was yelling, “No way, Jose!” When she finally did follow the costumed Brooke out, it was not far and not long before she turned and ran in panic back to the pen. She had no trust. After a number of failed attempts to win her confidence, Brooke said, “I was ready to call Colonel Sanders to come make a pickup.” Then Sharon, another team member, offered to try.

Crane #9-14 needed a lot of comforting in her first days. That’s the job of the costumed handlers and the crane puppet. The little chick learns to trust. Then it can be trained to follow the costume and, next, the tiny aircraft that will teach it the migration route from Wisconsin to Florida.

Costumed up, out into the afternoon heat she went, working her magic on the scared little #9. Using meal worms and patience, she coaxed #9 out the gate, one long, slow, confidence-building step at a time. After a long, calm rest in the nurturing shade of a nearby tree, the little chick trusted Sharon enough to follow her back into her pen. Sharon’s magic held its power. After a couple of days, #9 was right back in the lineup. She handled long walks with no trouble. Next came Flight School in Wisconsin.


This photo, taken July 7, 2014, is how #9 looked on her last day in Maryland. The next day she would be flown to Wisconsin for Flight School with the other chicks in the Class of 2014. What changes do you see from her earlier photos?

September 16: Crane #9 was one of three cranes to get the new backpack transmitters used this year for the first time. This new way to track uses new technologies that make batteries last longer. “There are negatives to attaching anything to a free-flying bird, but the risk of injury is low, and there is a lot to be learned,” writes Joe Duff.

September 16, 2014: Crane #9 was one of three cranes to get the new backpack transmitters used this year for the first time. This new way to track uses new technologies that make batteries last longer. A signal Teflon ribbon wraps around the wings, holding the unit centered on the bird’s back where the ribbon is exposed to the sun and can get a better signal than a leg-mounted transmitter that spends most of the time submerged in marshy water. If one side of the harness is damaged, the entire unit falls off instead of dangling from the bird’s other wing.

On September 26, the backpack transmitters were removed from all three birds wearing them: #2, #7 and #9. The team observed that the backpack transmitters inhibited the cranes’ normal flight ability. The next day, all six cranes again flew just great, and for a duration of 20 minutes and 9 seconds. Go cranes!

Fall 2014: Ultralight-Guided Migration South

October 10, 2014: Migration Day 1!  The six girls took off for their first migration stop. After a couple of circuits, #9 dropped off and landed in front of the pen site, but she got another chance. Richard came in the new aircraft and with assistance from Swamp Monster (aka Jo-Anne wearing a scary, noisy tarp), convinced #9-14 that it was time to leave with Richard’s aircraft. She did, and flew over the public flyover site, with about 20 people silently cheering her on to the first stopover site, 4 miles away.

October 11, 2014: Migration Day 2  Cranes #2, #7, #9 and #10 took off but dismayed the team when they returned to their old White River Marsh training pen site instead of following the plane to Stopover #2. This has never happened in the team’s past 13 seasons of leading cranes on migration! All were put in crates and driven to stop #2 in Marquette County, Wisconsin: 14 miles.

October 16, 2014: Migration Day 7  After being grounded by wrong winds or rain for 5 days, the birds were eager to move on. All seven formed up as pilot Richard took off, but the air grew trashy as they rose upward. They must have said NO WAY and turned back to their pen to await a day with better flight conditions!

October 26, 2014: Migration Day 17  Finally a fly day! All seven took off, but cranes #3 and #8 were the only ones to successfully fly the 28 miles to Columbia County, Wisconsin in 42 minutes of flying. The other five that dropped out were crated and driven to Stopover #3. Maybe #9 is still a bit set back from the time she was wearing the backpack transmitter.

November 3, 2014: Migration Day 26  Crane #9-14 was last out of the pen on today’s take-off, but she followed Brooke’s plane a short time before turning back to land at the pen. All of the other birds also dropped out before any progress could be made. All were captured and crated back to their enclosure in Columbia County, Wisconsin.

