Regular Field Journal readers may recall last July we told the story of the male Whooping crane Levi; formerly known as number 5-01. This crane and six others comprised the small cohort that became the first Whooping cranes in the Eastern Migratory Population back in 2001.

You can click here to read about Levi and his captive love Peepers but we also wanted to bring you a brief update, which we became aware of yesterday. On June 5th the Friends of Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park posted a photo on their Facebook page showing Peepers standing on a nest she and Levi had constructed from materials they had at their disposal. Considering the limited supply of grasses and branches the nest didn’t look that bad!

Yesterday a photo was posted showing Peepers standing on the nest platform and beside her is an egg! Time will tell if it is viable and we do not know whether it will be left with the pair or brought into captivity to be hatched but it is exciting news nonetheless.

If/when we receive further news, we will let you know.

The Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is located at: 4150 Rt 19
Homosassa, Florida 34446.

Visit their website to learn more about the park but if you’re in the area, be sure to stop by!


Yesterday was a big day for the class of 2012!  After weeks of grueling preparations and pen repairs, the White Series pens are finally completed. This will allow us to spend more time socializing them outside of training sessions — the final step before their big flight to Wisconsin.  All seven of the remaining candidates for the ultralight project were all walked out to the White Series pens yesterday.  Chicks 4-12 through 7-12 were in one pen, 10-12 through 12-12 were in the pen next door.  Sadly, the invitation was not extended to 9-12 as she was cut from the program earlier this week due to bad behavior.  With any luck, she’ll have a better grip on her temper by the time she’s shipped off to Louisiana.

Since this is a mellow bunch of birds, we figured we had nothing to worry about and I’m happy to say that we didn’t.  Both groups of birds interacted with each other wonderfully with no signs of aggression or any one bird getting picked on.  Of course, these birds have been walked and trained together for several days now, so it’d be a bigger surprise if one of them all of a sudden decided to get in touch with their inner psychopath.

Unfortunately, by the time I arrived on the scene, some adult birds in the adjacent Silver Series started alarm calling. It was enough to send shivers down the spines of the three younger birds, so they had to be taken in around noon.  A few of the four older birds were a little anxious, but did their level best to go about their business.

Number 4-12, the big brother of the bunch, never lost his cool.  All through the afternoon, he was off on his own, grubbing or hitting the feeders like he’d been the in the White Series every day of his life.  He didn’t interact much with the other birds but quickly established his spot in the pecking order and since he’s one of the older, bigger birds, it’s only natural he does.

Same goes for 5-12.  He and 7-12 had a few stare-downs, all of which ended in 5-12’s favor.  Like 4-12, he adapted pretty well to the White Series but unlike 4-12, he’d rather bond with the costume than forage on his own.  He was one of my more frequent visitors while I was out in the pen spending time with them. It wasn’t unusual to see him toying with my sleeves or tugging on any loose ends he could find.

Chick 6-12 wasn’t quite in her element this afternoon.  While I’d be exaggerating if I said she was a basket case, she did pace the fence more than any of the others. Plus, she never quite stopped peeping after the adults alarm called but she wasn’t so petrified that she didn’t grub around or take a swim or two in the footbath.  Seeing her sit down in that black plastic tub and flap around in the water made my afternoon and to help take her mind off her worries, I led her and the other three birds on a walk around the pen.  She started grubbing and bathing right after we were done.

Number 7-12, our other little sister, seemed a bit antsy too but not as much as #6-12 was.  I’m suspecting it was because she had a security blanket out in the pen with her… Me.  She and 5-12 did their best to make sure I wasn’t feeling lonely. It’s always funny to see their big, wide curious eyes staring into my visor just before they take a few curious jabs at it, hoping to make sense of the mystery that is the costume.  Unfortunately for her, she has sort of inherited the bottom of the pecking order.  I’m afraid 4-12 and 5-12 insisted.  But I’m sure that’ll change once we bring the 10-12 and 12-12 crowd into the picture.  Then again #12-12 has a bit of Napoleon and spark to her that should not be underestimated. Just ask #10-12.

