Meet W3-17

Brooke was able to capture a couple of photos of W3-17 with its dad, whooping crane number 24-09 last week in Adams County, Wisconsin.

This young crane was first spotted by Bev Paulan during a flight on May 5th. At that time, the chick was still on the nest mound so it was only a day or two old. 

Whooping crane colt W3-17 out foraging with dad number 24-09. Photo: Brooke Pennypacker

Whooping crane colt #W3-17 was roughly 30 days of age at the time this photo was taken. Photo: Brooke Pennypacker

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Aerial Survey – Chicks!

With today’s weather looking not so favorable for a flight, Wisconsin DNR pilot Bev Paulan decided to fly over Adams and Juneau counties yesterday.

During her flight she discovered a first whooping crane chick hatched to a Parent Reared crane! 

Female 20-14 and mate 37-07 are now parents to W15-17. Photo: Bev Paulan

This brings the total of young-of-year whooping crane chicks in the Eastern Migratory Population to thirteen.

W1-17 with 12-11* & 5-11: approximately 40 days old

W3-17 with 42-09* & 24-09: approximately 33 days

W5-17 with 7-11* & 3-11: approximately 30 days

W6-17 with 36-09* & 18-03: approximately 15 days

W7-17 & W8-17 with 14-08 & 24-08*: approximately 8 and 9 days

W9-17 & W10-17 with W3-10* & 8-04: approximately 8 and 6 days. Note: second generation wild chick.

W11-17 with W1-06* & 1-10: approximately 6 days. Note: Also second generation chick.

W12-17 with 13-03* & 9-05: approximately 4 days

W13-17 with 12-03 & 29-09: approximately 3 days

And W14-17 with 9-03* & 3-04 still on nest: approximately 3 day

*indicates female


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What are the Odds?

Those of you whom have followed our work over the years have no doubt heard us mention Lou and Linda Cambier.

These two incredible people were our Winnebago County, IL migration hosts for a number of years and opened their home and their hearts for countless days each year. They provided meals and camaraderie for the crew and a safe and secure location for dozens of Whooping cranes over the years.

Lou is a pilot and is the one that flew from his home in Illinois to Kentucky in the spring of 2015 so that Joe and I could get a higher vantage point from which to locate Whooping cranes 3-14 and 4-14 and ultimately return them both to White River Marsh, where they still both spend their spring through fall seasons.

This past spring Lou has been checking on yearling parent reared whooping crane number 31-16 who it seems has decided to short stop in Stephenson County, IL. As time permits, Lou flies or drives approximately 30 miles round trip to try to get eyes on this young crane.

Number 31-16 also has a GSM remote tracking device so we get hits on him as well and on Sunday, we received data telling us that he was in Lou and Linda’s field – right beside their landing strip!

It seems he stayed for roughly 5 hours foraging in a low, wet spot.

I emailed the following screengrab to Lou and asked if he had given the young crane a lift home the last time he had checked on him…

Meet the 2017 Costume Reared Whooping Cranes!

Time to meet the chicks – They are so cute I can’t hardly stand it! I love this age and stage best!

Right now all seven cranes are walking together every day and are then divided into two groups, 1, 2, 3 & 4/17 and 6, 7 & 8/17. They are lead into neighboring pens where they spend several hours. A costume huddles in an out of the way spot and watches for any sign of aggression or stress. There are some minor “face-off’s” but minor is to expected.

They are really doing great and in the coming days the two groups will be put together and the costume will disappear more and more. They will miss their “security blanket” and get all peep-y and pace. We will be right around the corner, at first peeking through the door to the feed shelter, then watching on the computer, in a wonderfully cold shed. It’s like weaning the baby and just like any mom we will agonize, I can hear the conversation now between Barb and Sharon and me: “Can I go in now?” “No, wait… He has to get used to it!” “OK, now!”

So, here are some personality quirks we have noticed about these cranes. Keep in mind I am going to call them all “him” as DNA gender results have not come in yet.

#1-17 hatched April 24. Parents are captive whooping cranes in the Patuxent flock. This, our oldest of the cohort, is quiet and calm, yet dominant. He does not start problems but does not back down when challenged. He’s my favorite!

#2-17 hatched April 28. Parents are Eastern Migratory Population (EMP) cranes W1-06 & 1-10. This young crane seems to be happy go lucky, joyful and sweet. Maybe a tad clingy. Peeps a lot out there, he’s kind of a cry baby but, he’s my favorite!

#3-17 hatched April 29. and is a full sibling to #2-17. This youngster wants to be dominate. He likes to grab a beak full of fluff from an unsuspecting napping chick. He is the one that starts “face off’s” and guess what? He’s my favorite!

