The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership would like to thank Lighthawk and participating LightHawk pilots for use of their donated aircraft time and piloting skills. Without their help we would not be able to conduct the intensive whooping crane nest monitoring needed for our current research. This monitoring will greatly assist in a better understanding of factors contributing to nest failure, which may be critical to the long-term success of the project.

LightHawk is a volunteer-based environmental aviation organization that supports conservation projects in the US, Mexico, Central America and parts of Canada. LightHawk provides donated flights in private aircraft to elevate conservation efforts. LightHawk flies more about 1,000 missions each year for over 250 conservation partners in North America and Central America. LightHawk is a purely collaborative effort, and their staff works with over 200 volunteer pilots to design aerial campaigns that help conservation groups, universities, government agencies and individuals protect land, water and wildlife.

Volunteer pilots from Connecticut, Maine, Michigan and Minnesota flew their own airplanes to Wisconsin to conduct twice daily aerial surveys of whooping crane nest sites. Jamie Gamble (North Granby, Conn.), Pat Healy (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.), James Knowles (Tenants Harbor, Maine) and Richard Sedgwick (Minnetonka, Minn.) donated these flights.

More information about LightHawk can be found here:

To view the nest monitoring results, visit:


When I last left off, we had seven birds learning the ropes here at Patuxent: chicks 4-12 through 7-12 and 9-12 through 11-12 (8-12 is skipped since he’s a genetic holdback). But why stop there?  Our aircraft would get awful lonely if they had only seven birds following them. Luckily, 12-12, 13-12 and 14-12 have hatched and are stepping into the wonderful world of migration.

Initially, we worried that #12-12 was a bit of a slow learner.  He didn’t catch onto eating out of the bowl or drinking on his own until after the (slightly younger) younger #13-12 was getting worked outside of his pen. That isn’t to say he hasn’t caught up as there are times you can work him from outside the enclosure with satisfactory results, but there are still times that his memory needs jogging.  Sometimes you still have to get into his pen and politely remind him that a puppet bouncing up and down in his food dish means suppertime.  Oh, and yes, little chick, you have to take a drink from those big red and white jugs. Maybe he just doesn’t like the food.  Can’t say I blame him – the grain tastes like really bad instant pancake batter – Or so I’m told.  Perhaps he’d change his tune if we offered him a nice piping hot plate of mozzarella sticks and cheese pizza.  It’d sure change my attitude.

Number 13-12 has a better grasp on things, despite being a few hours younger than 12-12.  He responds to the puppet more, eats and drinks more, and learned to be worked without having someone come into the pen every time, sooner.  Unfortunately, little 13-12 is under a soft quarantine.  He had some diarrhea yesterday morning, which is a never a good sign.  When that happens, you can’t enter his pen without donning Tyvek booties over your normal boots, so as not to track his cooties to some other bird’s pen. It’s kind of a pain.  Plus, you’re always a little worried whether or not he really does have some sort of bug but since you can usually work him from the outside, it’s not much of a big deal.

Since my stint in 2010, we’ve always had at least one or two crane chicks that have had the same treatment but they always got better.  In fact, 10-12 and 11-12 were under soft quarantine just a few days before number 13. A few daily doses of Baytril seemed to fix them.

Chick number 14-12 isn’t so much a crane as he is a guppy.  The first time he took a swig from his water jug (as reluctant as he was), it was love at first sip! Now, I can get him to drink from it without even asking… If anything, at times, I have to pull him away from it so he can eat. Usually, it’s the other way around (or, you’re just having to drag him everywhere). His current record is fourteen sips in one session; however, his appetite is only so-so.  The fact he’s drinking this well already an enormous step in the right direction. I did catch him taking some nice, big-boy bites from his bowl before I punched out for the day yesterday.  Not bad for a two-day-old if I say so myself – I think we can expect good things out of him once he meets the aircraft.

So now we should be up to date with making the introductions to this year’s class of little crane chicklets!

 #12-12 hatched on May 12th

 #13-12 hatched in the afternoon of May 12th

#14-12 hatched on May 15th.


Today, the third Friday in May, marks the celebration of Endangered Species Day. This day is set aside each year to celebrate and promote the nation’s commitment to protecting and recovering endangered species. Organizations from parks to wildlife refuge, from zoos to museums, and from schools to conservation groups, hold events to educate and remind us all about the importance of protecting endangered species.