We don’t know who the other bird we’re going to have to cut will be.  A week ago, I would’ve said it was 6-12.  I was worried that with her dwindling attention span and her non-interest in the costume, she and OM would have to part ways come the 22nd.  She has since changed her tune and is much better at following and responding to the costume. Every bit as well as some of our older birds so she isn’t out of the game just yet.  We won’t make our final cut until it gets closer to shipping day.  Until then, I’m hoping #6-12 keeps up the good work and earns her seat/crate to Wisconsin.


Chick #7-12 (left) and #5-12

Chicks 4-12 through 7-12 spend time in one of the large outdoor white series pens.

Chicks 4-12 through 7-12 spend time in one of the large outdoor white series pens.


Article from Northern Journal, Fort Smith, NT Canada
By CHRIS TALBOT, Northern Journal Reporter, • Tue, Jun 05, 2012

The whooping crane recently shot in South Dakota may be one of the famous Lobstick cranes that nest north of Wood Buffalo National Park, according to a Fort Smith man.

Ronnie Schaefer, who has observed the cranes for many years, told Northern Journal he believes the crane shot en route to Canada is one of the Lobstick pair. The pair has made the Fox Hole prairie on Salt River First Nation land home for 19 years, usually arriving in the first two weeks of May. They have not arrived yet.

Another reason Schaefer believes it may be one of the Lobstick birds is because they are not tagged. Although not confirmed, it is believed by Parks Canada that the crane shot in South Dakota was likewise not tagged. Schaefer said he is trying to clarify that, but so far, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which is investigating the shooting, has been tight-lipped about the case.

Brad Merrill, a spokesperson for FWS Mountain-Prairie Region, said it is FWS policy not to discuss cases still under investigation. He did confirm that the crane was travelling with another adult and a juvenile, both of which were seen in the same corn field where the shooting occurred. What happened to the other cranes is unknown.

“It’s a big loss for us because they’re a recognized pair from here to Aransas,” Schaefer said. The Fox Hole prairie is the traditional nesting ground for another pair of whooping cranes, which Schaefer said has already arrived and settled in. A new nesting pair has also settled in the area, but Schaefer noted it is not the Lobstick pair.

Others believe it is too early to tell for sure if the killed bird was indeed one of the famous cranes. “That would be really tough to deduce based on what we know,” Dan Alonzo, refuge manager at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, told The Journal.

Chester McConnell, trustee emeritus at the Whooping Crane Conservation Association, told The Journal it would be a great loss should the shot crane be one of the Lobstick pair.

“It would be, but I’m not certain (Schaefer) would be correct on that. I don’t know what information he has, but the cranes haven’t been long settling in and some of them would take a little while to settle into nesting,” McConnell said.

According to McConnell, whooping cranes do not all fly in and start building nests right away. Though their time to nest is short, they are known to “fool around.”

With only about 300 whooping cranes migrating between Wood Buffalo National Park and Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, the loss of any of the endangered birds is significant, Alonzo said. There are approximately 500 whooping cranes left in the world.

“It would be the equivalent to the loss of any other bird,” Alonzo said. “Any loss is significant. We want to do anything to deter that. The Lobstick or any other pair is just as important.”

One death of many

The shooting of the whooping crane in South Dakota is the latest in a dozen confirmed shootings of the species since 1951. Approximately 80 whooping cranes of the western migratory flock have also gone missing during that time, their fates unknown, McConnell said.

Cranes that do not die of natural causes are most likely to be killed flying into power lines or electrified fences, he said, but some people shoot the birds out of malice.

The eastern migratory and non-migratory Louisiana populations suffer even more from human predation. McConnell noted 11 cranes in the eastern and Louisiana populations have been shot in the last two years. Many of those cases are still unsolved. The most recent incident prior to the April 20 shooting in South Dakota was the January 2012 shooting of a male whooping crane in Knox County, Indiana. The crane was spotlighted and shot, according to FWS. Charges are pending against two men in their early twenties; Jason R. McCarter, 21, of Wheatland, and John C. Burke, 23, of Monroe City.

