Team members needed

There was a time when all the members of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership would meet every year to discuss the project and report the results of a season of hard work. Unfortunately, budget cutbacks and travel restrictions have limited that opportunity but webinar technology still allows us to share reports and talk over issues.

Yesterday WCEP met online to report on the successes and tribulations of 2013. We discussed expansion of the White River site in case more birds are available and the Science Team previewed research needs. We talked about the issues the DAR method struggled with and plans to mitigate the problem in 2014. Refuge Biologist Brad Strobel outlined plans to manage nests at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge this spring. He pointed out that the success rate for pairs that nest early and face hordes of black flies is only 0.5 percent, whereas pairs that re-nest after the blackflies have gone, have a 30 percent success rate. He sighted research that demonstrated the rate of renesting could be increased over time. He suggested that a large number of eggs from early nests are wasted each year.

John French from Patuxent proposed that they could build a cohort of up to 9 chicks this spring for the Parent Reared study without much impact on the production of their captive breeding pairs.

If all of this reminds you of counting your chickens before they hatch, you’re absolutely right. No one can predict the kind of breeding season we will have, so we must be prepared for anything. If we wait until the eggs are laid, it will be too late to increase the size of the pen facilities at White River if we need them. Permits are required before we dig another wet pen so the Wildlife Area manager has begun the application process. Our contractor will plow a roadway through the snow and give it a few days to freeze solid. Then they will bring in a very heavy excavator to dig the wet pen scrape and remove the dirt without destroying the runway. The frozen ground will be hard to smooth out so they will leave that last detail until the spring and do it with a much smaller machine. Once nesting begins and we have some idea of the number of chicks we will get, we can decide if we need to build the pen or wait another season.

More eggs put a heavy burden on the captive breeding facilities so Patuxent has asked us if we can provide more assistance during the early training. We are now recruiting another person to begin at Patuxent in mid April, spend the summer in Wisconsin and accompany the migration until it is complete in December or January. Operation Migration does not have a full education program for interns so we are not legally allowed to pay interns a stipend. Instead we pay minimum wage with Room and Board. Of course we would be very happy if someone wanted to volunteer their services too.

Anyone interested should think twice before sending a resume. It is a big commitment in time and energy. Initial training and imprinting requires early mornings and long days. From June on, we live in motorhomes and train the birds every day at sunrise. The migration is best described as days of frustration waiting for the weather to improve, punctuated by overwork and high stress when it finally cooperates.  We are also looking for someone with experience driving a large pickup truck pulling a 30 foot trailer, some knowledge of caring for birds and the ability to get along with a team in tight quarters.

If I have not completely discouraged you, please send a resume to joe(AT)


Whooping Crane Antics

Disney’s Scott Tidmus had an opportunity to visit with the Class of 2013 Whooping cranes at their release enclosure on Saturday, February 1st prior to the WHO Festival.

Scott shared the following images with us so that we could share them with you.

Wintering Whooping cranes

As Scott and Brooke were heading out to the pen, the two sub-adults: 4 & 5-12 dropped in.

Whooping crane wingspan

My wings are bigger than yours!

whooping crane jump rake

Whooping crane juvenile #2-13 jump rakes sub-adult #5-12

whooping crane chasing another

Whooping crane adult 4-12 chases youngster 8-13

Juvenile #9-13 warns ___ that he'd better be nice while on their turf!

Juvenile #9-13 warns 4-12  that he’d better be nice while on their turf!



The only two Whooping cranes to have formed a mated pair in the Louisiana non-migratory population were found shot on Friday.

The female, from the 2012 cohort was found dead. The male is the only remaining survivor from the first year (2011) of the reintroduction effort, is seriously injured and was taken to the Louisiana State University veterinary school in Baton Rouge. He is expected to survive, however, his wing was very badly damaged from the bird shot.

Officials from Louisiana Department Wildlife and Fisheries say while this pair was too young to produce eggs, they had been practicing nest building in the area.

Wildlife and fisheries officials offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to whoever shot the birds.

