A Late Summer Treat: The Princeton Whooping Crane Festival

There’s a Whooping Crane Festival taking place in Wisconsin this weekend, and if you’re looking for a late summer treat, you won’t be disappointed if you take a drive to Green Lake County and check it out. It started today and continues through Sunday with a great variety of activities, including a special tour of the International Crane Foundation, in Baraboo, at 9 a.m. tomorrow morning.

Some of the other planned events include a silent auction, an artisans’ and vendors’ market, activities for children, birding opportunities, and a one-hour canoe trip in a hand-built replica of a French fur trader’s canoe. Here’s the schedule, for more info. For craniacs who can never get enough information regarding the progress of our beloved whooping cranes – as well as news of other avian species – there is a full line up of Saturday morning and Saturday afternoon talks. And they are:

Patricia Manthey, WI DNR avian ecologist and conservation biologist (retired in 2014), will speak, 9-10 a.m., about the recovery of the Trumpeter Swan, a conservation success story that spanned two and half decades. Trumpeter swan nests are now found in 24 Wisconsin counties.

Summer wildflowers are everywhere along the back roads of Wisconsin.

Summer wildflowers are everywhere along the back roads of Wisconsin.


Beverly Paulan, WI DNR pilot, and Joe Duff, pilot and co-founder of Operation Migration, are speaking at 10:30 a.m., and will have plenty of stories to share! Their subject, the role played by aviation in Wisconsin’s wildlife conservation programs; not only for the whooping crane and trumpeter swan, but also in tracking wolf packs, and deer herds, and conducting bird surveys.

Patricia Fisher, wildlife rehabber, and owner of The Feather Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center in New London, WI, will talk at 1 p.m., about her 30 years of raptor – and other critter – rehabilitation. She once told an Appleton newspaper interviewer “The most rewarding part of wildlife rehab to me is to be a part of their world. Something not everyone gets. Releasing them is phenomenal, but just to be with them is incredible.”


At 3 p.m., Joe Duff will return to the podium to address the topic foremost in the minds of most craniacs: the transition taking place this year in the whooping crane reintroduction. He will discuss how the new protocol involving “adoption of the new cranes by the former ultralight migration students,” is evolving, and how it might help the Wisconsin crane population’s chances of becoming a self-sustaining flock.

As stated above, The Princeton Whooping Crane Festival, and your drive to get there, just might be the perfect end-of-summer activity you’re seeking.

A Status Update on Wisconsin’s Whooping Cranes in Transition

What’s new with the Eastern Migratory Population of Whooping Cranes at the end of the summer of 2016?

At least 90 whooping cranes had been confirmed in Wisconsin by the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership as of August 1st. Four EMP birds were in Illinois, one was in Michigan, and the location of five other EMP birds is not confirmed, making for a maximum population size of 100 individual birds.

Nesting season this year was a now familiar pattern of some very good news, but not enough. There were many nests (46 total, by 29 pairs) some black fly abandonment early, followed by renests, a lot of chicks hatched (23), but only 2 or 3 survived to fledge. As of September, only one wild chick, #w7-16, survives. It was captured and banded on September 1st.

The Summer of Transition

The biggest news for the EMP this summer is its transition away from human intervention — human caretakers in costumes training newly hatched captive-bred chicks for eventual release into the wild  — in favor of using adult parent cranes in the captive population in all interactions with the new chicks. This means a decided shift away from costume-rearing of cranes, and also, that there will be no more ultralight-guided first migrations by the Operation Migration team.

Nonetheless, the work that began in 2001 with 20 captive-bred, costume-reared, ultralight-led whooper chicks, will continue. And publicized commitments from the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) and key founding partners are reassuring that the partnership remains in tact.

This USFWS photo of an Operation Migration ultralight and young whooping crane chicks, is the human-chick interaction that is no longer approved.

This USFWS photo of an Operation Migration ultralight and young whooping crane chicks, is the human-chick interaction that is no longer approved.

But why exactly is the changing focus necessary?

