Remote Tracking Needs

There are currently 17 fluffy orange chicks being raised by adult whooping cranes at the captive breeding facilities and in September we’ll be releasing them as tall, gangly whooping crane colts in Wisconsin. 

From that point on they will be on their own but like any ‘parent’ we do like to keep track of them. Luckily, technology allows us to track them remotely and from the comfort of our desks IF we can fund these important tracking devices.

This year, Operation Migration has committed to raise the funds needed to acquire five GSM remote tracking units. To help accomplish this, we’ve setup a fun, social campaign on GivingGrid.

The idea is that you select a square representing the dollar amount you can contribute. Then you have the ability to upload a photo – perhaps of you, or your pet, or a place you’ve visited… Just something fun! 

Depending on the level of support you choose, you qualify to receive a thank you gift and there are a number of them available. 

Why not have a look for yourself? Please share the campaign with your family and social media friends using this link:

We have just $6,000 more to raise!

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Report Your Sightings

Yesterday, we received a report of a whooping crane sighting from our friend Pat Fisher. “Fisher” founded The Feather Wildlife Rehab and Education Center near New London, Wisconsin. 

She submitted the following photo, which clearly indicates this crane is male #11-15. This young crane had been in LaSalle County, IL after male #4-13 stole his gal #10-15 from him in early April.

Nice that he’s returned to Wisconsin…

If you see a whooping crane, please try to get the exact legband combination on each leg and fill out this online form.

Male whooping crane #11-15 in Outagamie County, WI. Photo: Pat Fisher.

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Them and Us

Maybe it’s me being petty but I get frustrated when someone cuts me off on the highway and then flips me the bird as if it was my fault. It’s equally annoying when you decline the offer of a telemarketer who interrupted your dinner hour and then calls you back three times – just to be irritating.

Robbie Curtis is one of those annoyances. He illegally used our trademarked corporate name and now he is blaming us. In fact, according to the email he sent us this week, he is going to kill some Sandhill cranes as his revenge.

When searching for our videos on YouTube a few year ago, I noticed that interspersed with clips of us flying with whooping cranes were duck hunting videos also titled “Operation Migration.” The producer, Mr. Robbie Curtis is an avid hunter with lots of followers.

Operation Migration is a 501 c 3 non-profit in the United States and a registered Charity in Canada. Both organizations are federally recognized corporations and have been for many years. One of our responsibilities is to make reasonable efforts to protect our corporate name when it is misused by others. In the eyes of the law, claims of ownership of a trademark sound hollow if you don’t at least attempt to protect it from infringements.

To fulfill that obligation, I followed the links on the YouTube site to report an infraction of their policies. However, my complaint went completely unanswered so I tried again. Eventually I had to assume that with millions of hours of video uploaded to YouTube every day, they didn’t have the resources to keep up with all the complaints, so I took another route.

I wrote a letter (below) to Mr. Robbie Curtis and explained that we were not opposed to hunting and that hunter organizations like Ducks Unlimited have saved critical habitat for many species. I mentioned how hunting licence fees and taxes on ammunition pay for conservation work and how Operation Migration works to bridge the gap between the conservationists who wants to hunt wildlife and the ones who don’t. My response was a short denial that simply read, “You got the wrong guy.” 

Next, I consulted with one of our Directors who is a high-level Government attorney. He also tried to have the videos removed or renamed through the YouTube process – and he hit the same dead end.

This is one of those nagging thoughts that worms its way back into my brain periodically and this spring it resurfaced. Searching for our YouTube channel to check on the nesting pair, I kept seeing Mr. Curtis’s posts and knew that others were following the same route. We are always promoting our site hoping people will get engaged. I can imagine their look of confusion when they searched for Operation Migration and came up with Mr. Curtis’s hunting videos.

Since Google purchased YouTube, they have made many improvements, not the least of which are far better reporting channels. Heather red flagged twenty or so postings all showing duck hunter scenes and displaying the title Operation Migration. We sent copies of our trademark registration to back up our claim and surprisingly, the response was immediate. We are not sure if the videos were removed but the next day when we checked, they were back up or renamed. They are now titled Operation Northwest Migration.

If you are a conservationist who likes to hunt, check out his videos. As I said, we are not opposed to hunting or the posting of the videos, just the illegal use of our name.

Still, Mr. Curtis or Buckshot Robbie as his email address proclaims, was not pleased. He sent us a message the next day titled “Anti-hunter.” He obviously assumed that if we wanted his videos removed we must be a group of tree-hugging, liberals and rather than obey the rules of YouTube and fair business, he fired back with what he thought would be our worst nightmare.