Ed. Note: More on the Lobstick Whooping cranes from Journey North and Tom Stehn:http://www.learner.org/jnorth/crane/spring2008/Update031408_Stehn.html

The Cut

In the game of life, not everybody makes the team, and one of the greatest “bummers” a kid can experience is to go out for a school athletic team, work his or her butt off every afternoon at practice, spending hours every night studying the playbook with dreams of making that big play that wins the championship game only to walk into the locker room one day and get pulled aside by the coach who delivers the news that he or she has been cut from the team. The coach’s speech is always the same, full of sugar-coated realities and atta boy/girl clichés; too slow, too small, not quite enough of this or that but be proud of the good try because all men (or women) are created equal… except when they’re not. The poor kid never hears any of this because his or her senses are completely numbed by the pain and disappointment it brings – the residue of which they carry with them for the rest of their lives.

Hard to say if whooper chicks react the same way. We sure hope not, because yesterday morning we had to give the speech to #9-12 and cut her from the ultralight team. It wasn’t that she didn’t try. I mean, she followed on walks as if on a leash, swam like Ester Williams, stuck to the trike like a piece of Velcro and was healthy as an Olympian. But she just couldn’t overcome millions of years of evolution and play nice with the other chicks. Just the sight of another chick would send her into a rage which only intensified as the encounter continued.

To our great frustration, none of the usual remedies were effective. But then it must be remembered that in the natural world, crane parents usually produce two eggs, hatch two chicks, with only one surviving to fledge. Sometimes one chick out competes the other for food and sometimes it’s even more sinister. Siblicide they call it – Just one more example of what a jungle it really is out there.

An example of how difficult it can be to socialize young Whooping cranes occurred four years ago in an incident with the now-infamous #10-08, who one evening in the enclosure at Necedah, went into a rage which resulted in the deaths of two other chicks and an injury to another so severe it had to be pulled from the project.  Number 10-08 was subsequently released with adult whoopers; made it to Florida but wound up in the belly of an alligator after picking one fight too many.

Fortunately for us, we have prepared for just such problem this year and have been training 8 birds, #4-#12, with the intention of picking the best six for the trip to Wisconsin. #9 will remain behind and allow time to mellow her aggression and will eventually join the Louisiana team as did our little #8 last year.

Who knows? Maybe they’ll meet, fall in love, and spend the rest of their lives together trying to control their aggressions…like most couples.

Meanwhile, we’ll continue training and socializing the remaining seven for the trip to Wisconsin…until the next “cut” takes place leaving us with the final six.


Reporter: Heather Ray Location: Main Office

Thanks to our friends at the Whooping Crane Conservation Association for the following great news and for their part in securing TWO critical habitat projects for the Wood Buffalo/Aransas population.

Endangered whooping cranes now have an additional 278 acres of habitat on which they can live during winter. The 278 acres involved two critical habitat acquisition projects for North America’s last naturally occurring flock of migratory whooping cranes, known as the Wood Buffalo-Aransas population.

In one project, three conservation groups partnered to purchase the privately-owned 178 acres in Holiday Beach area north of Rockport, Texas. Sale of the property closed last week. The endangered whooping crane flock spends the winter in the area and some have often been observed on this property. This important property purchase was coordinated by Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program, Whooping Crane Conservation Association and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Whooping Crane Conservation Association President Lorne Scott explained that wintering habitat in Texas is more confined and threatened than the Canadian breeding grounds. He also said, “The wintering habitat is so scarce and so unavailable, anything that does come up for sale and has potential, we try to secure it.”

Scott stated that the whooping crane has become a symbol of wildlife conservation in North America. He counseled that “The whooping crane saga has shown that after decades of work and partnerships, we can save a species and work for conservation.” Scott believes, “We have an obligation to make every effort to secure all our native flora and fauna.”

Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program (CBBEP) received the funds for the important 178 acre purchase through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Endangered Species Recovery Land Acquisition Grant Program, administered by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Matching funds were provided by the Whooping Crane Conservation Association. The Nature Conservancy assisted in the property purchase. CBBEP property manager Jake Herring said “The acquisition of this property is important to CBBEP because it is occupied whooping crane habitat.”