November 7, 2014: Migration Day 29  Today the team flew the birds in two separate shifts on a short 5-mile leg to an interim stop in Dane County, Wisconsin. Success! The photo shows cranes #4, #9 and #10, who were in the second group. All few the distance with Richard to join their flockmates in Dane County, WI.

November 13, 2014: LEAP to TENNESSEE!  With no change in Wisconsin’s grim weather outlook, the team performed a first: They boxed up and transported this year’s group of cranes 600 miles by vehicle to start over again where the weather should be better. This is the longest segment of the migration route that will not be flown by the cranes since the initiation of this reintroduction in 2001. The birds were crated after sunset so the move could take place overnight, taking advantage of low light conditions, the least amount of traffic, and the time of day when the cranes would normally be roosting and less active. Cranes seldom eat or drink during the night so they were well hydrated and nourished before going to roost in their crates. The plan seems to have worked well. Upon release the next day, the happy birds ran right to a costumed Colleen for grape treats. The effects of not flying such a large section of the migration route are unknown, but the team is hopeful. Alas, the weather in Tennessee kept them grounded the first few days.

November 25, 2014: Migration Day 47  Hooray! Crane #9 and all the others except #4 and #10, who were held back because they drop out soon after take-off, flew 65 miles with Joe’s plane to Hardin County, TN.

November 26, 2014: Migration Day 48  Sixty-seven miles to Winston County, Alabama!

November 28, 2014: Migration Day 50  Thanks to 15 mph tailwinds, they were able to skip right over another stop this morning to fly a total of 111 miles. In the 2 hours and 7 minutes they were airborne, they climbed to 5200 feet altitude. Thrilling!

December 2, 2014: Migration Day 54  Forty-six miles to Lowndes County, Alabama—for all seven birds! The five following Joe had to work hard in headwinds and heat while #7 hogged the “sweet spot” and had an easy flight. Cranes #4 and #10 flew with Brooke’s plane on their first real flight of the migration.

December 3, 2014: Migration Day 55  Sixty-four miles to Pike County, ALABAMA! Again today, five flew with Joe and two with Brooke.

December 9, 2014: Migration Day 61  All seven cranes flew again this morning, covering 117 miles and crossing Georgia! 

December 10, 2014: Migration Day 62  Another good day! All seven cranes flew 33 miles to Leon County, FLORIDA in 47 minutes. They flew just shy of 2,000 feet altitude at a ground speed of 51 mph, thanks to a nice tailwind. Only 28 miles to go!

December 11, 2014: Migration Day 63  This morning after a 28-mile flight lasting 50 minutes, the seven 7-month-old Whooping Cranes landed for the first time on their new winter home at St. Marks NWR in Florida! Soon they can be truly wild cranes—flying free and wary of people and all things human. Team member Colleen and pilot Brooke Pennypacker will watch over the youngsters during the their first winter of freedom on the wintering grounds.

December 23, 2014: Freedom!  The cranes were released to freedom on the morning of Dec. 23. This is the first year they won’t have a final health check.

January 5, 2015:  Each bird was quickly caught one more time to get permanent legbands and tracking transmitters. 

Spring 2015: First Unaided Spring Migration North 

Departed St. Marks with #5-12 and the other four remaining juveniles in the Class of 2014 on April 3! Everyone hopes these crane-kids, who have a gap in their knowledge of the migration route between Tennessee and Wisconsin due to being trucked most of the way, will stick with #5-12. He led them and stayed with them into northern Illinois but left them there on April 8. 

While the youngsters stayed in that location due to stormy weather, Brooke and Colleen monitored them from a safe distance so as not to spook them. They wandered when weather permitted, and landed at Union County, Kentucky—one of their migration stops on the journey south—week ending April 25. They seem to be restless and know they need to migrate, but can’t “find north.” The team decided it was time to help them get home.