It is true, Operation Migration is opposed to hunting Sandhill cranes – at least for now. But if their numbers continue to increase, there may be a need for hunting eventually. Canada geese are hated by many golfers, homeowners and park visitors only because there are so many of them. If Sandhills ever reach those numbers, the majority of people with hate them too. Regulated hunting can help restore the balance. Conservationists of all types need to work together so that species like Sandhills and Whooping cranes can recover without the added pressure of hunting. But once that process is complete, hunting can keep their numbers in check. Unfortunately, ole Buckshot is still living in the world of us and them. 

Click to enlarge

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Aerial Survey Results

Wisconsin DNR Pilot, Bev Paulan flew a survey over the western half of the state on Friday and reported finding four wild hatched chicks. (* indicates female)

W1 with 5/12-11* Juneau co.

W3 with 24/42-09* Adams co

W4 with 5-10*/28-08 Marathon co

W5 with 3/7-11* Adams co.

Additionally, there are now 13 active nests/re-nests belonging to the following cranes:

32-09*/7-07 – Juneau Co. (renest)

29-09/12-03* – Juneau Co. (renest)

W3-10*/8-04 – Juneau Co. (renest)

9-05/13-03* – Juneau Co. (renest)

18-03/36-09* – Juneau Co. (renest)

34-09*/4-08 – Juneau Co. (renest)

9-03*/3-04 – Juneau Co. (renest)

W1-06*/1-10 – Juneau Co. (renest)

20-14*/37-07 – Juneau Co. (initial nest)

2-04/25-09* – Juneau Co. (new renest)

24/14-08* Suk-Cerney – Juneau Co.


2-15*/28-05* – Marathon Co.

15-11*/38-08* – Juneau Co.

Ok, for those very observant readers that are sitting there now shaking their heads from side-to-side muttering “well that can’t be right. There are two nests with female-female pairs on them” – you’re right!

This is anomalous behavior and the only plausible explanations we’ve been able to come up with are:

A) one of the genders is inaccurate. 

B) they’re incubating infertile/un-viable eggs, or

C) there is a visiting, bachelor male nearby that paid a visit.

Bev will continue to monitor the nests as time permits to see how they progress. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, here are the photos Bev captured showing three of the chicks found on Friday.

5 & 12-11 with W1-17.

5-10 & 28-08 with whooping crane chick W4-17

Female 7-11 with chick W5-17

International Migratory Bird Day

IMBD is typically recognized on the second Saturday in May – a time when birds have either just completed, or are still migrating north. 

Many thanks to Dr. Jane Goodall for sharing her thoughts about about migratory birds and why it’s critically important that we do what we can to conserve them…

CLICK to read

Do something nice for the birds tomorrow (and every day)

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If we were not optimistic, we wouldn’t have the stamina to work with Whooping cranes. In fact, you have to be looking on the bright side if you are willing to bet years of hard work on building a self-sustaining population. That optimism is what carries us through days like Monday when 3-14 and 4-12 lost their eggs to a hungry coyote.

Since 2011 when we moved from Necedah to White River, the number of chicks we have been able to release each year has been down. In part, that is a result of lower reproduction at the captive centers and the splitting of resources between two reintroduction programs. And reintroduction is all about numbers. There is a critical mass when programs like this hit a mysterious number and things begin to work. Researchers can estimate that pivotal quantity with a population viability analysis but a lot still has to do with luck. Good breeding seasons are balanced by tough winters. Heavy predation at one end of the migration is offset by bountiful food resources at the other and eventually the averages begin to work. Dispersal comes next as the growing population moves to a range wide enough that one local event does not affect the entire population.

California condors are an example of the critical mass. Although they are still critically endangered, the number are starting to work out – slowly – and after 26 years. Trumpeter swans are also experiencing annual growth now that there are substantial numbers in the Midwest. Even the Aransas, Wood Buffalo population of Whooping cranes reached that magic number sometime in the 1970s or 80s when it was large enough that tough years didn’t send the flock into a tailspin. 

None of the Whooping crane reintroduction projects has reached that turning point yet but that is not much comfort when we witness events like we saw on Monday evening. We all knew the numbers were against that pair. Only two birds, still young and inexperienced and at least a season or two from normal breeding success age. Still they did a great job. They were dedicated and vigilant and gave every indication of being good parents. They have learned valuable lessons and next season there will be more pairs like them until the numbers begin to work for them.