Whooping crane colts 1-17, 2-17 and 3-17 spend time exploring the outdoor crane enclosure at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Photo: Colleen Chase

#4-17 hatched April 30. His parents are also EMP whooping cranes, numbers 32-09 & 7-07. This is a rather quiet bird and the smallest of this group. He loves the costume. He’s my favorite!

Whooping crane #4-17 resting. Photo: Colleen Chase

#6-17 hatched May 2. Is a full sibling to 4-17. He is Independent with a capital I! He goes exploring, no clingy Snowflake here. He is also the PITA (Pain In The Butt) of this group. He initiates the “face-off’s”. He’s my favorite!

#7-17 hatched May 3. EMP Parents 13-03 & 9-05. Is very alert and can melt to nervous. He is a clinger and loves the costume. He’s my favorite!

Finally, #8-17, also hatched May 3 making him the same age at #7-17. His parents are EMP whoopers 12-03 & 29-09. He is cute and happy and loves to play in the grass. He can be uncooperative about coming out of his run, but perhaps we are past that now. I hope so but even if not, he is, of course, my favorite!

Crane chicks #6-17. 7-17 and 8-17. Photo: Colleen Chase

Note: Whooping crane colt number 5-17 will stay behind at Patuxent so that he can be socialized for longer before becoming a member of the Louisiana flock later this year. 

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Aerial Survey

Bev flew a quick survey on Friday and was able to cover a lot of ground… From Juneau County, all the way over to Dodge County and Horicon NWR, by way of Green Lake County.

Since our last flight update when Bev reported finding chick number W6-17, we’re now up to W11-17 so an additional five whooping crane chicks are now on the landscape in and around Juneau County.

W1-06 & 1-10 have a chick, making this a second generation wild hatched whooping crane chick. Number 1-10 was still incubating a second egg during Bev’s flight but the photo below, show’s mom, W1-06 tending to number W11-17. 
W3-10 & 8-04 now have two chicks – W9-17 and W10-17 (still on the nest). Also second generation chicks.
W1-17 is still with parents 5-11 & 12-11. 
W3-17 is with 24-09 & 42-09. 
W5-17 is still with 3-11 & 7-11.
W6-17 is with 18-03 & 36-09 and the pair of 14-08 & 24-08 and busy tending to W7-17 and W8-17. 
Still incubating are:
9-03 & 3-04
29-09 & 12-03
10-09 & 17-07
20-14 & 37-07
25-09 & 2-04
9-05 & 13-03
In the middle section of her flight, or White River Marsh and Grand River Marsh areas, Bev located:
4-12 & 3-14
5-12 & 30-16 
10-15 & 4-13 
27-14 & 10-11
11-15 & 4-14 (Peanut – photo below)
Next over the Horicon NWR to check on:

63-15 & 61-15 

All present and accounted for.
The remaining nests should hatch out this week.

Mom #W1-06 and her new chick number W11-17. Photo: Bev Paulan, Wisconsin DNR

Two male whooping cranes, numbers 4-14 and 11-15. Phtot: Bev Paulan, Wisconsin DNR

We’re thrilled that Bev was able to get eyes on Peanut and just this morning he appeared at the pensite on White River Marsh. Scroll down to the next entry to watch him dance!

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Peanut Returns!

This just happened on the CraneCam. 

Two young male whooping cranes were on the north end of the runway at 5:14am central time. The crane on the left is 4-14 (Peanut) and the other is 11-15.

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Wood Buffalo National Park Nest Survey

A record number of whooping cranes nests have been found in Wood Buffalo National Park during the 2017 nesting survey carried out by Parks Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada. This year’s survey found 98 nests, an increase of 16 over the previous record of 82 set in 2014.

Protecting and promoting ecological integrity is a priority for Parks Canada. The data gathered each year allows them to track the health and growth of the population, and allows them to assess the current state of the crane’s habitat, which Parks Canada is directly responsible for. The Whooping Crane nesting area is one of the reasons why Wood Buffalo was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

2017 also offers an opportunity to celebrate this amazing recovery success story of the Whooping Crane and take strides to advance protected areas and biodiversity as part of the celebration of Canada’s 150th.

CLICK to learn more about Wood Buffalo National Park 

CLICK to learn more about Canada’s 150th – the sesquicentennial anniversary of Canadian Confederation.