May 2, 2015: The cranes were captured and kept overnight in their old travel pen. The next night they were driven by van to be released early the next morning on their home “training ground” at White River Marsh in Wisconsin. The young birds had failed to find their way home on spring migration after their “leader” left them in unfamiliar territory. Here, #9 shows off her white plumage and the beginnings of her red crown.

On May 2, Brooke and Colleen captured #8, #9 and #10 (the other two got separated from them in stormy weather and weren’t immediately accessible). The birds were crated, driven during the night, and released on White River Marsh on May 4, 2015. HOME! The three were still together the end of May, in Columbia County.

Fall 2015, First Unaided Fall Migration South:  Eyes are especially on the Class of 2014 to see whether they will find their way south after they were trucked nearly half of their first journey south, missing the route knowledge they would have gained from flight (see above).

Crane #9-14 made it to St. Mark NWR in Florida by November 17th! She arrived with Whooping crane #5-12 and they were spotted at a favorite small pond a short distance from the pen where the Class of 2015 will spend the winter after they complete their aircraft-led migration.

Crane #9-14 (older by two days than her sister to 10-14, who died January 1st, 2016), died at the end of January, 2016. Tracks in the area indicate a bobcat was the culprit in both cases.

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Crane #10-14 

Gender: Female
Hatch Date: May 21, 2014
Legbands: Left: red/white (PTT) Right: red/green

Personality and Training: Crane chick #10-14 is the youngest in the Class of 2014 cohort. She is a full sister to chick #9-14.

At first, all the chicks got along well with each other except for #10-14. At the end of June, Geoff wrote: “She’s a bird who loves her space more than life itself, and any bird who’s in her three-foot bubble is in for a bad time. She’ll peck or chase them out of her comfort zone.” Luckily, she’s fine once the others get away from her. She has a lot to be sunny about, as her tough attitude has landed her the top spot in the pecking order. The chicks do their best to stay out of her way. It’s a challenge when another chick wants some food at a feeder, or wants to get near to “the costume,” which #10 loves with all her heart!

Crane 10 is 12 days old here. Every morning Geoff coaxes each bird out of its pen and onto a scale with a meal worm or two, which means he has to weigh each bird twice — before it eats the meal worm, then right after. Geoff feeds the information into a giant mainframe computer which calculates the all-important percentage of weight gain or loss in the last 24 hours. If a chick is gaining weight too fast, it gets more walks or swims (or both) to burn off the calories. If it is not gaining weight, it gets more feeding sessions and less exercise.

This photo, taken July 7, 2014, shows chick #10. How old is she here? What do you notice about her in this photo?

Guess which chick was first to step onto Wisconsin soil when the chicks were transported to their flight school training grounds at White River Marsh, Wisconsin? Yes, it was #10! This bossy girl is the top chick in the pecking order, and by now it is clear she won’t win any “Miss Congeniality” award! (photo – Tom Schultz)

In flight school in Wisconsin, chick #10 was shy of the gate and had to be coaxed out of the chicks’ enclosure. After she’s out onto the runway, she also has a bad habit of heading off into the field on her own. “Baaaaad girl! (and still not the most sociable),” said Heather at Operation Migration.

By July, many CraneCam watchers nicknamed #10 “Marsha” because she hardly ever came out of the pen without being coerced out, and then she’d head into the marsh to poke around for food! But as the middle of August neared, she suddenly was an entirely different crane. She started coming out of the pen just late enough to be fashionable– and then followed the small aircraft as it fired down the training strip and into the AIR! The first time, she actually flew two full minutes—and what a thrill for the team to see. Will this girl-bird turn out to be a great flyer and follower after all?

August 19, 2014: Chick #10 stretches her wings, showing how much they’ve grown. The chicks are getting more of their white (adult feathers to replace the rusty feathers of their baby days. The black wing-tip feathers are very strong, and essential for flight. Cranes #9 and #7 are in the foreground of this photo, taken in their large enclosure. (photo – Tom Schultz)

Chick #10 has discovered the joy of flight. Now she is eager to come out of the pen and fly with the ultralight. Each day this youngest chick becomes a better flyer! (photo – Deb Johnson)

Migration departure is just over a month away, and the chicks are doing better each day. By August 18, #10 had gone from being the “problem child” to eagerly exiting the pen and flying well with the trike!