This photograph provided by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries shows a dead female whooping crane found Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, with her wounded but still living mate near Roanoke in southwest Jefferson Davis Parish, La.  AP PHOTO/LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF WILDLIFE AND FISHERIES

This photograph provided by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries shows a dead female whooping crane found Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, with her wounded but still living mate near Roanoke in southwest Jefferson Davis Parish, La. AP PHOTO/LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF WILDLIFE AND FISHERIES


Don’t Blame the Hunters

Flying over the heartland of America, we get to see it from a wider perspective than the pedestrians below. Yet we are not so high that it all blends like the patchwork you see from an airliner window. From one or two thousand feet you can see the surface in detail and you realize that between Wisconsin and Florida there isn’t a square foot that has not been changed by man. Every forest has been clear cut several times and is now mixed with non-indigenous species. What was once miles of tall grass prairie is now agriculture fields as far as you can see.

In modifying most of the habitat, we have also affected many species of wildlife and sometimes the changes we have made throws off the balance of nature. When populations explode we can no longer rely on natural predators to keep them in check. And that is where hunters can provide an important service.

Wildlife agencies can increase take quotas for deer and other game animals and can use hunters to bring them back to sustainable numbers. Apart from helping to maintain a balance, taxes on guns, ammunition and fees for hunting permits help fund much of the conservation work being done. Pro-hunting groups like Ducks Unlimited and the National Turkey Foundation protect large tracts of habitat.

But not all people who use guns in the wild live up to the standards of most hunters. Fifteen Whooping cranes have been shot in the eastern flyway by vandals or people who don’t believe the rules apply to them. It is hard to understand what motivates someone to shoot a whooping crane. Maybe it is ignorance of the law or an arrogant disregard for it. Some who have been caught, claimed they didn’t know what it was but that excuse is as indefensible as allowing someone that stupid to use a gun.

It is time consuming, tedious and expensive to place a reintroduced Whooping crane in the wild in a migratory situation. It took years of experiments to learn how to raise and breed them in captivity and a number of failed projects before we accumulated the knowledge to make them migratory. Each year since 2001 we have hatched a new generation, imprinted them at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, conditioned them to follow our aircraft in Wisconsin and led them 1200 miles to Florida. On average we add thirteen birds a year to the wild population so the fifteen that have been shot so far represents an entire year of hard work and the support of thousands of people just because someone wanted to kill something.

In the wildlife management community this kind of crime is officially known as thrill killing or wanton waste. On the other side of the issue, the people with no respect for the environment call it the three S’s – shoot, shovel and shut up.

The most recent shootings took place in Kentucky in November when a young pair was shot with a rifle. The reward for information leading to the arrest is now up to $16000.00 and hopefully, someone will come forward. Maybe if the conviction carries a heavy penalty, it will act as a deterrent, or maybe some the hunting organizations will help with education. After all, many people are quick to blame them and a few thrill killers are tarnishing the good name of conscientious hunters.

Ed. Note: We’ve received a number of contributions earmarked for the reward fund. Many private citizens and organizations from Kentucky, including the Kentucky Coalition for Sandhill Cranes, and the Kentucky Ornithological Society. If you would like to make a contribution to help us increase the reward offered in this case, please call us at: 800-675-2618 or visit this link and include “Reward Fund” in the Comment field.

Another way to help spread the word is to share the story/video below, which ran on NBC’s Today Show and which includes news of the reward.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


WHO Festival Highlights

Guest Author: Claire Timm

P-A-R-T-Y! Everybody loves a party… right? And a “festival” is just another name for “party”… right? So no wonder everyone had such a great time at the 2014 WHO (Wildlife Heritage and Outdoors) Festival at St. Marks, NWR on Saturday, February 1st. The WHO Festival was just a great, big, open-air “party” celebrating the Great Outdoors!Operation Migration joined over 30 other organizations at this annual festival. Groups such as the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, Ducks Unlimited, Friends of Florida State Forests, Inc., Bass Pro Shop, St. Marks Refuge Association and St. Marks Photo Club all had displays and activities for the crowd that came out to enjoy the day. It was especially fun being right across from Disney’s Worldwide Conservation Fund and OM’s good friend, Scott Tidmus.

Joining me at the Operation Migration table were Colleen Chase, Chantal Blanton and her husband Jim Pinson. Jim was a good sport again this year donning the “Costume” and demonstrating how the Crane Handlers work their magic with the young cranes.

2014WHOFestival_0032.1resizedChantal, Colleen and I answered questions, explained the OM project to those not familiar it and sold OM merchandise…. LOTS of merchandise! Especially popular were the new “Wanda (adult) and Wally (chick) Whooper” plush crane toys. Even though they could be bought separately most went home as a pair!