Snapshot Wisconsin

Wisconsin residents with at least 10 contiguous acres of property are invited to participate in a very cool project coordinated by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Snapshot Wisconsin is a partnership to monitor wildlife year-round, using a statewide network of trail cameras. The project will provide data needed for wildlife management decisions. It is also a unique opportunity for individuals, families, and students to get involved in monitoring the state’s valuable natural resources.

This is a volunteer based monitoring effort to capture images of all types of wildlife including deer, elk, bears, fox, bobcats, and even whooping cranes and to learn more about Wisconsin’s wildlife.

As of May 16th there are 687 trail cameras being maintained by 604 volunteers. Photos captured by these trail cameras will be uploaded to Zooniverse where a team of volunteers will help to classify or identify each and every critter captured by the the cameras.

Want to volunteer to host or maintain a camera? Click here to learn more.

Want to volunteer to identify animals in the photos? Click here to head over to Zooniverse

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It’s a Boy!

…. or not. We’re not passing out cigars or rushing off to buy the blue baby room paint just yet. Determining the sex of an adult whooping crane can get, well… complicated. And so, as I stand perched up in my favorite tree gazing out over the marsh observing cranes 28-05 and 2-15 and their first nest together, I think about such things. Especially considering that both birds are supposed to be females. What to do? “Will the real male please stand up”?

Now, many of you may remember our little 2-15. She was always the one dancing to a different drummer, first at Patuxent and later on migration. She spent most of last season down in Walworth County, WI in the company of a large group of sandhill cranes.  It was interesting to note that two other young whoopers were nearby; a Parent Reared crane and a Direct Autumn Release bird but each also preferred the company of Sandhills to other Whoopers. In fact, one of the birds was the famous “Kevin,” or number 20-15, the parent reared bird that had to be recaptured in the parking lot of a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant in downtown Dubuque, Iowa shortly after his initial release. He was re-released in Wisconsin only to migrate to Louisiana, a trip he repeated this past winter. His interest in fast food seems to have been a one-time fascination. 

2-15 returned to St Marks this winter, the only bird from the Class of 2015 to do so. She later migrated north and turned up back in Walworth County with 28-05 before continuing north to 28-05’s territory in Marathon County. That’s where Bev first spotted her on the nest.

28-05 has spent most of her 12 years in Marathon County; usually with sandhill cranes. “The locals call her Millie,” the refuge manager told me. Since there have never been any other whoopers hanging out in the immediate area, we just assumed she went over to the “Dark Side” like 16 and 18-11 did over at Horicon Marsh.  Last year Bev observed her standing next to a nest with an egg in it. That prompted a discussion by the WCEP Monitoring and Management Team regarding the prospects of a capture and “reorientation,” similar to that of 16-11. However, capturing her was considered problematic at best and the idea was put on the back burner. What a difference a year makes. But could 28-05 really be a male after all?

While there are a number of ways to differentiate a whooper male from female: size, tone of voice, body language, size of bank account, etc., there is one fool proof, genuine sure fired test: get the birds to unison call.  What is a unison call?  Well, it’s basically the whooper equivalent of the 60’s Sonny and Cher Hit “I Got You, Babe.”  The male initiates the call and the females joins in milliseconds later.  If you record the calls, then slow them down digitally to quarter speed, you will hear the female demanding “I want. I want” and the male replying “Why me? Why me?”  Very simple. “Just play the unison call and they’ll start calling up a storm,” I was told. “Then you’ll know for sure.”

To this end, I downloaded the unison call from my “Liberace’s  Greatest Hits” album onto my trusty digital voice recorder… the one that yells at me to “Get off the Beach” every time I try to go for a swim. Then I hooked that up to a couple of small speakers with enough jacks and cords to make Radio Shack consider going back into business.  I cameoed up, hiked out and up into the tree I went.  As usual, one bird was on the nest while the other foraged nearby. “Patience, Grasshopper.”  I pulled out my trusty, jury rigged “Whooper Blaster” and let her rip with the loudest, most raucous unison call Mother Nature had ever heard. And just as predicted, the birds responded with the loudest, most raucous SILENCE imaginable.

I took solace in the fact that although I did not determine their sexes, I did determine that they were both deaf!  Back at the drawing board, I reconfigured my sound machine and returned a few days later.  However, this time, before I could deploy my heavy artillery, 2-15 flew in to join 28-05 sitting on the nest and they blessed poor old frustrated me with three of the loudest unison calls imaginable. I captured it on video which I later analyzed with aid of the world famous “Duck Program” based on the algorithm, “If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck and smells like a duck, it’s probably a duck.” Now I can say with complete and 100% UNCERTAINTY that 28-05 is, in fact, a DUDE!

