Just Hatched! Wild #1-14 (with Updates!)

Updated May 15, 2014

The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership confirmed on its Facebook page today that at least 3 chicks have now been born in Wisconsin this nesting season, and the International Crane Foundation adds the identifying numbers of the parents of the newest-hatched chicks.  Both sets of new crane parents – a pair that includes a 2004 female and 2002 male, and a second pair that are both 2009 whooping cranes – have all had experience hatching a chick before.  In fact the older pair have successfully hatched and fledged 2 previous chicks; one of those – w#3 of 2010 is surviving today. This would seem like a promising sign for the 2014 hatchlings!

 

The first big news of the season! The first-of-the-year whooping crane hatched in the wild in Wisconsin was reported yesterday, May 13! This chick will be known as W#1-14 – signifying that it is the number one wild-hatched chick of 2014.

A whooping crane parent with chick; photo courtesy of the International Crane Foundation.

A whooping crane parent with chick; photo courtesy of the International Crane Foundation.

In fact, W#1-14 actually hatched last week, May 8, at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, although the announcement, from the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership was just made yesterday. First to observe the chick was U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service intern Trevor Lauber who said he was specifically looking for a chick from the nest where a whooping crane pair had first been seen incubating on April 9.  ” . . .and sure enough there was a little brown fluffball next to the parent sitting on the nest.”

The parents are a female hatched in 2003 and a 2005 male. According to The Journey North, this is the third time this pair has successfully nested and hatched a wild whooping crane. Their first chick hatched in 2011 but did not survive a month. Their second offspring was hatched in 2012 and survived to fledge and migrate south with them in the fall, and back north in the spring of 2013.

What to Expect from the 2014 Whooping Crane Nesting Season

Will whooping crane chicks hatch and survive to fledge in Wisconsin this year? That’s always the question at nesting season, but the need to get a ‘Yes!’ for an answer is growing more urgent.

Add to that basic question some other urgent ones as well. Will the cranes again abandon many nests when they are driven from them by clouds of tiny, biting black flies? Will they re-nest after black fly season? It’s been a cold, frozen spring in Wisconsin – will there even be a black fly season that coincides with crane-nesting season this year? And finally, when a chick does hatch will its’ crane parents be able to protect it until it can fly away from danger on its own?

As reported last week in The Badger and the Whooping Crane, although there have been many nests built by the whooping cranes of the Eastern Migratory Population since 2005 (over 130), far too few chicks have hatched and survived. Only 29 chicks have hatched, and a mere half-dozen of those survived to fledge – 1 chick in 2006, 2 in 2010, 2 more in 2012, and 1 in 2013.

A USFWS photo of a whooping crane pair with two tiny chicks at Necedah NWR in 2010 - one of the few breeding seasons to yield "survivors."

A USFWS photo of a whooping crane pair with two tiny chicks at Necedah NWR in 2010 – one of the few breeding seasons to yield “survivors.”

An experiment to suppress the biting black flies that seem to be driving the cranes off their nests at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge was conducted during the cranes’ breeding seasons of 2011 and 2012. It did result in improved incubation success, but Peter Fasbender, the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership co-chair told me last week in an email that incubation improvement, by itself, wasn’t enough.

WCEP Makes the Case for More Study and More Second Nests

Nine chicks were hatched in 2012 – a record for the EMP, but only two survived to fledge, and join their parents on migration. The low survival rate–particularly of chicks from first nests–is also what concerns WCEP, Fasbender said. “Black fly emergence during the incubation phase contributes to failure in this area,” (nesting) “but our study has shown this is only part of the problem.”

