Ask-the-Experts: Predators, Nesting Prospects, & Newsmakers

(This post continues a report on the long & interesting Ask the Experts event hosted last week  by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. See that post – the one immediately prior to this – for the rest of the report. You can link to the chat itself, here; select the link, “Whooping Cranes” on the right side of the page.)

There was a lot of talk about predators . . .

Predation – an early cause of death for whooping cranes in Wisconsin by predators such as coyote, bobcats, foxes, eagles – was on the minds of many of the participants in the Ask-the-Experts live online chat last week.

How will the chicks hatched in the wild ever succeed “with predation always lurking?” someone asked. Another, made a case for trapping predators, “utilizing professional trappers.”

“I know many share your concerns.”

It would just be common sense, given the amount of money invested in the wildlife “rehab” efforts, said a commenter identified as Sandhill Fan: “Whether it’s elk in northern and central Wisconsin or whooping cranes in the south . . . (there) could be such a greater return if only the state and federal powers could do what most citizens believe needs to be done – reduce the number of predators in the area.”

Trapping has been “considered, but not implemented,” said Davin Lopez, of the Wisconsin DNR, responding to this idea. He explained this is not generally seen as “consistent with the mission” of national wildlife refuges. He did say, however, that he appreciated hearing about this, adding, “I know many share your concerns.”

“What kind of predation studies are being suggested?”

Another question focused on predation studies, and the International Crane Foundation’s Anne Lacy said the issue does need more study, adding there is a plan being developed. “We really need to start with basic information, ” she said. “What predators are at the nest?” Next year, she said, tiny radio transmitters will be attached to the chicks when they are very small, “to track them and find out what may be taking them.”

 Can we keep whooping cranes like this safe from predators? Photo by Richard Urbanek, USFWS; Photo is in the Public Domain.


Can we keep whooping cranes like this, and their chicks, safe from predators? (Photo by Richard Urbanek, USFWS; Photo is in the Public Domain )

The plans for this are “very preliminary,” I learned, but the study that is being developed will mirror others done on Mississippi Sandhills.

“Do You Have Any Updates on Whoopsie?”

The topic of whoophills – cranes that result from a pairing of a whooping crane with a sandhill – is still current. There were a number of sightings of a whoophill, and questions about it, discussed by birders early this past summer at Horicon National Wildlife Refuge. It was a complete family that people were seeing and photographing:  a sandhill mother, whooper dad, and their chick.

The family was soon in the news, and soon acknowledged by the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership – the chick, given the name, “Whoopsie,” and the very attentive dad identified as WCEP’s #11-16. Not long after that, WCEP announced it would capture Whoopsie, and provide him a life in captivity, since they believe a whoophill, left to potentially breed with whooping cranes in Wisconsin, would complicate the goal of establishing the whooping crane population.

So where is Whoopsie now, and how is he doing, people wanted to know? They learned he’s begun his new life at the International Crane Foundation, and has been undergoing a period of quarantine. Following that he is being moved to a new crane house next to a neighbor picked just for him: “a female sandhill crane who was raised by whooping cranes who lost her mate earlier this year.”

“Are you concerned about the possibility of more whoophills?”

Naturally, learning about Whoopsie’s fate led to more questions about whoophills – in particular, is WCEP concerned about the possibility of more whoophills being produced? Anne Lacy said they believe the pairing that led to Whoopsie occurred this summer because of “the sparse number of whooping crane females out there . . .” Next year, she pointed out, there will be a number of new female cranes in that area.

(There were five females in the ultralight class of 2014, and there are five more this year, as well as six females among the birds for direct autumn release this year. These whooper gals will only be one and two years old – too young for successful nesting, but not too young to attract the attention of the unpaired males, it is expected; not too young to form pair bonds.)

” . . . any nesting activity near White River or Horicon?”

Horicon, where Whoopsie was hatched, and the White River Marsh State Wildlife Area are the new areas in Wisconsin for release of captive-bred whooping cranes. Every bird hatched since 2011 for the ultralight and direct autumn release programs, has been released into these areas instead of at Necedah, as had been routine from 2001 through 2010.

The expectation, of course, is that as they mature, these cranes will nest and breed in the new area. It should be more hospitable to nesting cranes, because of a low incidence of the black fly population that often erupts around Necedah, during nesting season.

So, what are the prospects for this? Kay Ritenour, from the crane foundation explained that although there was one nest made by two young birds last year in Marquette County, that’s all so far. “The birds that spent most of the summer in White River this year were all 3 years old or less, so they are a bit young for nesting. Hopefully next year,” she said.

Most of the whoopers hatched in 2011 (the first year of the crane release areas) are now paired, but these are birds that, contrary to expectations, are nesting at Necedah, not in the new areas. The explanation given for that is that these are birds that, during their first winter on migration, were commingled with the Necedah cranes at the Wheeler NWR in Alabama.

“What about that juvenile that was captured in Iowa?”

And last, but certainly not least, there was lots of curiosity about a single young crane now known as “Kevin.” And there’s little doubt that curiosity will grow from what we learned about him at Ask the Experts.

Kevin was hatched earlier this year at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, and “raised by real cranes straight out of the egg” explained Anne Lacy. Then, after fledging, he was brought to Wisconsin, along with two other young cranes, and released near adult pairs who, it is hoped, may adopt and migrate with the young one. (I’ve written about this experimental release program, here, in a post explaining the parent-reared program.)

But before Kevin could form any bonds with an adult pair, he flew away from Necedah, and was soon in Iowa. Dubuque, to be precise, where the bird took up residence behind a strip mall that included restaurants like Red Robbin and Buffalo Wild Wings! Many people have seen the news reports about Kevin’s time in Dubuque, and in particular about the staffers at Buffalo Wild Wings who became fascinated and protective of the bird, (and were the ones to “name” it.)

International Crane Foundation sent a rescue team to capture and return Kevin to Wisconsin. He was released here again, but didn’t stay long, as we learned last week. He flew off again!  Unaccompanied and unexpectedly, said Anne Lacy, who told us his most recent location had been identified as Tallulah, Louisiana.

“He is still fairly far north, separated from the non-migratory flock of whooping cranes.” She added that the refuge staff there (on the gulf coast of Louisiana) is aware, and keeping an eye out for him. She believes, if he shows up, he would be welcomed, and could stay there.

That was a week ago. Where is now? I’m hoping for another Kevin update soon. It would be on the Facebook pages of ICF, or perhaps Operation Migration, in case you are curious now, too.

 

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