Scientists estimate that up to one-third of U.S. species are at increased risk of extinction, and more than 1,300 U.S. plants and animals already have been federally listed as threatened or endangered and protected under the Endangered Species Act.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, America harbors a remarkable array of plant and animal species, ranging from majestic mammals like bison and grizzly bears to tiny desert wildflowers. Unfortunately, many of our species have not fared well over the past few decades suffering from things such as habitat loss and the spread of invasive species.

It is never too late to learn the everyday actions that we all can take to help protect our nation’s wildlife – be they avian, mammal, fish or plants. Websites you might like to visit to read more about Endangered Species Day include this one, where you can learn about endangered species where you live and also discover the Top 10 Things You Can Do at Home to Protect Endangered Species.


Indiana Department of Natural Resources is reporting Indiana Conservation Officers, with assistance from U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service agents, have completed an investigation into the killing of male whooping crane, number 27-08, in early January in Knox County, Indiana.

The Knox County Prosecutor is reviewing the case, and charges are pending against Jason R. McCarter, 21, of Wheatland, and John C. Burke, 23, of Monroe City.

According to the case report filed with the prosecutor, ICO Joe Haywood received information in mid-January that a whooping crane had been spotlighted at night and shot and killed with a high-powered rifle.

The ensuing investigation involved multiple law enforcement agencies, wildlife biologists and private individuals and provided information that identified the suspects and also linked the bird to a federal program to reintroduce whooping cranes in the eastern United States.

The whooping crane shot in Knox County was part of a nesting pair that was taught its migratory path by ultralight aircraft in the fall of 2008.

Number 27-08 becomes the the third confirmed shooting death of Whooping cranes in Indiana. The first occurred in late 2009 and involved the first female to successfully breed and raise a wild chick. Crane #17-02 was 7 years old at the time of her death. In December 2011, male Whooping crane number 6-05 was found shot to death in Jackson County, Indiana. His carcass was found Dec. 30 by a photographer near the Muscatatuck River basin about 40 miles north of Louisville, Kentucky. The case involving number 6-05 is still being investigated.


Today Bev Paulan, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources  pilot confirmed that a sixth Whooping Crane chick, #W6-12, has hatched in the wild in Wisconsin!

We had suspected that pair #16-04 and #4-09 had a chick based on their behavior the past couple of days, but the chick wasn’t visible until today. There are currently four wild Whooping Crane chicks in Wisconsin (parents in parenthesis):

#W1-12 (12-02/19-04*)
#W4-12 (14-08/24-08*)
#W5-12 (13-02/18-02*)
#W6-12 (16-04/4-09*)

Six chicks in total have hatched, but unfortunately pair #24-09 and #42-09 lost both of their chicks (#W2-12 and #W3-12).
* denotes female

#W6-12, the tiny chick belonging to #16-04 and 4-09* is visible in the center of the circle.

#W5-12, pictured in the circle is the offspring of 13-02 and 18-02*


This morning we spend a moment with Whooping crane chick #5-12. Brooke captured this photo on Monday morning before the rain moved in and put a halt to training. Number 5-12 is the second oldest chick (but only by hours) in the Class of 2012 and here he is spending time with the small aircraft, which looks HUGE in comparison to the tiny two-week old chick.


Avibase offers a wealth of information about birds around the world. There is now a new mobile version of Avibase, making it easier than ever before for smartphone users to access the same information found on the main Avibase website. As with the standard site, the mobile site provides bird checklists from virtually anywhere in the world, and also enables users to look at photos and listen to recordings for a majority of those birds.

To see photos and listen to sounds more quickly, visitors can now simply click on a species name within any checklist – a new feature that was recently introduced in both the mobile and the standard versions.

Avibase is one of the world’s most popular birding websites. Bird Studies Canada hosts the site, which is maintained by Avibase creator and BSC Senior Scientist Denis Lepage.


Rain has hampered aircraft conditioning for most of yesterday and today but Brooke sent along the following photograph showing the oldest Whooping crane chick, number 4-12 inspecting the puppet – no doubt looking for a treat to dispense.

The Robo-puppet is used at all times during aircraft conditioning. The pilot will coax the young chick from its enclosure by tapping the puppets beak along the ground and pulling a trigger that opens a small hole below puppets beak. When the hole is opened, mealworms fall out onto the ground to reward the chick for a job well done.