In a second project, The Nature Conservancy made known the protection of more than 100 additional acres of whooping crane winter habitat. With funding assistance from Whooping Crane Conservation Association and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Conservancy purchased a conservation easement on Falcon Point Ranch in Calhoun County, Texas. The Conservancy purchased the conservation easement for $605,000 with funding from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, a $200,000 grant from the Whooping Crane Conservation Association and funds from private donors and foundations.

Today scientists estimate that at least 10 percent of the remaining flock (approximately 25 – 30 birds) winters here. The topography of the property and its waterfront views on San Antonio Bay made it a prime target for development.

“The owners of Falcon Point Ranch have been working to conserve this property for more than five years,” said Bill Ball a representative of the ranch. “It is very exciting to see this important project come to fruition and to know that this truly special place will be protected.”

Ecologists worried that the development of the ranch would not only compromise important habitat on the property, it would compromise surrounding conservation lands as well, including properties the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) division of the USDA has protected within the last three years.

“NRCS is proud to be a part of this regional effort to protect and restore vital Texas wetlands, for not just the incredibly rare whooping crane but all wetland wildlife species,” said Claude Ross, NRCS Program Manager. “Working with the local landowners, NRCS has worked to protect and restore more than 11,000 acres of habitat in Welder Flats. The Nature Conservancy’s easement on Falcon Point Ranch will help safeguard those investments.”

“Limited and threatened wintering habitat on the Gulf Coast is one of the greatest challenges facing North America’s tallest birds, said Lorne Scott, president of Whooping Crane Conservation Association. “The WCCA congratulates The Nature Conservancy for leading efforts in securing the Falcon Point Ranch.”

The whooping crane population, which breeds in Canada and then migrates 2,400 miles south to the Texas Gulf Coast, declined from an estimated 1500 to just 15 birds between 1850 and 1945. Since then, cooperative conservation efforts between the U.S. and Canada have increased the population twentyfold. Today there are an estimated 300 wild cranes in North America that migrate between Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas to Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada.

“North America all but lost one of its most iconic species,” said Laura Huffman, state director of The Nature Conservancy in Texas. “Although the whooping crane is slowly rebounding, it is still a precarious situation given our state’s growing water challenges and projected growth. If we want our children and grandchildren to experience this majestic creature, conservation efforts to safeguard its habitat aren’t just important, they are absolutely essential.”
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“So…is it a boy or a girl?” is the question asked every expectant mother these days. Used to be the answer came from the doctor or nurse at birth. Not anymore – Thanks to the marvels of modern medicine and the fact the every American is born with the inalienable need-to-know, couples now begin fielding the question a year or so before they ever meet each other.

Here at Patuxent, we’re a bit more patient. It’s not that we aren’t curious which chicks are male and female. Most of us feel like we secretly already know. It’s just that once we find out, our work load increases exponentially due to the strict protocols passed years ago by Congress relating to the proper education of the sexes, which we must implement immediately.

For the males, we must change our vocalizers from the parent’s brood call to call of the whooper father saying “Yes, dear.” We must also add a daily additional training session teaching them to follow directions as well as how to look into the refrigerator and identify what is really in there as opposed to what they think is in there. Then comes the session where we force them to sit quietly and listen attentively to a puppet head while keeping their big mouths shut.

For the females, we’re forced to replace the meal worm treats with flowers and chocolates, and for the session where they practice walking in and out of the pen, we have to hold the door for them. All this takes time but it’s time well spent because experience has taught us that it’s the little things like these that makes a reintroduction project “self sustaining.”

And so when the genetic sexing results arrived and Jane posted them yesterday morning, our smiles grew so wide each of us had trouble getting his or her costume hood on. “Damn!” was all I could hear that little voice in my head exclaim. Most results are predictable but there’s always that one you just can’t believe. “Are they SURE about #8”? So our cohort for this year contains two males and four females, the kind of odds every male whooper dreams about and the first time we’ve had more females than males. This is especially good news because although we may not know which came first, the chicken or the egg, we can be pretty sure there was a female chicken in the equation somewhere.

