Great Backyard Bird Count

Despite the name, you don’t HAVE to stick to your backyard to count birds. The weather here in the north is supposed to warm up for the weekend so all the more reason to get out to your favorite natural area to see which feathered friends are present.

However, or wherever you count birds – 2018 is the Year of the Bird, so why not participate in this year’s Great Backyard Bird Count!?

This annual event takes place this weekend from the 16th – 19th and the information gathered is invaluable to researchers and scientists who look for changes in bird population data over the 21 years since the program began.

To participate, observers count the birds they see for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count, then enter their checklists at Easy peasy!

CLICK to learn more

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

Valentine’s day was intended for humans but we see nothing wrong with celebrating it by featuring the Royal Couple on their wintering grounds in south Georgia!

Brooke and Colleen paid them a visit last week and found them waaaaaay out in the middle of a field foraging. Here’s a photo to show you just how difficult it was to spot them:

Can you see them? Look in the middle of the photo. Click image to enlarge

It appears they have their own pond for roosting on the left side of the photo and a fairly secluded field full of tasty treats in which to forage. Who could ask for more…

Here’s a zoomed in photo. That’s the male #4-12 on the right keeping a watchful eye, while his mate, female #3-14 eats. Let’s hope they have better luck this year nesting in Greek Lake County, Wisconsin.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Looking ahead to the Return of Spring – and Whoopers!

MADISON, Wis. – Sixteen young Whooping Cranes released in 2017 successfully migrated south for the winter. Restoration partners are now eagerly awaiting the birds’ return and hoping the coming breeding season exceeds the promising results achieved last year.

“We are very pleased with the good survival of last year’s released cranes and are looking forward to the return of these birds and our older cohorts,” says Trina Soyk, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who co-leads communications for the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership leading the restoration project.

The 2017 cranes represented a mix of birds hatched in the wild, birds hatched in captivity and raised by adult cranes at the International Crane Foundation in Wisconsin and the U.S.G.S Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland, and birds hatched at Patuxent and raised by Operation Migration’s costumed handlers in Wisconsin and released over the summer into the company of adult cranes.

Costume-reared cohort of seven juvenile Whooping Cranes along with adult cranes 5-12 and 30-16 foraging near White River Marsh in Wisconsin. Photo: H. Ray

Partners are also keeping close tabs on a captive-reared crane released in Wisconsin last fall that did not migrate south with other Whooping Cranes. Earlier efforts to trap the bird and transport it south weren’t successful. With Whooping Cranes soon starting their return trip to Wisconsin, partners decided to let the bird remain at its wintering location. They have been providing supplemental food and checking on the young crane frequently.

“Whooping Crane 38-17 has so far successfully wintered in Wisconsin, and that’s a novel event as far as I know,” says Davin Lopez, a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources conservation biologist working on the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership.

Anne Lacy, Crane Research Coordinator from the International Crane Foundation, added, “It does amaze me how resilient cranes are, even in our bitterly cold winters. Their body fat reserves and down coats are built exactly for this situation. Though this is definitely a rare situation, we do not expect it to happen often.”

The 2017 breeding season yielded some exciting results: two wild chicks hatched and survived to fledge, and a young pair nested for the first time in an area biologists refer to as the Wisconsin Rectangle in the southeastern part of the state. The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership has focused on placing birds in this area that includes Horicon Marsh and White River Marsh since 2011. Prior to that, the focus was in Juneau County in central Wisconsin, until it was discovered that biting black flies contributed to cranes and other species abandoning their nests. Partners are also conducting research in Juneau County to determine causes of chick pre-fledge mortality.

Says Operation Migration’s Joe Duff, “We are committed to finding answers that will help the Eastern Migratory Population reach a self-sustaining level.” Duff added, “This year we plan to expand the research that began in 2017 to include a greater geographic footprint, which will provide even more valuable data for evaluation by partnership scientists.”

Whooping Cranes have historically started spring migrations in February. The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership asks anyone who encounters a Whooping Crane in the wild to please give them the respect and distance they need. Do not approach birds on foot within 200 yards; remain in your vehicle; do not approach in a vehicle any closer than 100 yards. 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.

Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership founding members are the International Crane Foundation, Operation Migration, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and National Wildlife Health Center, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin and the International Whooping Crane Recovery Team.

Click here to report a Whooping Crane sighting. For more information on the project and its partners, visit the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership website.

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Heading North… ALREADY?

Last fall, two young (male) Parent-Reared Whooping Cranes were released in Marathon County, Wisconsin in the company of two (female) whoopers, numbers 28-05 and 2-15.

The youngsters, #19-17 and 25-17 were the first two Parent-Reared birds to be released last fall and they did indeed form a bond with the two older females and even followed them south, more than 800 miles to northeast Alabama.

The foursome remained in the area until late last week when the two older females apparently began heading north. They were spotted on Friday in Hardin County, Kentucky some 200 miles to the north. 

According to the remote tracking devices worn by each of the now almost-1-year-old males, indicate they both stayed behind in northeast Alabama. 