Today is International Migratory Bird Day and as in past years, Joe and I will be on location with our display booth in Rafiki’s Planet Watch at Conservation Station in Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park. It would be hard to beat Disney’s Animal Kingdom as a place to celebrate wildlife conservation – and we look forward to seeing YOU here.

For us, this year’s visit has had something very special added. One of our ultralight aircraft has been re-fitted and is now on ‘permanent’ display at Conservation Station!

At Rafiki’s Planet Watch last evening we held a small event to preview the exhibit. Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership representatives, Disney cast members, and a few invited guests joined us to honor Disney’s long-term support of Whooping cranes and to celebrate this extraordinary opportunity to raise awareness for species conservation – and particularly Whooping cranes. Millions of guests of all ages from around the world visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park each year and the ultralight exhibit will provide unprecedented promotion of the work of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership.

Although it refers to rearing children, the African-originated proverb, “It takes a village..…” equally and aptly describes what the reintroduction of the eastern population of migratory Whooping cranes takes. Everything is easier when you are part of a village, and have input from equally committed organizations, colleagues, supportive donors, and friends. In addition to WCEP’s nine founding partners, there are dozens of other collaborating agencies and scores of individual ‘villagers’ who lend Whooping cranes a helping hand.

So it was that last evening, on behalf of Operation Migration and WCEP, Joe Duff acknowledged the many ‘ Disney villagers’ whose diverse contributions have played an integral role in the Whooping Crane reintroduction project’s success. Some of those recognized were:

Dr. Jackie Ogden and her staff at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Kim Sams, Claire Martin, and the all staff at Disney’s Worldwide Conservation Fund
Disney’s Cast Members who act as Grant Reviewers – with a special shout out to Chelle Plasse
Dr. Scott Terrell and the Disney Health Team
Jay Therien, a Winter Monitoring veteran at St. Marks
Alex McMichael, intrepid IMBD man Friday
And, the 2 individuals who led the charge for the installation of the wonderful ultralight exhibit: ‘Imagineer Gary Graham, and OM’s and Whooping cranes’ BFF, Zoological Manager, Scott Tidmus.

Watch the Field Journal in days to come for more about the event as well as photos, but in the meantime, you can click here to see Disney’s announcement.


Now, I’ve already introduced you all to the senior four birds of the Class of 2012: 4-12, 5-12, 6-12 and 7-12.  As it turns out 8-12 is destined to aid his species in his own way as a genetic holdback.  So that leaves us with three new little tikes: 9-12, 10-12 and 11-12.  Each and every one of them is alive and well and is making bold new progress.

Number 9-12 seems to run hot and cold – Most notably with his drinking.  Some sessions, he’ll down drinks from the jug without you having to ask.  Other days, I have to beg on my knees just to get him to take one sip.  In theory, he should be getting worked from the outside with the puppet but he hasn’t responded much to that – other than pecking and jabbing at the puppet, trying to figure out why it’s dancing all of a sudden.

On the bright side, he eats just fine when you’re in the pen with him. I think he likes having a buddy to eat with, as he’ll keep on eating so long as you keep the puppet beak in the bowl.  He seems to value his beauty sleep; it’s not unusual to find him curled up asleep as I’m trying to go in and work on him. Ali has noted on a couple of times he’s fallen asleep just as he’s trying to work with him. Granted, it does happen with others from time-to-time but this guy’s trying to throw the average a little.

I worry number 10-12 is a slacker. When he was still in the ICU he was never responsive – either ignoring the puppet, or just tapping it enough to make it go away. Naturally, he doesn’t eat or drink much, left alone on his own from the bowl of crumbles.  Or, if he does, he needs a lot of leading around. I haven’t worked with him much ever since he moved to his own pen but the Patuxent staff has mentioned on occasion that his lazy ways haven’t changed much. I’m sure he’ll catch up with the other birds when he’s good and ready, of course.

Chick 11-12 isn’t as withdrawn as 10-12 was.  I’m not ashamed to say that I got him to eat and drink out of the bowl one of my first sessions with him in the ICU.  However, it turned out to be a one-time deal, as he went back to staggering around the Plexiglas box and/or trying to escape out the door.  He seems to be fairly good at it, as he’s gotten past me once or twice.  But he never gets far. As soon as he drops from the ICU to the tabletop (it’s a one inch drop, so don’t worry), he just sits on the table, motionless, almost like he’s pouting “Somebody pushed me.  Poopie-head!”  As it’s cute and kinda comical, it makes it real easy to scoop him up and place him back in the ICU.  I’m sure he was thrilled when he got moved to his new pen yesterday.  Sharon tells me he had no trouble getting cozy, as he fell asleep not long after moving to his new pen.