Wand & Wally Whooper

If you’d like to get your own Wally and Wanda Whooper plush toys, visit our Marketplace!

Brooke Pennypacker even made an appearance stopping by to sign autographs for his adoring fans! For years I’ve been telling him about his “Rock Star” status, especially among the 12 and under set! On Saturday the line for him to sign the OM information brochure had to be proof positive of this. As he always is, he was definitely the life of THIS “party”!

Brooke signs autographs for his adoring fans

Brooke signs autographs for his adoring fans

Added to our display table this year were two custom made banners with the OM logo and 4 photo collages. The collages document OM’s work with the Crane Chicklets from incubation through wintering at St. Marks. The banners and collages truly added a whole new dimension to our presence this year. In fact Colleen, Chantal and I are thinking about taking this “party” on the road and are looking at other local festivals for OM to participate in!


We want to extend a very special thank you to the St. Marks NWR, St. Marks Refuge Association and Big Bend Flyfishers for hosting this wonderful outdoor “party” and for all they did to create a fun and educational event. It was a grand success and something we were very proud to be a part of. We are already looking forward to next year!

Till next time…“Party On”!



Make Plans to Attend the Port Aransas Whooping Crane Festival!

Whooping Crane Festival

Gorgeous weather, boat and birding tours, workshops AND Whooping cranes… What more could a Craniac possibly want?

An outstanding line-up of speakers this year will enlighten you about all the conservation efforts spanning the continent to save these endangered creatures. Back by popular demand is famed photographer Larry Ditto, and our ever popular boat and bus trips are not to be missed. We look forward to hosting you on our island paradise where conservation and preservation rank among our top priorities. Check out the Festival Highlights for activities you don’t want to miss. Review the Schedule and Register early to reserve your spot, as our activities fill up quickly.


Wintering Whooping Crane Photos

Yesterday Brooke promised some additional images would be posted showing the young Whooping cranes interacting with the two sub-adult cranes from 2012.


Whooping crane aggression

Juvenile Whooping crane #5-13 put the run to sub-adult crane #5-12

two adult Whooping cranes and one juvenile

Number 8-13 (female) keeps a watchful eye on the two sub-adult male Whooping cranes. A possible pair in the making?

adult Whooping crane

I’m not sure which of the two male Whoopers this is but he’s spectacular! The most noticeable characteristic of the whooping crane is the large red patch on the head. The red patch is actually skin, which extends from the cheek, along the bill and over the top of the head. It can expand and retract and is used to communicate.




Whooping crane stand-off

They say the first word out of a baby humanoid’s mouth is “Mommy”, (although for those born in the 60’s, it was “Far out!”)  But it’s not really. It’s “Mine”!, which after a few years of practiced articulation morphs into, “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours, is mine”! Then after a bunch more years of self serving enlightenment it becomes “Good fences make good neighbors”!

Life is about territories. If you doubt any of this, just begin your day listening to world news. “Last night, a fun time was had by all in Syria.” After all, it was Charles Darwin who wrote the first draft of “Lord of the Flies” and it was the Eleventh Commandment that stated “If thou findest thou self in a sandbox, be damn sure thou has the biggest shovel”. It’s the human condition and is likely to remain so until we learn to crawl out of our skin and molt.

Same with crane chicks. And that should be no surprise. I mean, after all, cranes were on the earth tens of millions of years before humans ever crawled out of the primordial ooze screaming, “Who’s your daddy!” In the wild, the mama crane lays two eggs, which hatch but usually only one chick survives, having out competed the other for food and parental attention. The majority of biologists who study cranes have yet to hear the words, “Hey… I’ll split it with ya!” ring out from a nest and those who have had to change their medications.

Our reintroduction technique requires the unnatural… the combining of crane chicks into groups or cohorts for practicality and efficiency. This requires socialization and group therapy. Team building. The binding mechanism of every team, crane or human, is the chain of command better known as the pecking order. This establishment of individual dominance, one chick over the other, is more certainty than mystery and probably begins with the genetic stew which fills each and every egg. Once this glue of acceptance and understanding has been applied and cured, the team moves on to the next step; the singing of the “One for all and all for one” song. For our little band of eight musketeers, it’s “us against the world”…. a collective “Mine”!

