Whooper #8-15

This young crane wasn’t remarkable as a youngster. She didn’t stand out for any reason other than her beauty. She was calm. She followed the aircraft and the costumes well. She returned north in the spring of 2016 and again this past spring season.

She’s always been a bit of a loner and hasn’t associated with any other whooping cranes post release but that’s not unusual given her age. In another year, once those hormones kick in, she’ll be more interested in other whooping cranes.

Last summer she spent months at one location in Winnebago County, WI., barely venturing out more than a mile. In the late fall she flew south to Sumter County, Alabama and again, barely moved over the entire winter season. 

She returned north this spring and has stopped in Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin. Each week Doug Pellerin has tried to get a visual on her instead of just listening for the beeps from her transmitter. 

She has a GSM remote tracking device as well as her VHF radio, so I can see that she is indeed moving back and forth from a foraging field to a small wetland where she roots, but it always gives peace of mind to actually get eyeballs on a crane.

We last week persistence and patience paid off! In the pouring rain there she stood – glowing white.

Here are a couple of photos Doug captured for you.

Whooping crane 8-15. Photo: Doug Pellerin

Whooping crane 8-15. Photo: Doug Pellerin

2016 Annual Report – By the Numbers

Non-profit corporations are not required to produce an annual report each year yet it is considered a best practice to do so. According to the National Council of Nonprofits, producing an annual report “underscores your nonprofit’s commitment to transparency.”

Toward that end, we have put together a single page report called ‘By the Numbers’ that tells our 2016 story. Click below to view it, and email me at jbellemer(a)operationmigration.org if you have questions.

By the Numbers


End of McKittrick Policy!

Operation Migration is among conservation groups cheering a ruling made last Wednesday by Judge David Bury, which tossed out a long-standing Justice Department policy on prosecuting killers of protected wildlife only if the hunter knew the target was a listed species.

Wildlife killers who intentionally target protected animals, no longer have a get-out-of-jail-free card by claiming they did not know the identity of the animals they kill. 

READ more.


Join the Whooping Crane Festival Committee and volunteers at Sherm’s Piggly Wiggly in Princeton this coming Saturday, July 1st for a brat fry!

All proceeds will help the Festival Committee carry out this year’s festival in conjunction with Operation Migration and the festival will benefit Whooping cranes released in Wisconsin this fall.

We hope you can join us between 10 – 2pm – be sure to come hungry!


Be Still My Heart <3

I’m in love. I’m in love with seven Whooping Crane chicks, but especially #8-17. Yesterday, I had the time of my life helping Brooke, Colleen, and Heather exercise the seven young Whooping Cranes who were delivered from Maryland to Wisconsin in a private flight generously donated by Windway Aviation.

For me, this year’s summer adventure started last Saturday when I hopped into my car (well, maybe I didn’t actually hop) and took off to Wisconsin. It’s a full two day drive for me – just about 1200 miles, but I don’t mind. I listen to audio books and sing with the radio – you would NOT want to be in the car with me! Anyway, I arrived at our camp Sunday afternoon so that I would be here with Joe and Heather for two of OM’s biggest annual meetings. Even though the meetings are conducted by conference call, it’s very helpful for us to be collaborating in the same room.

It was just an incredibly lucky coincidence that it also happens to be the same week that the seven chicks would arrive. They were being reared at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center by the staff there and our very own Colleen. Then, on Wednesday, they (the chicks, not Colleen and the staff) were crated, placed gingerly into Windway’s Cessna turboprop, flown to Oshkosh, transferred to a rented van, driven to White River Marsh State Wildlife Area, and released in a pen where they will spend the summer growing up and learning about living in a marsh. And all that was done with no talking, although the chicks were sure peeping – and I thought I was on an adventure!

I didn’t go into the pen with the chicks that day – I stayed out and peeked through the “port holes” while I streamed the event live on OM’s Facebook page. All the time I was secretly hoping that I would have a chance at some point during the week to don my costume and visit with the chicks up close and personal.

Today was the day! I dragged my bustle out of bed way earlier than I wanted to (6am) so that I would be awake for the morning planning session. I didn’t even have to speak up! Heather turned to me and said, “did you bring your costume?”. I gave her a nonchalant nod but inside my head I was yelling, “YES, YES, OF COURSE I DID!”