At the risk of being redundant, this is probably a good time to inform our readers that we have yet another same sex nest over in nearby Wood County. Number 15-11, a female that lost her mate 6-11 last year has paired up and nested with another female, 38-08. Initially, nearby male 19-10 was thought to be in the mix but he has been a no-show for a few weeks now. 

I’m not sure what to make of any of this but I am sure of one thing:  the next time I open a box of Wheaties, I’m going to wear ear protection. Those unison calls are REALLY LOUD!!!

Postscript: DNA testing of egg shell membranes after they are hatched determines captive Whooping crane gender. With chicks popping out in rapid fire, there are many ways that can get mixed up.

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Whooping Cranes Could Be Wiped Out by Climate Change

Whooping cranes (Grus americana) famously barely escaped extinction during the 20th century. After decades of habitat loss and unrestricted hunting, their population had crashed to just 15 birds in 1941. Today, thanks to intense captive-breeding programs and the protection of the Endangered Species Act, that number has soared to approximately 500 wild birds. Their seven-foot wingspans are once again visible in the sky as they migrate between their summer breeding grounds at Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada and their wintering grounds in the southern United States.

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Aerial Survey

Wisconsin DNR pilot Bev Paulan flew yesterday over both reintroduction areas and reports there is another new chick on the landscape!

W6-17 is the offspring of 36-09* and 18-03.  The chick was off the nest, so Bev suspects it hatched late Tuesday from the pairs 2nd nest.

Other whooping crane chicks seen were:

W1-17 with 5-11 & 12-11* Juneau co. (see photo below) This chick is now 25-27 days old. 

W3-17 with 24-09 & 42-09* Adams co. Now 20 days old. 

W4-17 with 5-10* & 28-08 Marathon co. Now 17 days old. 

W5-17 with 3-11 & 7-11 Adams co. Also 17 days old. 

There are still 12 active nests being monitored.

Other cranes seen/heard during her flight include:

7-07 & 32-09*, 1-04 & 16-07*, 16-02, 10-10* & 41-09, 19-14* & 12-05, 19-11 & 17-11*, 24-13 & 23-10*, 13-02, 19-10 & 25-10. (All observed in/around Necedah NWR) 

3-14* & 4-12 White River Marsh, 5-12 & 30-16, 11-15 in flight (nice eye to eye  view) over White River Marsh, 4-13 & 10-15* and 27-14* & 10-11 Marquette co.

(* indicates female)

W1-17 is 25-27 days old in this photo. Dad is feeding the chick. Photo: Bev Paulan

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What Goes In…

Nothing announces the beginning of a new whooping crane season at White River Marsh like the arrival of our porta-potty.  It magically appeared in camp a week or so after I returned from Florida and by then, it could not have been more welcome. Like an old and dear friend… or a clone of one, it accommodates, commiserates and understands, and most importantly of all, it cares. This cocoon of hope, this confessional of redemption awaits each and every morning to dispense calm and relief. Best part of all? You can sit down assured that no airline has overbooked your seat and no airport gorillas are coming to drag you down the aisle while the Wright Brothers look down from above, shaking their heads and commenting, “We knew it! If God had meant for man to fly, He would have given us wings.” Also, with no one else in camp, the line outside the door is usually wonderfully short.

But like snowflakes, no two porta-potty’s are created alike.  This year’s model seems smaller than last year’s… which is OK, I guess, because we are, after all, environmentalists and a smaller carbon footprint is the ethic of choice. Less really is more. But I have to admit that the economizing takes getting used to. The quarter moon cutout on the old door was reduced to one eighth and really doesn’t let in enough light, especially when they eliminated the automatic door light to save on batteries.  And then there’s that new toilet paper, the kind the early pioneers used for windows and that requires an entire roll to get the job done. And why did they have to hang that role on such a small nail anyway?

I guess the thing I miss most is the music that began to play every time you opened the door. Sadly, the soothing, inspirational theme from, “Fly Away Home” has been replaced by a recording of an old man yelling, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” I mean, I get that most of us in the crew are fast approaching our golden years, but… seriously? And even that wouldn’t be quite so bad if this year’s model was wheel chair accessible. No such luck. This year’s door is so narrow a guy riding a unicycle sitting sideways could barely fit through it. 

Once inside, things are pretty much the same as last year. Except for a couple of new rules. The sign hanging on opposite wall states “No Fishing.” Seems that Joe’s fishing expedition last year to recover his cell phone out of “Big Blue” prompted the State of Wisconsin to declare that all cellphones harvested from porta-pottys to be unfit for human consumption. Too many bones.

