Another Season Come and Gone
It was a very busy spring and summer at Patuxent! The 2007 whooping crane breeding season has come to an end and we are catching our breath a bit. The chicks have been sent to Wisconsin for flight training, continuing their preparation for their first migration south this fall. We now have time to reflect on our efforts this season and start planning for the next one.
One of the highlights of the season was a visit from Dr. Jane Goodall, renowned animal behaviorist and conservationist, in April. We were very honored that Dr. Goodall took time out of her busy schedule to learn about the Patuxent Crane Program. She met some of our non-breeding cranes; the breeding birds are off limits to visitors – even very famous ones! She watched a whooping crane egg begin to hatch and (in full costume) helped take two chicks for an exercise walk. Dr. Goodall also spent time meeting with the staff. She enthralled us with stories of her interactions with chimpanzees and was eager to hear about the crane crew’s experiences working with the cranes. She hopes to document some of our experiences with whooping cranes in a forthcoming book on endangered species recovery. As she left, we gave Dr. Goodall a crane puppet and she gave us memories of a wonderful visit and inspiration to continue our important work.
A milestone for our breeding program occurred this season: three chicks were produced from a new whooping crane pair. Goliath and his mate have been together for a few years and have produced eggs, but none were fertile. This year, with a little help from the crane crew, the female laid four fertile eggs, from which three chicks were hatched and fledged. Both Goliath and his mate originally came to Patuxent as eggs from wild birds in Wood Buffalo National Park. Their family lines are rare in captivity, so having them produce chicks is an exciting accomplishment. Two of the chicks will remain at Patuxent to become future breeders. We sent the third one to Wisconsin to be part of the ultralight migration project.
The Patuxent staff spent our first chick season without the leadership of long-time “Chick Mama”, Kathy O’Malley. Kathy worked at Patuxent for 21 years, led the rearing of countless crane chicks and developed much of our chick-rearing protocol. She took a new job in 2006 and we missed her hard work and experience this season. Luckily she couldn’t stay away from the chicks completely and came back frequently to volunteer. Kathy has trained us well over the years and a new generation of chick rearers now leads the way!
The new generation of chick rearers spent much time and energy this season raising whooping crane chicks for the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership ultralight migration project. We hatched and reared all the chicks for this project and trained them to follow the ultralight aircraft. As always, we received help from our partners in the form of extra eggs and lots of manpower. In June and July, Patuxent sent a total of 18 whooping crane chicks to Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, where the birds continue to train. One chick died in Wisconsin due to an illness, but the other 17 are all flying. Currently they are progressing with their training and building up endurance for their long, upcoming journey. Our partners in Operation Migration hope to begin the ultralight migration in early October.
Even as we wrap up loose ends from the past season, we already begin to look forward to next year. Recently, we moved 6 single whooping cranes to pens adjacent to potential mates. The cranes are getting to know each other through the fence and soon will begin “dating”. Pairing whooping cranes can be a long and tedious process, but if we are very lucky, if the birds hit it off, we could have three new pairs next season. In the meantime, the crane crew will be busy with the never-ending, yet rewarding, challenges of whooping crane restoration.