Fasbender added that WCEP observations show that chicks have a much better chance of surviving to fledge if they are hatched from re-nests–the second nests that whooping crane pairs sometimes build if their first nesting attempt has failed. Thus, this year WCEP, is tackling the problems of ‘nest abandonment’ and ‘low chick survival’ with new tools, one of them being an emphasis on getting at least some of the cranes to re-nest. WCEP plans to remove eggs from half the nests early in the spring. (The undisturbed nests will act as a control group, Fasbender said.) The goal of doing this is to encourage whooping crane pairs to re-nest later in the season, when the black fly emergence has passed and there is a higher chance of chick survival, as well.

The second new tool that WCEP has announced this year is a $210,000 grant that has been awarded to Necedah NWR from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Cooperative Recovery Initiative, to “expand the limited understanding of multiple factors that influence nesting whooping cranes.” Necedah was one of only four refuges selected to receive such a grant this year. It will support 3 years of efforts to study and manage the cranes’ nesting season.

More History of the Black Fly Problem

Curious for more information about the black fly problems and the experiment to suppress them (and what, if anything, that might mean for the future) I visited WCEP’s webpages about its nest productivity studies, as well as “The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership Five Year Strategic Plan 2011 – 2015,” and its “March 2014 Status Report & Updates.”

Two specific black fly species that target birds to feed on have been identified at Necedah NWR. I learned they emerge with the first significant warm weather every year, always seeming to coincide with the whooping cranes’ nesting season–identified at WCEP’s “History of Nesting Efforts” as late April to mid-June. By 2008 there was enough anecdotal observations of large numbers of flies near nesting cranes, and photos of flies all over eggs in abandoned nests and that, combined with “lower than expected reproductive success,” prompted WCEP to launch “detailed nesting studies in 2009 and 2010,” and also, to search for an alternate future breeding territory to replace Necedah.

Whooping crane nesting success went up in 2012, after WCEP implemented the experimental black fly suppression program in both 2011 and 2012. This involved identifying the breeding sites of the flies and treating them with Bti (Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis), described as a biological control agent. The result was that the black fly population decreased, and in 2012, 9 whooping crane chicks were hatched, though as previously mentioned, only 2 chicks survived to fledge. As committed as WCEP is to addressing the low chick survival through more study and re-nesting, a Bti Summary Statement for 2014″ reports that talks will continue within WCEP about the use of Bti as a management tool (rather than just as an experiment) at some point in the future.

A New Breeding Territory for Whooping Cranes in Wisconsin

As mentioned above, WCEP began a search for a second location for the cranes’ nesting territory once the black fly problem was positively identified with Necedah. By 2011 this alternative, free of any large-scale black fly problem, had been identified on the eastern side of the state and chicks were being trained to fly with the ultralights at White River Marsh State Wildlife Area, and DAR chicks were being released at Horicon NWR. This would insure that the youngest cranes would migrate back to these areas and eventually, when mature, form pairs and build nests there.

An adult whooping crane pair in the Eastern Migratory Population. WCEP is hoping there will soon be many of these in the new breeding territory in Wisconsin. (Photo by Joel Trick, used courtesy of WCEP)

An adult whooping crane pair that live within the captive population at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo. (Photo by Joel Trick, used courtesy of WCEP)

Today there are 15 adult whooping cranes–7 that are DAR (direct autumn release) cranes and 8 ultralight-trained birds–that were the first to start their migrations from these eastern Wisconsin locations in 2011. They are now 3 years old, and generally thought too young to form pair bonds and produce fertile eggs. But it is hoped it won’t be long now before this group does form pairs and begins to produce chicks.

In fact, it was reported at the Operation Migration Field Journal, that two of the 2011 bird have indeed paired, and built a nest in the White River Marsh SWA. It was discovered by a Wisconsin DNR pilot on April 24th, and reported by Journey North as still active April 30th. A good sign? You bet!

Please stay tuned as we learn whatever answers the 2014 nesting season may yield.

Whooping Cranes Sitting on Nests!

Coming soon to the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership: newly-hatched crane chicks!