By the week of August 25, all the girls did great flying with the aircraft, logging over 15 minutes of air time despite the downtime due to recent poor weather.

Crane #10 likes to hold out on the runway after training and needs to be coerced into returning to the pen. The team is thankful that she has stopped her habit of dropping off into the marsh, earning her the nickname “Marsha.”

Fall 2014: Ultralight-Guided Migration South

October 10, 2014: Migration Day 1!  The six girls took off for their first migration stop. Crane #3 flew the distance to Stopover #1: four miles.

October 11, 2014: Migration Day 2  Cranes #2, #7, #9 and #10 took off but dismayed the team when they returned to their old White River Marsh training pensite instead of following the plane to Stopover #2. This has never happened in the team’s past 13 seasons of leading cranes on migration! All were put in crates and driven to stop #2 in Marquette County, Wisconsin: 14 miles.

October 16, 2014: Migration Day 7  After being grounded by wrong winds or rain for 5 days, the birds were eager to move on. All seven formed up as pilot Richard took off, but the air grew trashy as they rose upward. They must have said NO WAY and turned back to their pen to await a day with better flight conditions!

#10-14 and #4-14 drop out

October 26, 2014: Migration Day 17  Finally a fly day! Cranes #10, #3 and #8 were off to a good start, but #10 later dropped out. She was probably distracted by the other four cranes who had dropped out. Those five birds were crated and driven Stopover #3 in Columbia County, Wisconsin, while #3 and #8 flew the whole 28 miles.

November 3, 2014: Migration Day 26  It was a great take-off for all seven birds, but it didn’t last. One-by-one they all dropped out. 

November 7, 2014: Migration Day 29  Today the team flew the birds in two separate shifts on a short 5-mile leg to an interim stop in Dane County, Wisconsin. Success! 

November 13, 2014: LEAP to TENNESSEE!  With no change in Wisconsin’s grim weather outlook, the team performed a first: They boxed up and transported this year’s group of cranes 600 miles by vehicle to start over again where the weather should be better. This is the longest segment of the migration route that will not be flown by the cranes since the initiation of this reintroduction in 2001. The birds were crated after sunset so the move could take place overnight, taking advantage of low light conditions, the least amount of traffic, and the time of day when the cranes would normally be roosting and less active. Cranes seldom eat or drink during the night so they were well hydrated and nourished before going to roost in their crates. The plan seems to have worked well. Upon release the next day, the happy birds ran right to a costumed Colleen for grape treats. The effects of not flying such a large section of the migration route are unknown, but the team is hopeful. Alas, the weather in Tennessee kept them grounded the first few days.

November 25, 26, and 28, 2014: Migration Days 47, 48, and 50  Cranes #10 and #4 were held back on these three flights. They were slipped into their crates before the aircraft arrived to take off with the others. They were driven while the others flew. Without #4 and #10 to lead them in dropping out, the other five flew with no problems at all. All seven birds were reunited again at the new stopovers.

Cranes #10 and #4 were held back because they’ve dropped out of the flights leading the other birds with them. It’s not their fault: Crane 10 learned the wrong lesson after weeks of not flying due to all the bad-weather days in the north. 

The team still hopes to include these two birds, one at a time, in hopes it learns by example and falls into line with the others. They also hope that the five good followers have regained their lost loyalty to the plane and will be less inclined to follow one dropout bird if the lesson doesn’t take on the first try.

December 2, 2014: Migration Day 54  Hooray! Cranes #10 and #4 got the chance to take off and fly today’s segment of the migration route. They flawlessly flew all 46 miles to Lowndes County, Alabama. Finally, this was their first real flight of the migration. Both birds are back in the game!