Fast forward about an hour. Brooke, Colleen, Heather, and I donned our costumes in the parking lot and started our trek down the “tume trail.” I found out that my costume has a rather large tear in the back, but I really didn’t care. I also found out that my boots were still soaking wet inside from when I was wading in the deeper water on Monday while I was checking out the new 10,000 square foot marsh-in-a-pen. Heather told me later that every time I took a step, my boots farted.

They turned off the electric wire, opened the gates, and we waved our arms to call the chicks out. I can’t remember exactly which chick came out first, but next thing I knew, #’s 1, 4, 8, and somebirdy else were following us down the runway. It was fits and starts at first. They wanted to explore off the runway, but we were persistent and got them to a wet area where we tossed some mealworms. (By “wet area” I mean pond on the runway.) 

Those four chicks were pretty content to poke around the same area but the other three, not so much. Brooke went back to the pen to coax them to venture down the runway. They were in the pen, out of the pen, in the pen, out of the pen, LOL!

Anyway, after about 50 minutes, we slowly started to walk back towards the pen with our four little beauties. My heart totally melted every time I looked at #8 – she has quite the “haircut!”

Whooping Crane chick 8-17 striking a pose

A couple of the chicks were reluctant to go back in, but there’s nothing like a few grapes tossed in the doorway to solve that problem. We all went in for a few minutes to check on the food and water (I didn’t do any of the work – I just fed them the rest of my grapes).

Then, as we silently retreated back to the parking lot, my heart tickled with laughter. Be still, my heart!

Here are some other photos that Heather snapped of our, err, the chick’s first outing…

Whooping crane #6-17 opens her heavy wings and runs toward us.

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The First Day

…in the new pen.

We waited until Thursday morning to allow the young cranes access to the wet pen. It was after all their first day in their new enclosure and we wanted to ensure they had access to food and fresh water and that there were no aggression issues.

They were allowed out yesterday during a lull in the rain and the first one out the gate was #4-17. Number #2-17 was the hesitant one but within minutes all had made it into the ponded area and began poking and prodding and exploring.

If you had been watching the CraneCam you would’ve seen this but here are some photos I snapped of their first time in the new ponds.

All seven young whooping cranes investigating their new enclosure.

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Meat Raffle Tomorrow!

Yes, I said ‘meat raffle.’

If you’ve never attended a meat raffle, they’re a LOT of fun!

This one will take place TOMORROW between 1 and 4pm at Beer Belly’s in Princeton, Wisconsin and all proceeds will go to the Festival committee to carry out this year’s Whooping Crane Festival!

All ages are welcome!

Tickets will be $1 each and there will be multiple draws for beef, pork, smoked meats, surf n’ turf, you name it – you can win it if your ticket is drawn!

A great opportunity to help whooping cranes and have a lot of fun!

Terry Kohler’s Legacy Lives on

Every Whooping crane that OM helped reintroduce into the Eastern Migratory Population arrived in Wisconsin on one of Terry Kohler’s aircraft.

As I write this, Terry’s crew is in the air west of Baltimore en-route to Oshkosh, Wittman Field Regional Airport with seven young cranes on-board. This is their 34th flight from Patuxent to Wisconsin. 

Terry was an outstanding conservationist who loved aviation and the creatures that taught us the art of flying. He left his mark on every single bird that we led south and on every one who knew him. 

At 12:27 pm central time, the birds arrived in Oshkosh. They were loaded into an air conditioned van and at 1:30 pm, they were released into their new home at White River Marsh State Wildlife Area, all safe and sound.

Thank you to pilot Mike Frakes, engineer Jay Kidder and thank you Terry and family. 

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It’s Crane Colt Arrival Day!

I bet you’re almost as excited as we are… Once again the fantastic flight crew at Windway Aviation will fly some very special cargo halfway across the country from Baltimore, Maryland to central Wisconsin.

They’ve made this flight numerous times and we’re very grateful for their continued support.

If you would like to follow their flight, here’s a link: https://flightaware.com/live/flight/N94MT

Once on the ground in Wisconsin, we’ll load the cranes into a air-conditioned vehicle and make the drive to White River Marsh.  

Once there, you can watch via our live CraneCam! 

We would like to express our sincerest thanks and appreciation to the Crane Ecology Team at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center for all their efforts in hatching and rearing the Class of 2017.

All photos below provided by Dr. Glenn Olsen (thank you!)