The eggs are being incubated (gathered from whooping cranes in the captive populations at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and the International Crane Foundation); add to that the good news that paired whooping cranes in the wild are sitting on nests in both Louisiana and Wisconsin. Those who work professionally on behalf of the whooping crane species, and those who just love them from afar – all are collectively holding their breath, waiting to see what the immediate future for whooping cranes is going to look like. Will the coming year be filled with more hopes than worries? Or the other way ’round?

Whooping Crane eggs in incubators (Photo couresty USGS Patuxent National Wildlife Research Center)

Whooping Crane eggs in incubators (Photo courtesy Patuxent National Wildlife Research Center)

For starters, the number of chicks hatched in captivity, then costume-reared, will once again be split among 3 different release programs: a group that will be trained to fly with the ultralights of Operation Migration, another group for Direct Autumn Release, and a third group that will be released with the new non-migrating flock in Louisiana. While there is always the hope for a bountiful crop of chicks to be shared by all three programs, there is also the real possibility that each program will have to settle for less than the hoped-for number of chicks.

The true hope for WCEP is represented by those cranes building nests in the wild – they’re the key to WCEP’s main goal of establishing a new, self-sustaining flock of wild whooping cranes. They are also the cause of so much of the breath-holding and anxiety regarding the breeding season for the Eastern Migratory Population of whoopers.

Over the years, the EMP whooping cranes have engaged in an impressive amount of nest-building in Wisconsin, but with little to show for it. According to the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, only 29 chicks have been hatched from the more than 100 nests built since 2005, and few of those hatched chicks have survived. The WCEP partners are engaged in various studies, including a recent effort at Bti suppression of black flies (in 2011 and 2012) which have been seen harassing the nesting cranes, and a just-launched 3-year intensive study of the whooping cranes’ nesting habits at Necedah NWR.

Look closely for the two eggs on the whooper nest! (Photo courtesy, international Crane Foundation)

Hopefully, successful breeding seasons will soon result, as the WCEP partners discover more answers. I asked WCEP co-chair, Peter Fasbender, a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service officer based in northeastern Wisconsin, about this, and he told me, via email:

“Wisconsin whooping cranes are doing some things well. Their survival rate is good. Their migration patterns are well-established in both spring and fall. They appear to arrive back in breeding territory in good physical condition as indicated by what appears to be normal courtship, breeding, and nesting habits.”

Then he added: “Here is where whooping cranes begin to have issues. While many are successful in laying eggs and initiating incubation, very few make it to egg-hatching phase. Black fly emergence during the incubation phase contributes to failure in this area, but our study has shown this is only part of the problem.”

Peter Fasbender had more to say about nest failure, and what WCEP is doing this year, instead of more black fly suppression. The Badger and the Whooping Crane will cover this and include more information about the pesky black flies, in a second post about the 2014 nesting season next week.

I’d be remiss, though, not to mention right now two especially newsworthy nests that are being watched for chick hatchings: in Louisiana, the newly reintroduced non-migratory flock has a pair of 3-year-olds that are sitting on a nest with two eggs. The prospective crane parents are young to successfully raise a chick, and it’s possible that the eggs are not fertile. But the nest was first observed in late March, so if a chick is to hatch from it, there will be headlines about this very soon.

Whooping crane pair with a tiny chick on the nest. (Photo couresty Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership)

Whooping crane pair with a tiny chick on the nest. (Photo couresty Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership)

And in Wisconsin, another pair of 3-year-old cranes appears to have a nest in the White River Marsh release area. Operation Migration announced it earlier this week on their Facebook page. The project to train young chicks to fly with the ultralights of Operation Migration was moved from Necedah NWR to this release area in 2011, and these cranes are from the first class trained in this new location. The nest at White River Marsh is a “first,” and a very exciting development for the 2014 breeding season!

 

 

 

Where the Birds Are: Various Whooping Crane Populations Explained

When we speak or write about whooping cranes it’s always good to know which population of the  whoopers we’re referring to. Although there are only a small number of these big, wonderful North American birds alive today (approximately 400 in the wild, and near 200 in captivity), they are spread across a variety of habitats and locations.