It is disheartening and sad but it’s all in the numbers.  We add more birds each year, hedging our bets until the odds are in our favor. Like a wise gambler, we don’t hang all of our hopes on the long-shot. We don’t count on one bet to carry the day. Instead, we keep at it, balancing disappointment with optimism because we know the numbers will eventually work and the bet will no longer be a gamble.

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Nest Predation – More details

We’ve been able to learn a couple of things since the nest belonging to whooping cranes 3-14 & 4-12 was predated Monday evening.

Brooke slogged through the marsh very early yesterday morning to locate the nest and collect anything he could. His hope was to get in and back out before the pair returned… IF they returned.

Firstly, there were two eggs and it was evident both were viable. Egg fragments were collected.

Secondly, the nest is surrounded by water. Here’s a photo showing the nest and surrounding area.

Nest with egg shell fragments. Photo: Brooke Pennypacker

The other important thing we’ve been able to determine is the identification of the interloper whooper. It was indeed male #4-14 (Peanut). Hours spent yesterday staring at video leading up to the arrival of the coyote revealed his legband combination of left leg: white/red/white and right: red/green. 

Peanut (#4-14) on the right being chased away by cranes 3-14 & 4-12. Source: screengrab from the CraneCam

Did he ever pick the most inopportune moment to drop in…

The pair did in fact return yesterday – in fact, just as Brooke reached dry ground, they flew in. A number of folks have asked if a re-nest is possible and it’s early enough in the season that they is a possibility. Time will tell… 

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Live Chat This Week

Join us this Thursday at noon CT for a live chat with various WCEP partners!

Representatives from the Wisconsin DNR, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Operation Migration, and the International Crane Foundation will be on hand to answer your questions and discuss all things involving Whoopers. 

Spring migration is complete, the breeding season is upon us, and the partnership is busy hatching eggs and monitoring nests across Wisconsin. Efforts are underway to again have a group of chicks raised in captivity by adult Whooping Cranes, and we continue to be optimistic that we will also get some more wild-raised chicks to fledging age!

Sign up at this site to receive a reminder just before the chat.

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Nature Can be Cruel

We’re very sorry to report that the nest in Green Lake County, Wisconsin was predated last evening at 7:20 pm by a coyote. 

I can only describe the events leading up to it as a roller coaster ride of emotions. We watched on the CraneCam as a third whooping crane appeared on the screen. I was viewing the feed on my television screen so that I could determine its legband combination and I’m 99% certain it was #4-14, aka Peanut. Could it be? 

Of course the nesting adults were doing everything they could do to chase away the interloper from their nesting territory. Looking back now, I believe they were distracted trying to run off the other crane, until the coyote was mere feet from their nest.

It was on a mission and went through the water surrounding the nest platform, knowing what the reward would be. The parents ran at him and tried to ward him off but he wasn’t going to be thwarted. 

As you know by now, this was the first nest at White River Marsh and we had pinned a lot of hope on its outcome. If the egg((s) were fertile we were expecting a hatch today or tomorrow.

Obviously, we’re as disappointed as I’m sure, each of you are…


My impression of our live camera comes from the perspective of a layperson. I can navigate most of the programs on my computer and I am getting pretty good at PowerPoint, but the technology behind our streaming video is well beyond my knowledge. In fact, I am better at interpreting what the cranes are doing than how the image is brought to me.

Every year our system is updated. Components wear out and new devices combine what used to be separate equipment into smaller packages that use less power and promise better results. About all that remains of the original system is the trailer itself.

This year we bought a new camera with better picture quality and upgraded radio and antennas for getting the signal back to the nearest internet connection at camp.

We also switched from a DSL line to a satellite up-link based on the promise of faster speed, but that’s only true if you believe the advertising.

Whether they are surfing the web or watching movies, most people use the internet for downloading so service providers configure their systems accordingly. We, on the other hand, are uploading and with that in mind we were promised more than enough bandwidth for a high quality broadcast. Not so.

Seems we used up what we were allotted in a few days and now it has been slowed — except for an hour or two at 3am when no one else is up.

That slowness doesn’t affect the quality so much as it limits the camera driver’s ability to pan, tilt and zoom. Then there is the fact that we are a quarter mile away from the nest. Add some morning fog, heavy rain or a strong wind that shakes the camera and sometimes its hard to see. The new antenna is a dish, two feet in diameter and all you have to do is aim it in the general direction of the receiver at camp. The old one required critical alignment to work properly but it was made of wire mesh which didn’t catch the wind – and shake the tower making the camera wobble when it is zoomed way in.