Enter sub-adults #4 and #5-12. These two St. Marks pen alumna left Wisconsin and flew back here to their old stomping grounds several weeks before our arrival. They spent their days blissfully foraging the salt flats and marsh around the pen area and roosting on the familiar pen oyster bar most nights. Nice and quiet. Just the usual suspects; egrets, ibis, heron, a few ducks and the occasional raccoon. “Mine!” Then the chicks arrived and were placed in the top-netted pen until the completion of health checks and banding.

Meanwhile, adult Whooping cranes #11 and #15-09 flew in for a visit.  After all, it was their old stomping grounds also. But before they could yell “Mine”!, #4 and #5 chased them off THEIR territory and away to some place over the horizon.  What made this incident even more interesting was the fact that #11 and #15 appeared to be much larger than #4 and #5, proving with scientific certainty that size doesn’t matter after all. Then, when the door of the top-netted pen finally flew open, each chick took a long swig from a bottle of “Whoop-ass” and chased #4 and #5 out of the pen.  “Mine!”

Since then, a kind of truce has formed. The chicks have graciously allowed #4 and #5 to remain in the pen, as long as they acknowledge complete chick dominance, give way in any and all situations and tolerate the occasional burst of aggression from each and every chick as they reinforce the new order of things.  “Ok, ok…’s all yours’! Just lighten up on those beaks would ya!” shouted the big boys.

Whooping crane stand-off

Juvenile Whooping crane #4-13 puts the run to sub-adult crane #4-12 

They are even permitted to roost at night with the chicks on the oyster bar. Like they say, birds that sleep together stay together. Perhaps their easy acceptance of their fate is grounded, in a crane sort of way, in the knowledge that it is, after all, lonely at the top. Hopefully, mutual benefit will result from this arrangement. The young will learn from the experience of the older, though if the human experience is any indication, this may be wishful thinking.

Predator identification and avoidance is one potential benefit. (That is, of course, unless the predator walks on two legs and carries a gun. Then it’s all up to the Judge.) And what’s good and not so good on the Marsh Menu. But this project is nothing, if not an ambitious experiment and perhaps as the days pass and the chicks learn their life lessons, we will too.

If we do learn anything, we’ll share it with you.  Promise!

(Tune in tomorrow for some additional photos!)


The ‘Cow Pond’ Whooping Cranes

On the afternoon of the day we made the final 28 mile flight to the St. Marks Refuge, we were supposed to meet up with George Archibald, Co-founder of the International Crane Foundation when he stopped to visit the ‘Cow Pond’ cranes near Tallahassee.

Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to meet George as there was a LOT of things to do that day, however, George stopped in the next day to see the team and it’s always fun visiting with him and catching up.

George wrote a firsthand account of his visit with Whooping cranes 11-09 & 15-09 that we thought you’d enjoy. Our special thanks to him for his continued support of Operation Migration and to Craniac Karen Willes for being such a great guardian of this pair of cranes.

CLICK to read George’s account of his visit.


St. Marks WHO Festival This Weekend!

What do fly fishing, archery, birdwatching, woodworking, wildlife, cast netting, and lighthouse history have in common? These are all exhibits offered at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge’s 8th annual Wildlife Heritage & Outdoors Festival on Sat. Feb. 1, 2014 from 11 am – 4 pm. The mission of this festival is “Connect People to Nature” through a community celebration of nature’s diversity and local heritage. The many exhibitors will provide fun outdoor activities from the past and present for people of all ages.

Visitors will be able to experience firsthand how to cast a fly rod, throw a cast net, call a turkey or duck, learn about Civil War history, learn about wood carving and wood working, meet Woodsy the Owl and Puddles the goose, learn about our whooping cranes at the Operation Migration table, and meet representatives from many outdoors support organizations!

Mark Saturday, February 1st on your calendar and make plans to attend the St. Marks Wildlife Heritage & Outdoors (WHO) Festival!



Whoopers at Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge

Craniac Doug McCoy sent the following images he captured on Saturday, January 25 during a visit to Hiwassee Refuge and allowed us to share them with you.

Check out the second image to see a special visitor! (Note: you can click each image to enlarge)

Thousands of Sandhill cranes gather at Hiwassee Refuge

Thousands of Sandhill cranes gather at Hiwassee Refuge


One lone Whooping crane among the sea of grey Sandhill cranes

The legbands on this Whooper are: left: black/white and right: green/red/green, which tells us this is none other than Zoey “Flower Child” Woodstock, or number 10-10. She’s one of the very few that actually has a nickname. Wondering just how she earned her moniker? Check out Journey North to learn more!

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