Some are divided among 3 captive populations, and others are in groups designated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service as “non-essential experimental populations.” And 250, or more, are in the one and only self-sustaining wild flock.

So you can see, when discussing whooping crane news, it’s helpful to know which of these groups of cranes is the one from whence the news is coming. Here at The Badger and the Whooping Crane, we’re most interested, naturally, in what’s happening with the whooping cranes that migrate from Wisconsin to Florida. Known affectionately at this blog as “our cranes”, or the “Wisconsin cranes,” their official designation is the tongue twister “non-essential, experimental Eastern Migratory Population (or, to simplify,  the EMP). Responsibility for the EMP cranes falls to the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, written about here earlier.

An adult whooping crane pair in the Eastern Migratory Population (Photo by Joel Trick, used courtesy of WCEP)

An adult whooping crane pair that live within the captive population at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, WI. (Photo by Joel Trick, used courtesy of WCEP

But the EMP cranes – “our cranes” – are just one part of the bigger picture for the whooping crane story, and a post clarifying the various populations seems overdue. So what follows is a description of each one – population by population.

The Wild Ones

Each whooping crane in existence today is derived from the one self-sustaining wild flock – which has been brought back, literally, from the brink. The birds in this population migrate between Canada’s Wood-Buffalo National Park in northern Alberta, and the Texas Gulf Coast, crossing the international border twice each year.

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1937 to protect critical habitat for the endangered whooping crane.  (Photo courtesy USFWS: Aransas NWR page: multimedia galleries)

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1937 to protect critical habitat for the endangered whooping crane. (Photo courtesy USFWS: Aransas NWR page: multimedia galleries)

This flock reached its historic low point during the winter of 1940-41 when only 15 birds were counted. Public education campaigns and conservation efforts intensified after that, and the numbers have crept back up – at a snail’s pace, but consistently upwards.

A long history of close cooperation between the wildlife agencies in both countries gets a lot of the credit for keeping the species alive.

A photo of Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Canada where he only self-sustaining natural flock of whooping cranes nests each summer.  (Photo courtesy citizenshift.org)

A photo of Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Canada wheret he only self-sustaining natural flock of whooping cranes nests each summer. (Photo courtesy citizenshift.org)

My source for the historical data on this Aransas-Wood Buffalo flock, and for the next section on Captive Breeding is a “Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan” (Curt Meine and George Archibald, 1996).  It’s online at the Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center; you can also access it through a link on the International Crane Foundation’s whooping crane page.

Captive Whooping Crane Populations

A new tool was added to the efforts to help the whooping crane species survive in 1967 when a captive breeding program was put in place at the USFWS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland.  The Canadian Wildlife Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cooperated to remove single eggs from the nests of wild cranes (nests usually contain two eggs) on their Wood Buffalo NP breeding grounds and transfer them to Patuxent for hatching and raising.

This tray of whooper eggs has just come out of the incubator. The eggs will be examined, candled, and weighed to see how their development is progressing. Eggs lose weight during incubation as the chicks grow and use up yolk and fluid. But if an egg loses too much weight too quickly, it can be helped by special treatments or placed in a separate incubator that has a higher humidity level. (Photo by Nelson Beyer, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center)

This tray of whooper eggs has just come out of the incubator. The eggs will be examined, candled, and weighed to see how their development is progressing. Eggs lose weight during incubation as the chicks grow and use up yolk and fluid. But if an egg loses too much weight too quickly, it can be helped by special treatments or placed in a separate incubator that has a higher humidity level. (Photo by Nelson Beyer, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center)

By 1975 the cranes that had hatched from the collected eggs, had begun to produce their own first eggs. In 1989 the captive breeding program was expanded to include the International Crane Foundation and in 1992 it expanded to the Calgary Zoo.