It will be interesting to see when they decide to head back to Wisconsin, whether they return to the area where they were released last fall, or like most of the young birds when they return, will they wander around.

Enjoy this photo captured by Georgia Roberts.

Whooping crane 28-05 on the left and 2-15 on the right. Photo: Georgia Roberts

If you’re fortunate to spot a Whooping crane please send us a report! 

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Madison County, FL

It has been driving me nuts that we have not yet been able to get eyes on the two Madison County Whooping Cranes. I hear beeps galore, but I wanted to see cranes and see if the two of them are together, or are they just in the same place at the same time.

Last Wednesday morning I headed to Madison County, ready to hang out till they flew to a favorite AG field to forage. The only chance of a visual.

I got to the swamp and only got beeps for #36-17, I hurried north to check the AG field and sure enough, #71-16’s transmitter beeped loud and clear!

I introduced myself to the landowner and explained what I was looking for. I held my breath waiting for her reaction.

One time, a lady gave me permission to go on her property. When Brooke went back to the van to get something, she was sitting in her truck, so he went to say hi and thank her. She had a gun on the seat by her and kept her hand near it. Gulp!

This lovely lady was not in that category. She said “let me get the camera and we’ll go out in the Gator!”

She hugged the perimeter of the field and stopped well back. There was our bird, #71-16 with at least 100 Sandhill’s. All waiting patiently for the deer feeder to spray out breakfast!

We watched a while then headed back to her house. The birds picked a beautiful place. It’s private and they will be safe when they visit here. The landowners are wonderful. Perfect scenario!

She was kind enough to send these pictures and will send more if she can.

That’s 71-16 way over there waiting patiently for the deer feeder to fling some corn.

Dancing with sandhills.

Zoomed and cropped. 71-16 sure stands out in a crowd.

Now we know these two birds may be near each other at times, but they are not best buddies, yet anyway. We also know 71-16 likes a free meal.

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Bryce Moves to Louisville Zoo

On Wednesday we told you about “Bryce” aka Parent-Reared Whooping Crane #70-16. Well that same day, he was transported to the Louisville Zoo where he will continue his rehabilitation behind the scenes.

READ more…

Bryce at the Louisville Zoo (Photo: Kyle Shepherd/Louisville Zoo)

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Port Aransas Whooping Crane Festival!

In just a couple of weeks, we’ll be heading to Port Aransas, TX to take part in the annual Whooping Crane Festival.

Personally, I have mixed emotions about making the trip. It will no doubt be great to see old friends and make new ones, however, just 6 months ago the area suffered the wrath of Hurricane Harvey and just looking on Google Earth at the devastation left behind is heartbreaking.

Favorite restaurants are closed – some will never reopen. People are still living in FEMA trailers, or with friends or family while they try to rebuild. I can’t even begin to imagine what the people in the area are going through. 

Aerial view of the hotel we stayed at last year in Port Aransas. Source: Google Earth

I have no doubt “Port A” will rebuild and will be better than ever. I just hope it doesn’t ever lose it’s rustic island charm.

If you have ever wanted to visit the Whooping Crane Festival, please consider going this year. Sure, there are still buildings toppled but the people in the area could sure use the economic boost a festival like this brings. Trust me – they will welcome you with open arms.

Check out the Festival website for the complete schedule

Be sure to make plans to attend the presentation Joe Duff is giving Saturday, Feb., 24th at 9am


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Parent-reared Whooping crane #70-16 aka “Bryce” was found last week tangled in a fence. He was taken to the Liberty Nature Center in Pulaski County, Kentucky, where it was discovered he had, at one time, a break in his wing, which had since healed but formed a large calcification, preventing him from flying.

This young male crane was initially held back at ICF when it was discovered he had sustained an injury to a wing. Once treated, he was released in Marathon County, WI, however, he failed to migrate south so he was captured and transported to Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in north Alabama.

The following spring, he began heading north on his own and flew to Hardin County, TN for a few days then flew about 250 miles northeast to Knox County, KY where he spent the summer, fall and even part of the winter before he was discovered last week tangled in a fence.

The fate of this crane is, as yet, unknown but he is doing well at Liberty Nature Center with a steady diet and medical care. 

The Species Survival Plan coordinator is working to locate a longer term place to hold him but he will very likely be placed at a captive breeding center.

Have a look at the video accompanying this article about Bryce (#70-16).

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2 Years Ago…

February 6, 2016 was the day the last ever ultralight-guided cohort of Whooping cranes arrived at the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. 

Unlike the fifteen cohorts ahead of them, this group had the dubious distinction of arriving in crates after weather foiled any flight attempts to guide them with the aircraft. 

READ Joe Duff’s account of that final day. 

VIEW Images 

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Crane Spotting

Many thanks to Karl DuBridge for submitting his sighting and allowing us to share this great photo.

Last week Karl came across this pair of Whooping cranes in Greene County, Indiana. The pair consists of male 18-03 and female 36-09 as they foraged for waste corn near Goose Pond Fish & Wildlife Area.

On the left is female 36-09. Right is male Whooping Crane 18-03. Photo: Karl DuBridge

If you spot a Whooping crane, please submit your siting!

