Migration News: Spring 2015

As March ends, there is confirmation that well over a third of Wisconsin’s whooping cranes are back in the state. This is a summary of what is known, with links to more information – in case, like me, you always hope for more when it comes to these beautiful big birds.

To begin with, the Cow Pond Whoopers are safely back in Wisconsin! Early in the month – March 7th to be exact – they were the first birds of the Eastern Migratory Population (EMP) of whooping cranes to be reported on migration. I’ve recently written at length about this pair of celebrated whoopers, and their volunteer “guardian.” I was thrilled, along with everyone else in the Cow Pond Whooper “fan club” to learn that the transmitter signal for the female, 15-09, of the pair was picked up near Necedah NWR on Mar. 28th (Her partner, 11-09, is assumed to be with her, but he has a non-functioning transmitter, so can’t be confirmed until a visual identification is made.)

Their leg bands identify the Cow Pond Whoopers; female, 15-9, is on left. (Photo by Karen Willes)

Their leg bands identify the Cow Pond Whoopers; female, 15-9, is on left. (Photo by Karen Willes)

By now numerous other whoopers have completed migration. An aerial survey of what is called “the core reintroduction area” – in the middle of Wisconsin, where most of the cranes, trained as chicks with the ultralights – was conducted last week (March 24th) by Wisconsin DNR pilot Bev Paulan. Bev was able to locate 27 individual cranes, and reported three others that have been confirmed by their transmitter signals. You can see right here exactly which cranes have been documented.

Watching & Waiting for Class of 2014

The “celebrity cranes” of each migration northward are always the youngest – that’s the Class of 2014, this year – the whooping cranes that are making their first journey back north to the territory where they fledged last summer. Always highly anticipated and closely monitored, the return trip to Wisconsin of the ultralight-trained chicks this year is even more intensely awaited because of unusual circumstances that marked their first migration to the South.

It’s a pleasure to be able to say that two cranes of 2014 are already back in Wisconsin. But who are they? And who and where are the others?
First, a quick summary of the chicks that hatched last spring into the EMP:
In addition to seven ultralight-trained juveniles (identified as #s 2,3,4,7,8,9,and 10-14) there is one wild-hatched chick (#w3-14), and three parent-raised chicks.

Parent-raised means what you would expect it to mean – but with a twist. After hatching last spring in the captive population of whooping cranes at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, these chicks were raised by their captive parents until they fledged. Then they were brought to Wisconsin to be released in the wild near adult pairs of whoopers, with the hopes that they would be fostered and would learn to migrate.

Two Migration Stories, With More to Come 

There were four chicks assigned to this new program last spring, and three of them have survived and successfully migrated south with foster-parent pairs. One of them, 19-14 has been observed back in Wisconsin in the aerial survey, as were the foster parent-pair, 39-07 and 7-07. They had led her south to their winter territory in Georgia.

The other 2014 juvenile that was confirmed back in Wisconsin just this week is 7-14, a female who is part of the cohort of the seven ultralight-led Class of 2014. She made the journey in the company of two older cranes, 4-12 and 4-13, who had frequented the pen site at St. Marks NWR where the ultralight chicks are monitored until they leave on migration north.

Five chicks remain at St. Marks NWR. (There would be six but most unfortunately, one of the Class of 2014, fell victim to a predator on March 15.) Those juvenile whooping cranes  who remain are waiting for the urge, or the inspiration,or just the right moment, to take off for the north. Also there is one more adult crane, 5-12, and the pilots and crew of Operation Migration, and their other partners in the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnerships, all have high hopes that 5-12 will be the guide that steers these five Class of 2014 chicks safely home for a summer in Wisconsin.

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