Whooping crane #1-17

Hatched: 4/24/17
Gender: Male
Legbands: White

Whooping crane #2-17

Hatched: 4/24/17
Gender: female
Legbands: Green/Black

Whooping crane #3-17

Hatched: 4/29/17
Gender: Male
Legbands: Pink/Red

Whooping crane #4-17

Hatched: 4/30/17
Gender: Male
Legbands: Green

Whooping crane #6-17

Hatched: 5/2/17
Gender: Female
Legbands: Red

Whooping crane #7-17

Hatched: 5/3/17
Gender: Female
Legbands: Green/Orange

Whooping crane #8-17

Hatched: 5/3/17
Gender: Female
Legbands: Black



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The Coiffed Whooping Crane

Imagine what it would be like if feathers were like hair. What if they kept growing endlessly and needed to be cut, coiffed or styled. Maybe we could measure the personalities of the birds based on how they wear their feathers. We might have Peanut with messy curls to match his independent attitude or the be-crowned locks of the Royal Couple. 

Luckily, that is not the case, but feathers do get split ends. Not surprising when you consider they beat up and down every two seconds and can carry the weight of their owner halfway across the country. I wish my hair could to that. So when those feathers begin to wear out, they simply grow new ones. But first the old ones fall out and while that happens, they can’t fly. Welcome to our world.

Usually you don’t see wild Whooping cranes during their molt. It generally happens during the time when they would be nurturing chicks which is when they shouldn’t be flying anyway. When we worked at Necedah, a breeding pair set up a territory near one of our training fields. They would occasionally try to chase us off but there came a time each summer when we wouldn’t see them. We could hear them call but they stayed deep in the safety of the marsh while they were flightless and we didn’t see them again until they could fly once more. 

This shot of a Whooping crane in full molt is very unusual. In fact, this is the first time I have seen this in the wild in twenty or more years of working with cranes. But it is a lot like when a close friend gets a haircut or shaves a beard. It takes a while to recognize what’s different.

Male Whooping crane #14-12. Photo: Andrew Simon

Male Whooping crane #14-12. Photo: Andrew Simon

Find the Crane Chick

We told you Bev Paulan was able to get a flight in last Thursday to check for whooping crane chicks still on the landscape. Quite often Bev isn’t able to see a tiny chick until she downloads the dozens of images she captures while flying her airplane over adult cranes. 

Can you spot the small whooping crane chick in the following photo?

Click to see the location of whooping crane chick #W14-17. Photo: Bev Paulan

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Aerial Survey Results

Wisconsin DNR’s Bev Paulan was able to get a flight Thursday and found 9 whooping crane chicks including:

W3-17 with 42-09 & 24-09

W7-17 with 14-08 & 24-08 

W11-17 with W1-06 & 1-10 

W12-17 with 9-05 & 13-03 

W13-17 with 29-09 & 12-03

W14-17 with 9-03 & 3-04

W15-17 with 20-14 & 37-07

W16-17 & W17-17 with 2-04 & 25-09 (photo)

Adult whooping cranes 2-04 & 25-09 with their two chicks: W16-17 & W17-17

We’ve received a number of inquiries about the nest belonging to what seems to be two female whooping cranes. Numbers 28-05 and 2-15 constructed a nest, which Bev discovered during one of her aerial surveys in late April.

Brooke ventured out to the nest last week and discovered no eggs or egg fragments so it seems these two were perhaps just practicing. Each time Bev flew over there was a bird on the nest so she was never able to see any eggs either.

The jury is still out whether one of them is in fact a male. Others have viewed the video clip Brooke captured and while opinions are plentiful they are not consistent.  

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It’s a Boy! And a Girl!

Each year it’s a guessing game as to which gender each whooping crane colt is. The odds are pretty good at 50/50 but it’s always fun to guess based on their personality traits…

Well wait no more! The results are in and we have three boys and three girls! 

Wait, that’s only six you say? You’re right – and it seems we still have to wait a bit longer for the gender of #2-17. 

Here is the Class of 2017 Modified Costume Reared Cohort:

Crane Hatch Date Legband Gender
1-17 4/24/17 White Male
2-17 4/28/17 Green/Black Unknown
3-17 4/29/17 Pink/Red Male
4-17 4/30/17 Green Male
6-17 5/2/17 Red/ Female
7-17 5/3/17 Orange Female
8-17 5/3/17 Black/ Female

 So it seems Bigfoot, the young colt who owns the rather large feet, is, in fact, a girl… 

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