December 3, 2014: Migration Day 55  Sixty-four miles to Pike County, ALABAMA! It was a warm day with some headwinds, which would take their toll on the birds. The team debated releasing all seven together but felt that #4 and #10 would lose the battle for the lead to the five that have now found their own order in the air. That means #4 and #10 would be at the back of the line where they would have to work the hardest. So again today, these two took off with Brooke and had his plane all to themselves as they flew the distance!

December 9, 2014: Migration Day 61  All seven cranes flew again this morning, covering 117 miles and crossing Georgia! 

December 10, 2014: Migration Day 62  Another good day! All seven cranes flew 33 miles to Leon County, FLORIDA in 47 minutes. They flew just shy of 2,000 feet altitude at a ground speed of 51 mph, thanks to a nice tailwind. Only 28 miles to go!

December 11, 2014: Migration Day 63  This morning after a 28-mile flight lasting 50 minutes, the seven 7-month-old Whooping Cranes landed for the first time on their new winter home at St. Marks NWR in Florida! Soon they can be truly wild cranes—flying free and wary of people and all things human. Team member Colleen and pilot Brooke Pennypacker will watch over the youngsters during the their first winter of freedom on the wintering grounds.

December 23, 2014: Freedom!  The cranes were released to freedom on the morning of Dec. 23. This is the first year they won’t have a final health check.

January 5, 2015:  Each bird was quickly caught one more time to get permanent legbands and tracking transmitters. 

March 5, 2015:  Brooke reports that the Class of 2014 appear to be getting a bit antsy; they’ve been dancing more frequently. He also said that warming temperatures are bringing all kinds of tasty critters to the surface so the chicks are having fun probing in the mud. When will they begin their first journey north?

Spring 2015, First Unaided Spring Migration North:  Departed St. Marks with #5-12 and the other four remaining juveniles in the Class of 2014 on April 3! Everyone hopes these crane-kids, who have a gap in their knowledge of the migration route between Tennessee and Wisconsin due to being trucked most of the way, will stick with #5-12. He led them and stayed with them into northern Illinois but left them there on April 8 (click on map). While the youngsters stayed in that location due to stormy weather, Brooke and Colleen monitored them from a safe distance so as not to spook them. They wandered when weather permitted, and landed at Union County, Kentucky—one of their migration stops on the journey south—week ending April 25. They seem to be restless and know they need to migrate, but can’t “find north.” The team decided it was time to help them get home.

On May 2, Brooke and Colleen captured #8, #9 and #10 (the other two got separated from them in stormy weather and weren’t immediately accessible). The three birds were crated, driven during the night, and released on White River Marsh on May 4, 2015. HOME! Their “summer pals” group consisted of three males:#4-12, 5-12 and 4-14 (Peanut) and three females: 3-14, 9-14 and 10-14. They often visited the White River Marsh training site where the Class of 2015 was training for their fall migration with the ultralight aircraft.

May 4, 2015: Cranes #8, #9, and #10 stood briefly on the grass training strip on White River Marsh before taking flight. They had just been just released from their crates after being captured and driven all night to reach Wisconsin. The five young cranes failed to find their way from Illinois to Wisconsin after their “leader” #5-12 left them to complete migration on his own. The other two (#3 and #4) were inaccessible for capture, but will (we hope) be captured in a few days and then driven “home” to join their flock mates again.

On Nov. 6, sub-adult female #3-14’s satellite transmitter showed that she was on the move. On Nov. 12 her transmitter placed her in Christian County, Kentucky. By late November, she and female #10-14 were in Jenkins County, Georgia. Late on Dec. 8, cranes #3-14 and #10-14 (still with males #4-12 and #4-14, or “Peanut”) arrived at St. Marks NWR in Florida! These four late arrivals had been blown east into east-central Georgia in mid-November and made one foray to McIntosh County, GA on the Atlantic coast. Very soon after that, they returned north to Jenkins County. On Dec. 8, a hit came in for #3-14, placing her near Live Oak, FL, about 80 miles east of St. Marks. Hooray! Every crane in the Class of 2014 has now made it to their Florida winter home!