Chick Gender Legband Hatch-date Source
4-12 M white 4/30/12 ICF
5-12 M yellow 4/30/12 PWRC
6-12 F blue 5/3/12 PWRC
7-12 F green 5/4/12 PWRC
9-12 F white 5/7/12 PWRC
10-12 F yellow 5/7/12 PWRC


Yesterday we received the following image and report confirming the group of four 1-yr. old Whooping cranes (3-11, 4-11, 5-11 and 6-11) in Green Lake County, WI on May 31st at 5:30pm. This location is less than 3-miles from where they took their first flights with our aircraft last summer.With no PTT information received for the only crane in the group with a PTT unit (#4-11), it’s difficult to determine where in the area they roosted. We have received three confirmed sightings for this group with the earliest reported at 5pm on May 30th and two reports the following day so they must have roosted in the area.

Photo credit: Lois Ballard

The other group of returning Class of 2011 cranes, consists of numbers 7-11 (PTT), 10-11 and 12-11. This group has been reported in neighboring Marquette County, WI over the past week, approximately 11 miles from their former pensite, and right on the migration route between the first and second stopovers.

As for the remaining three cranes in the Class of 2011: Number 2-11 is still in Adams County, WI, in an area where there are two adult pairs of Whooping cranes and several Sandhill cranes. Number 9-11 was last reported northeast of Minneapolis and the oldest of the Class, number 1-11 has not been reported since he was last seen departing the Wheeler NWR with the rest of his flockmates.

These sightings underscore the importance of the public reporting system as a valuable tool for monitoring crane locations, and we encourage people to continue to monitor and report such sightings. We do, however, also want to remind everyone that for the benefit of the cranes, it is best if you keep a respectable distance.

Approaching cranes too closely can result in birds becoming habituated to humans. Habituation, in turn, can put the cranes at risk from people who mean them harm. While such situations are uncommon, it is unfortunately a consideration we all must consider in light of recent shooting deaths in Indiana, Alabama, and Georgia.

WCEP asks anyone who encounters a whooping crane in the wild to please give them the respect and distance they need. If you’re on foot, do not approach the birds within 200 yards; if in a vehicle, remain inside the vehicle and at least 100 yards away. For reference, a football field is 120 yards long from goalpost to goalpost. Also, please remain concealed and do not speak loudly enough that the birds can hear you. Finally, do not trespass on private property in an attempt to view or photograph whooping cranes.

We also want to take this opportunity to remind people that do see whooping cranes and are interested in reporting them to use the Eastern U.S. whooping crane reporting site. We thank you for your help in tracking cranes and for your consideration in helping to promote the safety of these birds.


There are five captive breeding centers for Whooping cranes in North America and collectively they produce the eggs that are used by the release programs. In addition to those eggs there are a few collected from the abandoned nests of the adult cranes nesting in central Wisconsin.

Each Monday in May the captive flock managers gather via conference call to make their best guess about how many eggs their charges will lay. Counting your chickens before they hatch is an axiom originating from Aesop’s fables. It is used to warn against putting too much stock in the future. If you take the chicken axiom seriously you know that eggs don’t always result in chickens and chickens don’t always survive to go to market.

The same is true for Whooping cranes destined to be released into the wild. To make an educated guess you can predict that 75% of the eggs will hatch and 75% of those will reach the shipping age of 50 to 60 days.

All of this egg counting and second guessing is more critical this year because of low production. If you want to know why that happened you have to go back to guessing. In general it might have to do with the very early spring; or was it a very warm late winter, followed by a cool spring. On an individual basis the captive breeding centers had problems of their own. The Calgary Zoo has a very productive male that has taken to breaking eggs. This little understood behavior is not uncommon, but who knows why this well-experienced parent decided this year to destroy his own offspring before they hatched.

The International Crane Foundation lost a very productive female named O’Malley to mate aggression this spring. Patuxent had to do some unavoidable repair work to their facilities this past winter. Maybe moving the birds from pen-to-pen to avoid the construction had a negative effect on their breeding season.