Today Patuxent and ICF remain the primary centers of captive breeding. The most recent numbers I could find, are from The Journey North website, dated August 30, 2011, which lists 75 whooping cranes in the captive population at Patuxent, including 15 breeding pair, and 37 cranes at ICF with 11 breeding pair.  Six breeding pair are listed at the Devonian  Wildlife conservation Center in Calgary, and there were also 1 breeding pair at the San Antonio Zoo, and 2 at the Audubon Species Survival Center in New Orleans.

 USGS employee training baby whooping cranes to follow ultralight aircraft. (Paul K. Cascio  photographer          USGS Multimedia Gallery)

USGS employee training baby whooping cranes to follow ultralight aircraft.
(Paul K. Cascio photographer USGS Multimedia Gallery)

The Experimental Populations

Once the captive breeding programs were well-established, the efforts for preservation of the whooping crane species shifted into a new gear.  The focus became all about restoring some of the captive-raised chicks into the wild.  But how?

Much thinking and experimentation has gone into these efforts. In their 1996 report (linked to above) Archibald and Meine wrote, “Teaching migration to young whooping cranes continues to be the most significant barrier . . .” to reestablishing whooping cranes in the wild.

Since then the method of leading an annual class of crane chicks from Wisconsin to Florida via ultralight aircraft has been perfected, and has become a major factor in building an Eastern Migratory Population of 100 birds. Although the EMP flock has – as yet – had little breeding success, it continues to grow through ultralight-led chicks. That method is now being supplemented with releasing captive-raised chicks with older cranes, too.

Ultralight training of juvenile whooping cranes in Wisconsin. (Photo courtesy, WCEP)

Ultralight training of juvenile whooping cranes in Wisconsin. (Photo courtesy, WCEP)

In addition to this one quite successful – if incomplete – re-introduction of whooping cranes in Eastern North America, the partners of WCEP continue with efforts to establish a non-migrating flock in the wild. From 1993 – 2004, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Committee worked with WCEP to introduce a non-migrating flock in central Florida, but problems with drought, predators, and reproduction have brought an end to the release of new cranes into this project. Since 2011 the focus for developing a non-migrating flock of whooping cranes has shifted to the wetlands of Louisiana. In partnership with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the fourth cohort of juvenile whooping cranes from Patuxent was released at the White Lakes Wetlands Conservation Area early this year.

A class photo! The entire gang of adolescent whooping crane chicks together at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Md. The chicks, hatched and raised by USGS caretakers, are being released into the wild in Louisiana in February 2011. It is a milestone for the state and for the birds, which have not lived in the state since the 1950s. (Photo courtesy USGS)

A class photo! The entire gang of adolescent whooping crane chicks together at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Md. The chicks, hatched and raised by USGS caretakers, are being released into the wild in Louisiana in February 2011. It is a milestone for the state and for the birds, which have not lived in the state since the 1950s. (Photo courtesy USGS)

It’s a Federal Crime to Kill a Whooping Crane

In the time I’ve been following what I sometimes call “the whooping crane drama,” 8 of these beautiful birds that belonged to our Eastern Migratory Population have died by gunfire. Though most of these deaths are unsolved cases, both the members of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership and those in the law enforcement community who have investigated the deaths, believe these are not accidental shootings, but wanton, senseless killings. Now two more such killings have been reported – so 10 whooping cranes in the EMP, which nests here in Wisconsin, have been destroyed this way.

The bad news arrived mid-January in the form of a press release from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and it spread fast, re-broadcast by the International Crane Foundation, WCEP, Operation Migration, and other whooping crane partners. An injured crane had been discovered, and ultimately euthanized in late November, in Hopkins County, KY, and the body of its mate was recovered in Muhlenberg County, KY, on December 13, 2013. The Louisville Courier Journal reported that wildlife authorities had delayed announcing these killings “while they gathered evidence” and put together a reward package in order to ask for the public’s help in finding the perpetrators.