Now we should be all caught up on the introductions until a 12-12, 13-12 or a 14-12 joins the party.  I should also tell you that numbers 4-12, 5-12 and 6-12 have all met the aircraft or ‘trike’ as we like to call it.  Brooke and I have helped 4-12 and 5-12 take the first big step as ultralight birds by starting the engine up next to them.  They can now hold their ground against the scary roar of the engine.  Brooke could tell you better than I could, but they seemed to have performed to his satisfaction.  6-12 was a little more timid of the trike’s roaring engine and isn’t quite ready to follow.  But I’m sure he will be tomorrow or the day after.  The time spent with the trike is what was important.  After all, this was one of his first times completely outside of his pen.  That alone can be daunting. Especially since 6-12 can be a little nervous at times).

Number 7-12’s first date with the trike is just around the corner.  Once he learns to eat on his own, and hold onto his weight, he’ll be running around after that 3-wheeled aircraft in no time!

number 9-12. Hatch date: May 7

number 10-12. Hatch date: May 7

11-12. Hatch date: May 9


Whooping crane parents DAR 42-09* and 24-09 and the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership are proud to announce the arrival of TWO chicks! The first arrived sometime Monday and was spotted by Wisconsin DNR pilot Bev Paulan (photo below). In the photo the chick appears to be drying itself in the sun and the egg at the opposite side of the nest looks as if the chick has recently emerged from it. The parent crane is still sitting, likely on the other egg or a previously hatched chick.

ICF Tracking Team Field Manager, Eva Szyszkoski visited the Adams County site today to check on the nest and in the second photo you can see the TWO wild hatched Whooping crane chicks. This is the first nest attempt for this 3 yr old pair.

Welcome WILD Whooping crane chicks W2-12 & W3-12!


The latest word we have received from the tracking team is that the 9 cranes from the Class of 2011 have not moved a great deal since returning to Wisconsin and the 10th Whooping crane, #1-11 has yet to turn up.

Yesterday we received the following two images showing the group of four young cranes consisting of #’s 3-11, 4-11, 5-11 and 6-11. This group arrived in southern Columbia County, WI., approximately 40 miles south of the White River Marsh SWA on April 20 – 8 days after departing the Wheeler NWR where they wintered.

They are barely showing any signs of the cinnamon colored feathers they use to have…

Meanwhile, approximately 20 miles to the northeast and still in Columbia County, the group of three consisting of #’s 7-11, 10-11 and the youngest of last year’s cohort, #12-11 (photo below) continue to spend their time foraging in small wetlands and grassy areas. This group has been at this location, also since April 20th.

Whooping crane #9-11 had been reported in Grant County, WI on April 20th, and a photograph submitted confirmed a broken antenna on her PTT unit, which would explain the lack of reports for this crane. Crane #2-11, the young bird that broke away from the ultralight-guided group on the second day of the southward migration last fall, is still in Adams County, WI – approximately 35 miles from White River Marsh.



So… Thought you’d seen the last of me, did you?  You Craniacs aren’t getting rid of me that easily!  I could do this job for a thousand years and each year it always feels like a new adventure.  This is my fourth year and no two flocks are alike and no two migrations are alike.

Each flock always leads us on new and unusual escapades that give us new stories to tell.  For 2009, we had the flock that started off as a bunch of head-strong delinquents who had no loyalty to the trike but dramatically turned around to gel into a cohesive flock.

2010 saw the flock that found their stride and whizzed into Florida with time to spare (okay it wasn’t the fastest migration on record – But it was for me).  For 2011, it was breaking new ground and making fresh start at White River Marsh.  I can only imagine what chapters of our lives these 2012 cranes will come to represent.

As of right now, there are five whoopers at Patuxent getting ready to embark on the journey our whole year revolves around.  The oldest, number 4-12 impressed me by starting to eat on his own after two days in his pen, a new record in my tenure.