Whatever the cause, it looks probable that there will only be 26 Whooping cranes available for release this year. With the Recovery Team deciding to split that number between the Louisiana non-migratory flock and WCEP, it means they will get 13 for their third release year. WCEP will divide the remaining 13, with the DAR method getting 7 for release at the Horicon Marsh and OM getting 6 to train with its aircraft at White River Marsh.

As you can imagine, we have been burning the late night candle trying to determine the impact of leading only 6 birds to Florida this year. We believe the maximum we could accommodate is 24 birds and we have always wanted to try a flock that large. We know from experience we can do it with 20; in fact that was one of our most successful migrations. Our request this year was for 18 with a minimum request of 12.  As the egg count predictions came in week after week, the Recovery Team dropped our minimum number to 11 and then WCEP dropped it to 10.

Operation Migration is a small, single-focus organization that was founded to use a unique method of reintroducing Whooping cranes in a migratory situation. Several attempts were made in the past and each added to the research. But the Ultralight method is the first to succeed in creating the basis of a migratory flock.

Our ambition is to see this through. To that end we have overcome every obstacle we have encountered. We convinced the US Federal government that ultralight pilots should be trusted with one of their most endangered species. We created a non-profit and helped found the Whooping Cranes Eastern Partnership. We designed migration routes based on historic evidence and then altered them to provide greater safety for both birds and aircraft. We developed training sites and raised all our funding with minimal government assistance. We have faced storms, headwinds, and cold temperatures, and even enlisted the help of the FAA who exempted us from certain rules in order to allow this project to continue.

Our goal is to establish a self-sustaining population and either we will do that or eventually, we will encounter an obstacle we simply cannot overcome.

Only 13 birds released this year in the Eastern flock is insufficient to even cover attrition and will be a major setback toward a self-sustaining population. But, it is not insurmountable. The new release sites outside the range of black flies look promising, as does the breeding season in the Necedah area so far. Six birds are six more than exist now, and six closer to full recovery.

Please leave your thoughts in the Guestbook or as a comment to this post on our Facebook page.


Legend has it that there were originally eleven Commandments and that the Eleventh ordered, “Though shalt answer to the Board.” Upon reading it, Moses shrugged his shoulders, looked to the heavens and asked, “What Board?” to which a booming voice from above replied “I don’t know. Just pick one.”

From that time to this, man has had to answer to a Board of one kind or another;
the carpenter….”Measure twice, cut once,”
the football team….”Home 7 – Visitors 0,”
the convict…”Grant me parole and I promise to play nice,”!
the chess master…”Checkmate,”
the corporate executive… “Yes, Mr. Chairman – Whatever you say, sir” and on and on.

Even us lowly wildlife technicians are not exempt, for here at Patuxent we too answer to a board. We begin each work day by standing before the large acetate board that hangs on the wall in the hallway of the chick building upon which the flow chart of the day’s labor is magic-markered by Sharon the night before.

It is the “Same Page” upon which each of our individual labors firmly rests. On it is listed each chick in the building, its pen number, its health situation, when it requires feeding, or medication or introduced to meal worms or given individual in-and-out the door practice.

Then there are three vertical lines listing each bird to be trained, and then walked, then swam and each of these is followed by a blank which is to be filled in with the time the job is completed. At the end of the day, around 8pm, all the blanks are filled in and birds and handlers are just that much closer to achieving the goal of successfully raising a new season’s flock of whoopers.

Our board is efficient, functional, and benevolent and it answers to us as much as we answer to it. All organizations should be so blessed.

So, whatever happened to the Eleventh Commandment and why are there now only ten? Well, legend has it that it was removed from the stone tablets by the Board. What Board you ask?… “I don’t know – Just pick one!”


The Center for Biological Diversity recently launched a groundbreaking report, On Time, On Target: How the Endangered Species Act Is Saving America’s Wildlife. The report is a powerful review of the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act.

The report provides an in-depth look at 110 protected species from all 50 states — from whales and sea turtles to foxes and whooping cranes — to determine how well the Act is working across the country. The results? 90 percent of the studied species are recovering, right on time to meet recovery goals set by federal scientists.

You can check out species in your area on this new interactive regional map of the 110 species.