A Broadly-supported Effort to Encourage Public Input on Crane Killings

Is there anything that is more frustrating and unnerving to those who devote a good part of their lives to  preserving the endangered whooping crane? I don’t think so. The reward money, for anyone who gives information that directly leads to arrest and conviction of those responsible,  has steadily grown from  $7,200 to over $15,000. All kinds of groups are contributing to it, and in addition to those directly involved, these include the Kentucky Fish & Wildlife Foundation, the Kentucky chapter of the Nature Conservancy, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, Friends of Wheeler NWR, and more.

The killings are violations of both the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.  The International Crane Foundation and Operation Migration are both urging their friends and followers to share widely the following “Help Us Save the Whooping Crane” public service announcement:

Eight More Whooping Crane Shootings

Here’s a brief rundown of what is known about the deaths-by-gunfire suffered by eight other birds in the Eastern Migratory Population of whooping cranes:

At the end of 2010 – December 30th, in Georgia – the bodies of 3 young “Direct Autumn Release” cranes were found in Calhoun County. The cranes were on their first migration from Wisconsin, learning the way from older birds.

Early in 2011, two whooping cranes believed to have been shot were found at Weiss Lake in Alabama. The body of one was discovered on January 28th, and the second crane’s body was recovered in mid-February less than a quarter-mile away from where the first was found.

In the spring of 2011 a juvenile shooter and the adult that accompanied him were charged and sentenced in Indiana for the 2009 killing of an EMP crane. USFWS officials welcomed the closure to this case, but they got little else. The unusually light sentence imposed on the shooter in the Vermillion County, Indiana court left anger and disbelief among so many in the wildlife conservation community.

The year ended with the bad news of a second whooping crane shot in Indiana; its remains were discovered near Crothersville, Dec. 30th, 2011.  And while the new year was still fresh – on January 21, 2012 – someone in the Indiana DNR received a tip from a citizen that led to the discovery of a third whooping crane shot in Indiana.

Some justice, at least, seemed to prevail when two shooters were held responsible for the third Indiana whooping crane killing. Jason McCarter and John Burke, each of Knox County, were sentenced to 3 years of probation, 120 hours of community service at a state wildlife area, and a donation of $5,000 to the International Crane Foundation.

There have been some illegal shootings of whooping cranes outside the Eastern Migratory Population as well, and a recent case in South Dakota earned a 26-year-old shooter a truly stiff sentence: the requirement that he make $85,000 in restitution payments and serve 2 years of probation with no hunting or trapping rights. This news cheered wildlife conservationists and raised hopes that the message will spread to other potential shooters:  it really IS a crime to take the life of these birds.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Birder Meets Whooping Cranes

“Striking, serene, graceful. Hungry. Nonchalant.” Those are the words that confirmed birder, Dale Bonk, used to describe whooping cranes.

I had asked Dale, a member of the Wisconsin Birding Facebook group, to suggest three words he’d use to describe the wild whooping cranes he’d just seen, and he gave me five. One could probably think of plenty more, he added.

Dale had spent an early November day observing and photographing a pair of whooping cranes in Dane County, and he was happy to share his strong impressions from the sighting. But maybe the best thing that sums up his experience are the first words that went through his mind that day. He shared, via email: “Wow! Holy Jebus! They’re there; they’re actually there! …And they’re not flying away. Let’s hope the camera works.”

Whooping Crane photographed by Dale Bonk in Dane County in November.

Whooping Crane pair photographed by Dale Bonk in Dane County in November.

His camera worked just fine. He later admitted on Facebook that he had been “a little shutter happy” and had taken “something like 400 shots.”

About a week before Dale’s encounter, a number of other members of the Wisconsin Birding group had seen the pair and there was quite a bit of chatter about them on the Facebook page, including where to find them. As is the practice among birders, those reporting the sightings were as precise as possible about locations – it’s a courtesy to other birders who hope to see for themselves. It didn’t take long, however, before someone questioned if this was the right thing to do for birds that are members of an endangered species.