Chick number 5-12 impressed many as a goofy little guy barely able to walk or focus long enough to grab a bite to eat.  Now he’s all but eating on his own.  The other three are trying to catch up, with varying degrees of success.  6-12 was at first a silly little guy who could barely stay awake long enough to take a drink.  Proving they change and develop so quickly – when I last worked him, he kept taking hits off that water jug like there was a prize in it.

Little number 7-12 got startled by his own reflection in the Plexiglas just after we moved him into his new pen.  Poor guy needed a carpet taped to his window to mask the reflection to calm him down.

Number 8-12 is still sequestered in the ICU.  We can only hope he doesn’t follow in 8-11’s footsteps from last year. That little demon was such a bully that he couldn’t be trained with any other chicks and had to be held back at Patuxent for additional socialization. That’s an adventure that doesn’t need repeating.

Where will they go from there?  Will they leave us in awe and wonder as they latch onto the aircraft and never look back?  Or will the trek be filled with perils and hurdles that will only make our migration that much more riveting and memorable when we finish?  Personally, I think this year could shape up into something magical. As usual, we have a long road of us but I always look forward to walking it with these amazing birds.

Whooping Crane #4-12: The oldest in this year’s Class hatched early on April 30th

#5-12: Also hatched on April 30th but in the afternoon.

#6-12: Hatched on May 3rd. The tape on his/her left foot holds a small stick on the toe to convince it to grow straight.

#7-12 hatched May 4th and has a LOT of taped toes.

#8-12 hatched out on May 5th, however, we have just learned that this chick is considered genetically significant and will be held back to augment the captive population.


We get a lot of requests from new followers asking about the crane numbers. There are a number of other questions as well but we’ll deal with the numbers for now and try to make sense of the system.

Each Whooping crane chick is assigned a number based on their hatch order. So, the first chick to hatch in any given year becomes number 1. The second chick to hatch is number 2 and so on until there are no more eggs left to hatch.

The second set of digits in the cranes’ number is the year in which it hatches. Number 1, who hatched in 2011 becomes number 1-11 and number 2 becomes number 2-11 and so on.

So, it would make sense that the two whooping crane chicks that hatched early last week would be Whooping cranes 1-12 and 2-12, right? NOT. It seems that this year the crane crew at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center is also hatching out Sandhill cranes for another research project and three Sandhill eggs hatched prior to the Whooper eggs, securing them the numbers 1-12, 2-12 and 3-12.

So, the first two Whooping cranes destined for the ultralight-aircraft release project this year are numbered 4-12 and 5-12 and NOT 1-12 and 2-12. Confused yet?

Tune in later today or tomorrow morning for Geoff Tarbox’s first entry of the 2012 season! We’re thrilled that Geoff has decided to return for a 4th season and has been with the young cranes at Patuxent for the past week. He has promised me an update to tell us how many chicks there are currently and how they’re doing. Welcome back Geoff!


Saturday, May 12th, is International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD) and our friends at Disney’s Animal Kingdom have once again invited us to join in their celebrations. Joe and I will be on location in Rafiki’s Planet Watch at Conservation Station in Animal Kingdom Park.

On so many levels, the moral and financial support and encouragement we have received from Disney – every year since the reintroduction project’s inception – has not only been invaluable to OM, it has helped make the project the success it is.

With OM and Disney we have, as Joe once said, “…a classic example of cross-species synergy; a little mouse helping out an endangered bird.”

If you live nearby Orlando, or will be visiting the area that weekend, please stop by Operation Migration’s display booth – we’d love to see you. This year, guests who visit Rafiki’s Planet Watch will see a brand new and very exciting exhibit. I’m not going to tell you what it is – at least not just yet…. I don’t want to spoil the surprise for Craniacs who plan to attend.

While Joe and I are at Animal Kingdom we will also be giving a presentation about the Whooping crane reintroduction project to interested Disney cast members at a ‘Brown Bag Lunch’. So many Disney folk volunteer their time, expertise – and often their muscle and sweat – to assist with a diversity of tasks that we just couldn’t manage to accomplish without their help. We’re looking forward to seeing many of these terrific volunteers at our presentation so we can thank them in person.

OM’s presence for IMBD takes considerable planning and arranging. For this we are especially grateful to Disney Zoological Manager, Scott Tidmus. Every year without fail, Scott goes out of his way to ensure our stay there is the magical experience Disney is famous for.

Come share the magic with us and all the folks at Disney for International Migratory Bird Day on May 12th. We’ll be looking for YOU!