January 1, 2016:  Sad news indeed. The remains of #10-14 were discovered near the winter pen (still awaiting arrival of the Class of 2015) on the first day of the new year. Just as in her days of training with her ultralight-led cohort, she continued to occasionally wander away from the group of cranes she had been associating with. That means fewer eyes watching for predators, which exist everywhere. Her remains will be sent to the National Wildlife Health Lab in Madison, WI for necropsy but bobcat predation is suspected.

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Group Three – Wild-Hatched Whooping Cranes

Group 3 chicks are wild-born. Their parents raise them and teach them to migrate. This is the natural way cranes learn to migrate. One day, this flock will be large enough for wild-born parents to take over. Then human-assisted migration will no longer be needed.

A total of 13 chicks hatched to wild pairs in Wisconsin this summer. Only W3-14 survived to fledge and complete fall migration. She was killed by a Wisconsin predator in April 2015, after completing her first spring migration.

Crane #W3-14

Photo – Kelli Brockman-Dempze

Gender: Female
Hatch Date: May 11, 2014
Legbands: Left: white/red/green Right: red/green

Personality and Training: Crane chick #W3-14 hatched in the wild in Wisconsin to parents #12-02 and #19-04. The parents did a good job protecting their chick, who will not learn to fly until about age 70 days.

On August 12, pilot Bev Paulan and ICF tracking manager Eva Szyszkoski confirmed that W3-14 had fledged! A chick’s fledging is a milestone of survival to celebrate.

 

September 14, 2014: Crane #W3-14 was successfully captured and banded. Eva, the ICF bander, said, “We got them BOTH at once! Dad #12-02 was so angry with us that I was able to hook him around the neck as I was holding onto the chick and coworker Andy was right there to get him under control.” The youngster will be led on migration without mother, female #19-04, who went missing in late August and is now presumed dead. Eva thinks the young chick is a female, and that turned out to be correct. The young female remained with her father #12-02 as autumn arrived.

On September 14, Crane #W3-14 was successfully captured and banded, in plenty of time before fall migration. (photo – Eva Szyszkoski, ICF)

On August 13, Crane #W3-14 was seen in flight with parents #12-02 and #19-04. Wisconsin DNR pilot Bev Paulan, formerly with Operation Migration, snapped this photo of the thrilling discovery that the chick has safely fledged. How many days old is W3-14 in this photo?

Fall 2014, First Migration South: W3 and her father, #12-02, were still on territory in Wood County on October 16th. They began migration soon after and were reported in the father’s wintering territory in Greene County, Indiana, by October 22! She remained there with her father until moving south to Lawrence County, Alabama, in early January with her father and #29-09, #19-10 DAR and #4-11. The whole group left Lawrence County, Alabama, and returned to Greene County, Indiana, on February 7, 2015. They remained there through at least March 25 when she was observed with female #7-12. She was not detected at this location during a check on March 29. (Her father, #12-02, had begun migration with female #4-11 on March 18-21 and was already back on his Wisconsin summer territory.)

Spring 2015: Number W3-14 successfully migrated back to Necedah NWR but on April 22 her heavily scavenged and scattered remains were found on the refuge during a survey flight. She had last been observed alive on April 14.

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Group Four – Parent-Reared Whooping Cranes

Group 4 chicks are captive-born, reared by adult “parents” in the captive breeding flock, and each released in fall near a wild crane pair without chicks in hopes the pair will adopt the youngster and lead it on migration. This is the second year for this part of the Whooping Crane reintroduction program. Parent-reared birds are released in Wisconsin before fall migration 2014.


Crane #19-14  

Gender: Female
Legbands: white (PTT); red/green

Parent-reared #19-14 was released near adult pair #9-05 / #13-03 on September 23, 2014. She remained with the pair through at least September 25th but was not located with the adults by the evening of September 26th. Instead, she successfully migrated with adult pair #7-07 and #39-07 DAR to their wintering territory in Georgia. The new family arrived November 23, 2014 and remained together at their wintering location in Lowndes County, Georgia, until starting migration north on March 7th-8th, 2015. She later completed migration to Necedah NWR.