In fact, the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership issues precise guidelines about observing cranes in the wild, and shortly after the Facebook discussion about this, the Wisconsin Birder page moderators published a request they had received from WCEP to restrict the location reporting to county-level-only. They’ve also included a link to use to report all sightings to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

For Dale what makes whooping cranes so special is that “they were so close to extinction , and yet, somehow, humans managed to ‘save’ them. For nature lovers, having a ‘success’ story is a wonderful feeling.” Dale is a self-described “outdoorsy person” and always has been, “but I’ve only gotten into birding in the past year, and intensely with the camera and scope in the past 6 months.”

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He selected 21 of the best among the many pictures he made of the whooping crane pair and published a Facebook album, to which he added: “This sighting makes me unbelievably happy. What gorgeous birds!”

A final note: The Badger and the Whooping Crane is grateful to Dale Bonk for the use of his images. Both photos clearly show the birds’ leg bands and identify the birds as members of the WCEP population. These bands lead to a wealth of information on each individual bird compiled by WCEP. Doesn’t that sound like good material for another post, another time?

Meet the Partners for Whooping Cranes

“It takes a village . . . , ” we often say, using those words to describe any complex project whether it’s raising a child, or building a house, or creating a new community organization. Or something else entirely.

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When it comes to the efforts to restore an endangered species to a region from which it has long been absent, it takes a world of professionals and volunteers willing to go to extraordinary lengths to achieve the goal. In the case of the whooping cranes that are now being re-introduced into Wisconsin that “world” is made up of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, a true partnership between public and private entities working to protect the whooping crane species.

Over the years people have opened their homes to others who are working directly with the cranes. Private individuals and entire businesses have opened their wallets. And it seems everyone who learns of them, has opened their hearts to the whoopers and their story of survival.

On it’s Who We Are webpage, WCEP lists literally dozens of private individuals, organizations and corporations, as well as a myriad of government agencies, as partners and supporters of this effort. A list of the nine original WCEP partners, and a minimalist description of each follows:

International Whooping Crane Recovery Team – This is the governing body charged with responsibility for the species, and comprised of 5 scientists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and 5 from the Canadian Wildlife Service.

Private, Non-profit Organizations

International Crane Foundation – Founded in 1973 in Baraboo, WI, the ICF is dedicated to the conservation of all of the world’s 15 crane species, and preservation of their habitat.

National Fish and Wildlife Foundation – Established by Congress in 1984, NFWF is one of the world’s largest conservation grant-makers, having raised more than $1.4 billion in private contributions and grantee matching funds.

Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin – A non-profit organization based in Madison, WI, the foundation boosts private sector investment and involvement in Wisconsin’s natural resources.

Operation Migration – Every year since 2001, OM has imprinted a new generation of whooping crane chicks on its ultralight aircraft, and then led them from Wisconsin to Florida on their first migration.

Government Agencies

US Fish & Wildlife Service – This bureau within the U.S. Department of Interior, is charged with conservation and management of the nation’s fish and wildlife resources, and the protection of endangered species.

Patuxent Wildlife Research Center of the U.S. Geological Survey – Located in Laurel, MD., Patuxent raises about 2/3 of all whooping cranes raised for release to the wild, and provides research and logistical support for the Wisconsin release.

USGS National Wildlife Health Center – Founded in 1975, the NWHC, located in Madison, WI, is a biomedical laboratory dedicated to assessing the impact of disease on wildlife.

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources – Wisconsin was the first state to officially partner with the WCRT and the USFWS in an effort to establish an eastern migrating population of whooping cranes, and has also supplied much of the environmental data used to assess the suitability of the Wisconsin sites for the cranes’ release.

You can read a more detailed description of the WCEP partners here, or visit each partner’s own website for information in-depth.