This is a story of loss and hope. First came the loss, earlier this summer of all but one of the wild-hatched chicks. A record number of 13 chicks were hatched in the wild places in and around Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin. There were a few, heady weeks in May as the reports of the first wild hatchling was followed by a second; then another and another, until 13 wild-hatched chicks were confirmed (see the section on Reproduction).
Hopeful Days, Sobering Losses
Those springtime hopes were soon followed by this sobering report in mid-June at Operation Migration’s Field Journal that only 3 chicks could be confirmed alive. Tiny whooping crane chicks, apparently, are no match for the bigger wildlife that preys upon them in Wisconsin. Hope shrunk further with the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership’s official update in mid-July which made it clear that only one wild chick (#3 of 2014) was surviving.
Even so, for those that closely follow the progress of this re-introduced whooping crane population, hope settled firmly on W3-14 and it’s attentive parents. The International Crane Foundation’s Eva Szyszkoski was tracking the crane family in Wood County, and posting encouraging updates and photos of them on Facebook (July 22 and August 13).
The adult cranes in this family, male 12-02, and female 19-04, were veteran parents. They had first paired up in the fall of 2006 and their first confirmed nest, though unsuccessful, was discovered in the spring of 2008. In 2009, they successfully hatched a chick that lived to mid-July. They hatched three more after that, and all, including W3-14, fledged.
Most distressing then, when it was announced this week that 19-04, the female of the pair, is now missing, and probably deceased.
New Hope: Crane Dad & Chick Duo
The report from the International Crane Foundation, Aug. 27, states: “19-04, (the mother of W3-14) has disappeared. She was last observed with her family on the evening of Aug. 16, 2014.” It is posted on the ICF Facebook page, and the Facebook pages of Operation Migration and the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, as well. With all that experience gained by the pair, (#19-04 and #12-02) with hatching chicks successfully, and their very good track record of raising them to fledging, this is particularly bitter news.
But their chick, W#3-14, has been photographed again, in good health, and in the company of now Single-dad Whooping Crane 12-02. And the hope all shifts to this Dad & chick duo.
The Recovery of the Whooping Crane Species
The survival of this wonderful North American species of bird – these tall, elegant, super-fliers – has never been assured since their numbers in the only natural-occurring flock dwindled into the mere teens in the 1940s.
This original Aransas-Wood Buffalo flock (which migrates between it’s breeding territory in northern Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast), has recovered from 16 birds in the winter of 1941-42, to around 300 today. Three hundred wild whooping cranes is something to celebrate, that’s for sure! But it’s not nearly enough to consider the future secure for the species, and the efforts to re-introduce a second flock – such as the Eastern Migratory Population based in Wisconsin – is a hedge against any potential disaster befalling the Aransas-Wood Buffalo cranes.
Even though the number of birds in that flock is now light years ahead of where it was in the 1940s and 50s, progress has moved at a snail’s pace. Still, hope has always been a partner with the whooping crane species.
[Important Note: The biographical facts about the cranes in this story are available through the outstanding efforts of The Journey North website to chronicle the lives (and deaths) of each and every crane introduced, or born, into the Eastern Migratory Population of whooping cranes.]