Fall 2015: #19-14 migrated to Knox County, Indiana, and spent the winter with male #29-08.

Spring 2016: Returned to Wisconsin by March 30th. In the summer she began associating with male #12-05. 

Fall 2016: Migrated to Gibson County and Knox County, IN with male #12-05.

Spring 2017: Returned with mate #12-15 and the pair nested but the nest failed. 

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Crane #20-14

Gender: Female
Legbands: Left: red/green Right: white/green (PTT)

Parent-reared #20-14 was released near adult pair #10-03 and #34-09 on 22 September 2014. She stayed with them several days but later joined pair #9-05 and #13-03 and migrated with them to Greene County, Indiana.

Spring 2015: She was in Jackson County, Alabama, presumably still with pair #9-05 and #13-03, until beginning migration on March 7 or 8, 2015. The family of three completed migration to Necedah NWR in Wisconsin on March 19.

Fall 2015, Spring 2016: She migrated again in fall and returned in spring 2016, where she associated with male #11-09.

Fall 2016: As of Dec. 4, 2016, she was seen in Juneau County, WI with male #37-07 DAR but the pair then migrated to wintering grounds in Jackson County, Alabama.

Spring 2017: She and mate #37-07 DAR returned to Juneau County, WI in spring 2017, built a nest (she is only three years old!) and became parents on June 8 to #W15-17, the first chick hatched to a parent-reared Whooping Crane!

#W15-17 with parents #20-14 and 37-07 DAR.

Chick W15-17 was still alive and well as of July 6 but sadly, 3-year-old mother #20-14’s predated remains were found on July 3, 2017.

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Crane #21-14  

Gender: Female
Legbands: white/red (PTT); red/green

Parent-reared #21-14 was released near an adult pair Sept. 22 but wandered and could not be located during an aerial survey on September 30. Location unknown as of Oct. 3. Found dead Oct. 8, 2014, before her first migration.

 

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Crane #27-14

Gender: Female
Legbands: red/green; green/white (PTT)

Parent-reared #21-14 was released near adult pair #25-09 / #2-04 on September 22, 2014 and migrated with them in November to Hopkins County, Kentucky. They stayed until March 23rd. 

Spring 2015: With the adult pair, she completed migration to Necedah NWR in Wisconsin on March 31st and she was on her own shortly after. She wandered up to Minnesota and then back to Dodge County, WI, where she remained, and was spotted as late as November 25, 2015.

Spring 2016: PR female #27-14 and male #14-12 were seen associating frequently in LaPorte County, IN in March 2016, and in April the two were reported together near Grand Rapids, Michigan, so he is taking her on his usual spring detours. She made it back to Marathon County, WI, where she associated all summer 2016 with #65-15 DAR, also returned from Michigan. From early June until September 2016 the two remained in Marathon County, WI, but moved around a bit to nearby counties. 

Fall 2016: Migrated in late November 2016, stopping at Jasper County, IN before continuing to Wheeler NWR in Morgan County, AL, for the winter. 

Spring 2017: She began northward migration with #65-15 DAR by the end of February. She returned in late March to Marquette County, WI, where she was sometimes spotted with male #10-11. 

Fall 2017: Female #27-14 and her new mate male #10-11 stayed in a large marsh in Marquette County, WI for the entire spring, summer and most of the fall. They were selected as a target pair to release some Parent-Reared Whooping cranes with. Youngsters 26-17 and 28-17 were released close to this pair in late September but a bond never formed. The young male #28-17 left within two days and ventured out on his own. He is the only crane that does not have a remote tracking device.

The female PR #26-17 actually formed a bond with two male cranes: #’s 4-14 (Peanut) and 11-15. She left on migration in the middle of November and the team is awaiting visual confirmation to see if she is still with these two.

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