By now, I’m certain that everyone who follows this chapter of the whooping cranes’ story knows the ultralight flights have been stopped. And that adult cranes will be used to teach migratory behavior. But here is the story behind those facts, to the best of my knowledge, with links to official documents that explain it too.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is the WCEP partner legally responsible for implementing the Endangered Species Act, and for a number of years now, it seems to have been focused on only one aspect of the Eastern Migratory Population – what they identify as its “critical lack of reproductive success.” USFWS staff involved in the whooping crane reintroduction believe that less human-intervention in the rearing and releasing of captive-bred chicks into the EMP could solve this problem. Here is the USFWS statement affirming its continued commitment to the Eastern Migratory whooping cranes.

At a meeting of all the partners, convened in January of this year, the USFWS decision to discontinue the ultralight-led migration was accepted. Although the partners did not vote on it, an agreement to shift the focus to “more natural methods” was reached through “a collaborative process that engaged all the partners.”

Will Poor Reproduction be Solved?

While reproduction of chicks in the wild remains a tough obstacle blocking, for now, the EMP’s path to becoming a sustainable population, many previous goals for this population have been successfully met, as this fact sheet from the International Crane Foundation makes clear. The population has grown to 100 wild birds, they successfully migrate to the southern U.S., and return to nest in Wisconsin, and the number and locations of nests is growing.

A USFWS photo of a whooping crane pair with two tiny chicks at Necedah NWR in 2010.

A USFWS photo of a whooping crane pair with two tiny chicks at Necedah NWR in 2010.

The shift in focus now requested by USFWS is only possible, reminds the International Crane Foundation fact sheet, “because of the great success of the program thus far.” It further affirms, “WCEP can meet this challenge,” and that ICF is committed to being a leader in the work to come.

What’s Next?

Next week The Badger & the Whooping Crane will report on what the actual shift from human-mentors to adult crane guides is looking like at this point in time, and how Operation Migration’s role is shifting from ultralight leading, to monitoring and managing the EMP in the field. Before that, though, a report on the whoopers of 2015.

Back to Blogging: A Personal Note from a Mother Hen

I’ve been missing for a while from The Badger and the Whooping Crane – virtually no new posts for waaaay too long. Now I’m back to blog, but think perhaps an explanation for the absence should be offered..

Of course I wanted to write about the spring migration back to Wisconsin made by at least 90 of our wild whoopers; and I certainly did not want to miss the nesting season, and the hatching of new chicks in the wild, that followed soon after! But I was busy elsewhere, focused like a laser on preparations that were being made for the marriage of my own youngest chick. I was fully distracted, you might say, being a mother hen.

Desperately Distracted by the Details

Instead of whooping crane posts, about the only writing I was doing was lists of wedding prep to-do’s:  lists of things to be printed, and things to be planted; things to be shopped for, calls to be made, appointments to be kept. And a list with no end of clean-up, fix-up, home improvement “musts.” There was a wedding party migrating our way, and they would need a place to roost. Of course, there was a full committee worrying over all these details, too, but when you are the mother hen, well . . . .


(Photo by Evan Fedorko)

Before we knew it the day was here, bringing proof that time and effort expended in the service of a worthy goal, is time well spent. On a perfectly gorgeous August afternoon, our chick and her mate became a pair, pledging their love and fidelity in a woodland glen, in the presence of a very large flock of happy friends and family.

Then this new couple, and the happy crowd with it, celebrated through the evening and into the night in a large, open, fairy-tale-like tent overlooking the prairie of a state historical park, a river in the distance. It was exactly the day this pair had wanted.

A Mission Accomplished, Another Restated

So, mission accomplished! And now, happily back to the 2-part mission I still believe The Badger and the Whooping Crane should encompass: first, helping to tell the tale, unique and unusual as it is, of Wisconsin’s re-introduced population of wild whooping cranes, and second, celebrating our state’s strong conservation ethic; its history of natural resource protection. It is Wisconsin’s natural gifts, after all, that sustain the whoopers, and every other living thing here, humans included.

What’s Next?  

Watch for the next post that will offer a review of the current status of our Eastern Migratory Population of  whooping cranes at the end of the Summer of 2016,  a summer that has been called “transitional” for this effort to reintroduce the whooping crane species to Eastern North America. A second post will include an update of each of the 18 whoopers of 2015 – all that entered the population, whether as Parent-reared, Direct Autumn release, Ultralight-trained, or wild hatched – where they migrated to, where they are now.