Then there is the power issue. The trailer contains five, 200 lb batteries and a backup solar panel. On overcast days that is not enough so we have a generator to occasionally charge the system. When we headed back to Ontario a week ago, we decided to run the genny once more but surprise surprise, it wasn’t there. Someone with light fingers and no scruples had cut the bicycle lock and taken it.

Luckily the manager of Kitz & Pfeil, the local hardware store, is very supportive and sold us another late Sunday afternoon. We locked it to the trailer with anchor chain and hit the road. Of course, that means viewers must now listen to a constant drone but we felt it was safer with something solid to fasten it to.

All generators are not created equal. In an effort to save some money, I opted for a slightly smaller replacement but, as it turns out, it was only capable of keeping the camera running but not charging the batteries at the same time.

In an effort to keep the camera running, Heather had Brooke rent a bigger one. Thereafter, he cleaned up the little one and exchanged it for what I should have purchased originally. Despite it having been run a few times, we were given a full refund. I told you the manager at Kitz & Pfeil was a good guy.

With all of this finally sorted and the batteries on their way to a full charge, Heather’s stress level dropped by half a point, just in time for a power failure back at camp which shut down the the entire system at camp, which delivers the stream to the internet.

There are many live wildlife cameras to choose from these days, but I would bet that few of them work miles from the nearest electricity or internet connection. I imagine that fewer still must stay a quarter mile from their subject to avoid disturbance. And I can guarantee none of them are recording nesting Whooping cranes.

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LIVE CraneCam

Ruppert enjoys watching the LIVE stream from our CraneCam… Have you checked it out yet?

Ruppert is a 7 yr. old indoor kitty in Wisconsin who sits next to the full screen video and watches the whooping cranes and listens to the songbirds calling. 

Ruppert and his sister cat Casey own new viewer Di and her husband. Casey isn’t into viewing the cranes as much as Ruppert is. 

Visit the CraneCam – We’re officially on hatch watch starting today!


Monthly Donations

Monthly contributions can be processed more efficiently than single or one-time gifts, resulting in a higher percentage of your gift being directed to our work – and you are in control! At any time, you can increase, decrease, pause or stop your support, all at your convenience.

Your monthly gift will help ensure that we are able to continue our work to safeguard Whooping cranes and continue our education and outreach efforts.

When you become a NEW monthly donor, OR increase your current monthly donation amount, you will receive a special hand-folded origami crane made by Mako Pellerin.

Mako has very graciously offered to create a limited number of beaded hanging origami cranes made from the paper used to create last year’s GIANT origami crane, which greeted Whooping Crane Festival attendees in Wisconsin.Students from the Princeton School – along with Mako, very carefully folded the origami crane pictured above, and which boasted a wingspan of more than 30 feet and stood close to 10 feet tall!

Mako saved some of the paper from that special crane to create these smaller origami “off-spring” cranes for you!

In Japanese culture, the crane is a mystical creature and is believed to live for a thousand years. Cranes represent good fortune and longevity and are referred to as the “bird of happiness.”

We hope this very special origami crane will bring you all of these qualities… In addition to your special origami crane, we’ll also send you an instruction sheet for folding more origami cranes!

When you become a monthly supporter you help to provide OM with a reliable, low-cost stream of revenue that sustains our ongoing work and allows us to better forecast for budgeting purposes.

It’s super easy to join and you can contribute any amount you like on a monthly basis: $
10, $15, $25, $50 – Visit this link to learn more or to enroll today!

If you’re already a monthly supporter (thank you!) and would like to increase or change your gift, don’t forget you can login to your personal account at any time to do so using this link: LOGIN 

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Newly Hatched Crane Chicks

It’s twins for whooping crane pair 5-11 (M) and 12-11 (F)

Wisconsin DNR pilot Bev Paulan spotted the two balls of fluff with Mom and Dad during her aerial survey over Juneau County, WI yesterday and sent along a couple of photos.

Photo: Bev Paulan, Wisconsin DNR

Photo: Bev Paulan, Wisconsin DNR

The chicks are very likely only a day apart in age and we must caution it is rare, but not unheard of for both to survive. 

The adult male crane was produced in captivity at the Devonian Wildlife Conservation Center in Calgary, Alberta and the female #12-11 hails from the Audubon Species Survival Center in New Orleans, Louisiana. Both learned a migration route by following our aircraft south in fall 2011.


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