Here is a comprehensive report – by the numbers – on nesting season 2015, and a status-report on the chicks that have hatched. This report will include 1.) a wrap up of the nesting season of the Eastern Migratory Population of whooping cranes (the EMP); 2.) the chicks that are hatching in Wisconsin at the International Crane Foundation; and 3.) the chicks that have hatched at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center that are designated for the ultralight training program.
Number One: The EMP
The 90-plus adults of the EMP have built 37 nests in the wild in Wisconsin this year – a true record breaking number of nests. The nesting occurred in and around Necedah National Wildlife Refuge; there were 27 nesting pairs; and 10 pair built two nests. The official term for that is “renesting.”
When I last reported on this wonderful nesting season (here, on June 5th) a total of 20 chicks had hatched and 14 had been seen alive on an aerial survey flight by Wisconsin DNR pilot Bev Paulan on June 2nd. At that point one or two of the renesting crane pairs were still incubating eggs.
A subsequent report on a June 8th aerial survey makes note of two more chicks that have hatched – thus a total of 22 chicks (another record!) have hatched in the wild in Wisconsin, and the nesting season is now complete. Of the 22, there were (as of June 8th) 11 confirmed surviving.
If that 50% survival rate seems like a shocking figure to you, a cautionary reminder is probably worth considering: that survival in the wild is fraught with challenges that can’t always be easily understood or documented. It’s also worth nothing that re-introducing a species into a habitat that it has long been absent from, as is being done with the EMP, has its own challenges. That part of the equation is being studied intently by the partners of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership for more precise answers to chick survival rate.
Keeping Score at the International Crane Foundation
ICF tracks the progress of both the wild whooping crane nests in Wisconsin and that of the eggs laid by the captive population in residence at ICF. It regularly updates the numbers that track that progress, at the Egg Score Card on their website.
At the International Crane Foundation this year, 36 eggs were produced – 6 were broken and 14 were infertile (so far; there is still one egg that remains in the category “too soon to tell if fertile”). Of the 15 fertile eggs, 1 was transferred to Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland, and 7 have hatched. There are 7 more to hatch (or 8, depending on the “too soon to tell” egg).
Bryant Tarr, Curator of Birds at ICF, is pleased with the way the hatching of eggs had proceeded this year. He explained that the single egg that was “transferred to Patuxent, was “an early one more suited in timing for hatching and rearing as an Ultralight bird.” As for the birds that are hatching at ICF, he said they “will be isolation reared and candidates for the DAR program. If all hatch and survive (doesn’t always happen of course) we will end up with 10 chicks, and likely 2 of those will be held back for genetic reasons as future breeders.”
Note: The graphic below published by the International Crane Foundation (and used by permission), is a good representation of all the steps that ICF takes to help bring about each new “next generation” of whooping cranes.
The DAR (Direct Autumn Release) method of releasing “isolation-reared” birds into the wild in late summer, near other cranes, has been used every year since 2005, with the exception of last year when there weren’t enough birds to warrant the program, which is dependent upon many hours of staff time from ICF.
I learned from Aviculturist Cyndie Gitter at a Chick Chat offered by ICF in late May that 5 staff members and 4 DAR interns will work intensely with the chicks this year, and they will have additional assistance from four crane conservation interns.
Meanwhile, at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
I also learned from Cyndie Gitter, via the Chick Chat that as of late May, 15 chicks had hatched at Patuxent. Eight of them, she said, were “currently allocated to the ultralight program.” Now, apparently there are seven, and they’ve just been formally introduced to the world by Operation Migration (which will train them and lead them on migration in the fall) as the Class of 2015.
If you follow the link above you’ll see baby chick portraits of each one: Whooping crane #’s 1, 2, 3, 6, 8, 10, and 11 of 2015. They are already tall little birds, made of fluffy cinnamon feathers and long, twiggy legs. They are being trained at Patuxent to follow the “trike” – an ultralight without its wing. In two weeks they will be transferred to White River Marsh in Wisconsin.