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Whooping Cranes Need Your Support!

Why not start February with a monthly contribution for Whooping Crane conservation!

Monthly donations 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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It’s Update Time!

Eastern Migratory Population – Whooping Crane Update – February 1, 2018 

Below is the most recent update for the Eastern Migratory Population of Whooping Cranes. In the last month Whooping Cranes have mostly stayed at their wintering grounds. A huge thank-you to the staff of Operation Migration, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Natural Resources, the International Crane Foundation, and all of the volunteers who help us keep track of the cranes throughout the year. We appreciate your contribution to the recovery of the whooping crane eastern migratory population.

Population Estimate

The current estimated population size is 104 (48 F, 53 M, 3 U). As of 1 February, 1 Whooping Crane is still in Wisconsin, 3 in Illinois, 32 in Indiana, 8 in Kentucky, 6 in Tennessee, 33 in Alabama, 4 in Georgia, 7 in Florida, and 2 in Louisiana. The remaining birds’ locations have not been confirmed in the last month. See maps below.

2017 Wild-hatched chicks

W3_17 (U) is still with its parents (24_09 and 42_09) in Hopkins Co, KY.

W7_17 (F) is still with her parents (14_08 and 24_08) in Morgan Co, AL.

Parent-Reared 2017 Cohort

19_17 (M) and 25_17 (M) are still in Jackson Co, AL with adults 37_07 (M), 2_15 (F), and 28_05 (F).

28_17 (M) has been confirmed in Okeechobee Co, FL, not too far from adult 16_12 (M).

24_17 (M) is still with 63_15 (M) in Randolph Co, IL.

72_17 (M) is still in Hendry Co, FL.

30_17 (F) is still in Plaquemines Parish, LA.

38_17 (F) is still in Dodge Co, WI.

39_17 (F) is still in Jasper Co, IN.

36_17 (F) is still in Madison Co, FL and is now associating with sub-adult 71_16 (F).

Costume-Reared 2017 Cohort

3_17 (M) and 7_17 (F) are still in Morgan Co, AL at Wheeler NWR.

4_17 (M) and 6_17 (F) left Effingham Co, IL, and are now in Fulton Co, KY.

1_17 (M), 2_17 (F), and 8_17 (F) left Perry Co, TN, and are now in Talladega Co, AL.

Parent-Reared 2016 Cohort

29_16 (M) and 39_16 (M) are still in Dyer Co, TN.

30_16 (M) and 5_12 (M) are still at St. Mark’s NWR in Wakulla Co, FL.

31_16 (M) has not been seen since November in Wisconsin.

33_16 (F)’s satellite transmitter is firing off along the Mississippi River in Clinton Co, IA, however she has not been seen. We suspect she may be dead, but we have not yet removed her from the totals until we can confirm.

69_16 (F) is still at Wheeler NWR in Morgan Co, AL.

70_16 (M) is still in Knox County, KY.

71_16 (F) is still in Madison Co, FL and is now associating with parent-reared juvenile 36_17 (F).

Long-term missing

The following birds have not been seen for more than one year and have been removed from the estimated population total above: 8_05 (F), 39_07 (F), 11_09 (M), 18_09 (M), 8_10 (M), 6_11 (M)

Confirmed Whooping Crane locations as of 1 February 2018.

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Those Smart Kindergarten Kids!

Linda DeNell, Director of the Caestecker Library in beautiful Green Lake, Wisconsin told us the library will be hosting a Crane Party event tonight beginning at 6:30 pm for the 5 and 6 year old students in Mrs. Reininger’s kindergarten class.

This class has been learning all about the endangered Whooping crane and have created works of art, and have provided information about what they have learned throughout their crane studies.

The following caught my eye, as just yesterday we posted about the Royal Couple and how they formed a bond when female Whooping crane #3-14 was barely a year old.

You paid attention during the lessons Etta! Bravo!

Everyone is welcome so if you’re in the Green Lake area, why not stop by the Caestecker Library tonight and join the party?!

518 Hill St, Green Lake, WI – 920-294-3572

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Whooping Crane Dating

“We found that a substantial portion (62%) of breeding pairs started associating at least 12 months before first breeding.”

Discovery Magazine ran a story yesterday titled “Birds Go Steady Before Having Kids.” CLICK to read to full article.

This is certainly true for the pair in the Eastern Migratory Population dubbed “The Royal Couple.”

Here’s a photo of them taken in June of 2015 when female #3-14 had just returned to the area and was just over a year old. She began associating with male #4-12 at White River Marsh in Green Lake County, Wisconsin and the two have been inseparable since.

Last year they nested in the marsh and dutifully tended the nest to within a day or two of hatching when sadly, a coyote discovered the eggs. Both were viable so we’re really hopeful this pair will nest again this spring.

Here’s female Whooper #3-14 (right) with male #4-12. The young female still has a slight tinge of her juvenile coloring at the nape of her neck. Photo: H. Ray

This pair was spotted a couple of weeks ago at their typical winter territory in south Georgia.

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