Similar to last year the water levels at White River Marsh State Wildlife Area are fluctuating. Eight inches of rain caused flooding so extensive that it washed out the access road that the DNR created last year. It overpowered the culvert and eroded all the gravel and dirt creating a big gouge too deep to cross with a truck. Now they are experiencing a mini drought and high temperatures, which allowed the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to repair the access road but it also left the runway bone dry.

We hired Petrazack Excavation, a local contactor to smooth the runway and the Wildlife Area staff seeded it with rye grass and dragged it with a bar. Now we just need a little more rain to help in the germination process.

The raised roadway means that the birds in the wet pen can see us approach so we will have to put on our costumes farther from the pensite. We will also need a new, hidden access path to the observation blind but the Wildlife Area staff also did that for us. We can’t thank them enough for all the work they are doing to prepare for the arrival of the birds this year. We are looking forward to seeing them all again. I suspect we will be shipping the birds to Wisconsin sometime around June 20th to 25th. I will arrive a week or so earlier to get the pen ready but it looks like there won’t be much more for me to do and I am grateful for that.


I’m sure more than a few of you might be curious as to how much our birds have grown these past few days. Well by now, the youngest of our little clutch has learned to eat on his own and no longer needs any guidance from a lowly intern. Now, it’s just a matter getting them walked and getting them to follow that small yellow aircraft. Believe it or not, they’re only a month away from their big trip to Wisconsin!

Currently, chicklets #4-12 and 5-12 are being trained together, as are numbers 6-12 and 7-12, and 10-12 and 11-12. Number 12-12 is still being trained by himself. Every morning I ask how the birds do, he tells me they perform marvelously. That’s good news to me, especially with #10-12. Earlier this year, we were concerned that he may’ve had eye troubles, as he often acted like the puppet wasn’t there unless it was shown to him at just the right angle. But now it appears he was just off in la-la land in those moments, as he seems to follow and respond to the trike just fine. And Dr. Olsen hasn’t noticed any peculiarities with his eyes, so that’s one fear we can put behind us.

While I haven’t seen him do that so much anymore, it seems he’s picked up a new bad habit. From what Brooke tells me, there are some days where it feels like #6-12 is starting back at square one. And today was one of those days. I watched it unfold as I was weighing birds this morning.

As I led #5-12 onto the scale, I noticed Brooke leading #6-12 and #7-12 out toward the trike for a circle pen session. He would get only so far before one of the little birds would stop dead in its tracks and start to turn around, like he was scared. Brooke would go back and try to lead it again but almost as soon as he started to follow, he turned around and started to head back. This must’ve gone on five or six times. Eventually, Brooke gave up and trained #7-12 by himself (who was waiting patiently for #6-12 to join him) and then trained #6-12 later.

Even when he was training, Brooke says #6-12 had to be fed mealworms every step of the way in order for him to follow the aircraft. He’s at an age where he shouldn’t need mealworms to follow the trike. Sharon pointed out that last night was his first night outside, and it might’ve rattled him a little. How he does tomorrow remains to be seen. What bothers me and Brooke was that he’s had relapses like this before last week. I’m not sure what might’ve triggered it. But other mornings, he seems to do okay. Let’s just hope he got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning and the week before and this’ll be the end of it.

Now, you might’ve noticed that #9-12 isn’t being trained with anyone. Make no mistake, he’s getting trained. He’s just not training with anyone else right now. Why? Well, his attitude doesn’t lend itself to making fast friends. It’s not uncommon for Brooke to see this guy peck at other birds through the bars. I believe he’s even gone after one of the sandhills who is several days older and several inches taller than him!

If you remember last year, #8-11 had to give up his seat on the plane to Wisconsin simply because he wouldn’t play nice. We didn’t give up hope on the little thug. Patuxent was nice enough to try and socialize him with some of the Louisiana birds. Sure, he was making improvements but it always ended with him trying to take one of the other birds’ lunch money. Even when an opportunity came to ship him at a later date, we just couldn’t take the risk. Besides, as it turned out, 2011 had enough surprises for us.