And the other new rule? “No Tweeting!” This is clearly due to the fallout from the recent Washington political firestorm highlighting the dangers of tweeting while on the thrown. In fact, Health Officials have declared that “Texting over Effluent” (TOE) has surpassed “Driving under the Influence” (DUI) and Alien Abduction as the Number One threat to public health and safety… to say nothing of National Security.

Then, as I try to exit the place, there is that big sign on the door, “All Ye Who Enter Here, Give up Hope”. Very demoralizing! Why do I get the feeling I’m standing in the open door of an airplane with a parachute on my back about to be pushed out. Perhaps it’s because I am!  Like being reborn. At least now I know how a little whooper chick feels when the door opens and it’s finally released from the bird box after a long ride in the back of the tracking van.

Anyway, if you ever happen to find yourself in the area and want to stop by and take the “old girl” for a test ride, you’re certainly welcome. If I’m not around, just go on inside and make yourself at home, take your time and remember… it’s all about the journey, not the destination… so be patient… because what goes in, must eventually come out. And all good things must come to an end.  Even Field Journal entries. So when you’re finished, just make a wish, then run for the door with everything you’ve got and hope for the best. That’s all there is to it. Sort of.


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Counting (Crane) Eggs Before They Hatch

Years ago, when we worked with Columbia Pictures to produce the movie Fly Away Home we spoke to writers and producers about timing. It seemed the annual breeding cycle of Canada geese didn’t align with their intended shooting schedule and they asked us what we could do about that conflict. They understood that geese nest in the spring and migrate in the fall but had difficulty comprehending that no amount of Hollywood money could change that cycle.

It was funny at the time but in truth, breeding season for geese, and lately whooping cranes, always leaves us in limbo too. Each year the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership makes plan for the coming season but all of our great ambitions hang on the complexities of nature. The outcome can be guessed, estimated, projected or averaged with algorithms for standard deviations, but in the end, the result is about as sure as tossing the dice. 

This year is no different. Twenty-seven eggs were collected from the first nests at Necedah NWR (26 fertile). Both the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and the International Crane Foundation produced slightly fewer eggs than they expected but that was balanced by larger production at the Calgary Zoo in Canada So far they have transported twelve eggs to Patuxent and will raise three or four parent-reared (PR) chicks this season. Additionally, the Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species (ACRES) in Louisiana has also increased their production. All of this is tentatively encouraging but lots can still happen. Roughly 75 percent of the eggs that are laid hatch and 75 percent of those, result in releasable chicks. In the interim, we wait, and we plan, and we second-guess our decisions. Should we launch the funding campaign, buy the materials or relocate the crew?

This year, WCEP hopes to release up to 15 or so parent-reared birds in the fall. That number is limited by what the captive breeding centers can accommodate. We also planned for a costume-reared (CR) cohort of 6 to 8 whooping cranes to increase the numbers so the population can grow beyond the numbers lost annually to natural causes.

At the last Rearing and Release Team meeting, it was cautiously predicted that there should be enough birds this season to cover the PR priority and for a small CR cohort. That second group would be transported to White River early in the season so the staff at Patuxent can concentrate on parent-rearing.

A small group of Whooping cranes will be costume reared at White River Marsh in Green Lake Co., WI this summer!

The area around the pensite at White River is open for turkey hunting until June 15th so that is the earliest possible date. That will be balanced by the 35-day age limit when it is safe to ship them.

Before that relocation takes place, we hope to expand a portion of our pensite. We also need to set up the water pump, lay the supply hoses, fit the top net and prepare the observation blind. We hope to host a workday or two so any craniac interested in getting their hands dirty for a good cause, please let us know by sending an email with subject line “WRM Volunteer” to info(at)

At this point it looks like the weekend of June 3-4 is the best time to get the work done and will still give us time thereafter in case we get rained out.

In the meantime, we keep crossing our fingers and counting our eggs before they hatch. 

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Patuxent Update

As of Monday morning we have seven Parent Reared chicks on the ground. Saturday afternoon I got to go out with Robert Doyle and Charlie Shafer to check a little guy that had hatched earlier in the day!

It is so cool to see adults act like Velociraptors! These birds are intent on protecting their little fluff ball, so Robert and Charlie held the adults back while I picked up the chick. Robert and Charlie can’t watch what I am doing so I was instructed to yell “got him” when I picked the chick up and “out” when I was at the door.

He is a tiny guy but they were really happy with his weight gain.

The adult whooping crane parents vocalizing their displeasure at our intention to go into their pen. See the tiny chick behind the feeder?

Tiny whooping crane chick #24-17 being held by Colleen.

Mom checking out her young chick after it was returned to the enclosure.

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