Number 9-12 is already trying to pick up where he left off. Is he destined to walk the dark side as well? Not by a long shot. We hope his Angry Birds attitude goes away with age – If not, we can walk him with one of the older, bigger birds and let them knock him down a few pegs. Socializing him by himself in his own little pen in the white series while other birds get socialized together also serves as a nice little “time out”/dunce chair for him. We’ve got a month to help this guy get his act together. He’ll come around, just you wait and see.

Those are all the yarns I have to spin for this fine evening. I’ll be sure to weave a few more as they unfold. Film at eleven!


At the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland, Brooke and Geoff are conducting the early conditioning of the chicks and getting them familiar with the aircraft. The young cranes have been hearing a recording of the engine since they were still in the egg but the real thing is a little more intimidating.

This first close up introduction takes place outside in the circle pen. In this video Geoff is controlling the chick (#5-12) and distracting it with mealworms while the aircraft engine is started by Brooke, inside the circular enclosure. You can see a little nervousness but #5-12 soon calms down and becomes accustomed to the noisy monster machine that will eventually teach him to migrate.

It is hard to determine the exact cause of their behavior but it seems that they take cues from the parent or surrogate. If the parent doesn’t react and they can hear the calming brood call, they seem to adjust rapidly to new environments.

The next step is to move the aircraft forward slightly and that prompts a new round of nervousness. When the aircraft stops and the chick calms again, a few more meal worms are tapped out and the chick comes over to investigate. The process is repeated, moving around the pen until the chick is following after the aircraft.


The beginning of chick season at Patuxent could best be described by the great American philosopher and baseball player Yogi Berra when he said, “It’s like déjà vous all over again!” And it is. One day into chick season and you can’t tell if it’s this year, last year or the year before that. Same places, same faces, same pace and emotional journey….so familiar, in fact that it threatens to morph into the unfamiliar, like some timeless continuum in an episode of “Twilight Zone.” Could it be that Patuxent is a suburb of Shangri-La, the legendary city in “Lost Horizon” where time stands still, no one ages and your girlfriend can go to the Prom wearing the same dress she’s worn for the last two hundred years?

But once the chick season starting gun goes off, time for reflection comes to a screeching halt and things start to happen so fast that before long you feel like you’re in one of those old movies running just off stride, or two ahead of a steam roller. And you’re not alone because you’re running in a crowd made up of the “Usual Suspects,” migration veterans all, who’s names are familiar to readers of the OM Field Journal. Jane and Ali go off to check nests for eggs while Brian and Barb place newly hatched chicks in the brooder or ICU’s while Sharon and Geoff teach chicks to eat and drink while Charlie and Robert are busy walking or swimming chicks. All this while Glenn and Carlyn give the chicks their daily health exams catching any problems before they develop while Jonathan maintains the order of things. Like they say – It takes a village – even if the village must operate at warp speed.

The pace of activity quickly accelerates until it reaches the visual status of a blur. Yet embedded within it lies a calm, practiced and seamless choreography developed over the years and orchestrated by a deep sense of devotion seasoned with a large dose of urgency. All this can be attributed to the simple biological fact that the chicks come from the factory with a serious lack of patience as standard equipment. They need what they need and want what they want and they need and want it NOW! Why? Because millions of years of evolution have dictated that, in nature, they must be ready to migrate south with their parents in the fall or be left behind to perish and so there isn’t a minute to lose. Meanwhile, it’s like time lapse photography without the lapses or like “Chop Sticks” played on a piano at three in the morning by a left over hippie on methadrine while Mother Nature hovers nearby screaming at the top of her lungs, “Get’ er done!”

But even the walker on a treadmill set on hi-speed can from time to time mentally pause to watch the room go by and enjoy the wonder of it all while taking care not to be spit out the back end, for chick season is as much an adventure as it is a process, as deliciously rewarding as it is magical, an experience never to be forgotten while never to be fully understood. We wouldn’t miss it for the world. I’ll just hang on for dear life and try to enjoy the ride until chick season ends, which for Geoff and I will come on the day the chicks take that ride to the airport for the flight to Wisconsin and the beginning of their next beginning. Until then it’s “Back to the Future.”