THE WHOOPING CRANE REPORT: 18
|Patuxent Crane Videos -- This month we have seven brand new videos to offer. They were taken in Florida by biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC), and they chronicle the growth of Florida's newest native-born whooper chick. We'd like to thank our partners in the FFWCC for sending us these wonderful pictures and video clips and regular updates as the chick grew and for generously allowing us to share them with you. (View our latest videos!)|
The whooper parents
tend the nest and their new hatchling, Lucky (see arrow pointing to
Lucky). The marsh they'd chosen was excellent habitat with both shallow
and deep water, and plenty of available food. It was also surprisingly
close to a housing development; however with the continuing water shortage
in Florida, prime chick-rearing habitat is in short supply.
Mom forages with Lucky, now 3 weeks old. The rapid growth of whooper
chicks depends on high quality food, including a lot of animal protein
such as worms and insects.
At 5 weeks, the parents
are adding dragonflies to the menu and even mallard ducklings that they
At 6 weeks, Lucky is growing flight feathers.
A great family portrait when Lucky is 7 weeks old. He's now doing a lot of flapping, practicing for flight.
At 9 weeks, Lucky is
very close to flying.
At 10 weeks, Lucky is
almost fully grown.
At 84 days, Lucky is truly fledged.
Lucky is the first whooping crane chick to fledge in the wild in the United States in over 60 years. His young parents have succeeded in spite of the lack of rainfall, eagle attacks, dogs, and human interference. Their successful rearing of this chick is a wonderful milestone in the effort to bring about the whooper's recovery.
Preceding photos by Steve Nesbitt, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Another Whooping Crane Milestone!
A Wild Whooper Fledges in Florida!
We apologize for postponing this report, but we think you will agree that it was worth the wait.
For the first time in over 60 years, a wild whooping crane has successfully fledged in the United States. (A bird is considered "fledged" when it is capable of flight.) Prior to the fledging of this chick, the last whoopers which fledged in the United States lived in a non-migratory flock in Louisiana. The last members of that flock were lost in the 1940's.
The whooper chick, appropriately dubbed "Lucky" by the biologists and volunteers documenting his development, was hatched and reared by two Patuxent-raised whoopers who are part of the experimental non-migratory Florida flock. This is the second clutch from the non-migratory flock to be produced in Florida. The first clutch hatched in 2000 (see Whooping Crane Chick, Day 66). The surviving chick from that clutch was just a few days from fledging when it was tragically killed by a bobcat.
Lucky's life has been full of drama, and the Florida staff has been diligent in sending us their fascinating reports. Gene and Tina Tindell volunteered their yard as an observation post for the past 3 months; they not only gave the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission staff and volunteers an excellent place to film the chick's progress, they actively participated themselves, keeping a close eye on events, and communicating regularly with the Florida staff. They've probably seen more of a wild whooping crane chick and its parents than anyone ever has. Their help has been invaluable. Patuxent graduate student Nichole Allison observed the chick at night and provided important information.
We at Patuxent especially want to thank biologists Marty Folk and Steve Nesbitt for sending us all the wonderful reports, photos, and video clips. For the Patuxent staff, it was like getting precious news about a distant grandchild!
Both of Lucky's parents were costume-reared at Patuxent in 1998, and released into the non-migratory flock in Florida in January, 99. (These birds are part of the first whooper release project, which is separate from the more recent migratory release project that involves the ultra-light aircraft. The non-migratory flock and the migratory flock use different areas in Florida and will remain separate.)
This young pair was first observed building a nest platform around Christmas, 2001, the earliest anyone's ever documented this. They started incubating on February 11, 2002, and Lucky hatched overnight March 12th to March 13th. A second chick hatched overnight between March 14th and March 15th.
Tragedy struck quickly just two days later. A bald eagle carried away the younger chick while the parents were away from the nest feeding Lucky. (A surveillance video camera, placed on the Tindell's property, filmed the predation.) Cranes learn parenting skills through experience, and this young pair had just learned a terrible lesson. Having lost their youngest chick, the pair became much more attentive to Lucky, and moved him away from the nest to a clump of buttonbush, where he would be safe from further eagle strikes. But the biologists feared that the eagle, having found an easy meal for her own chicks, would simply wait for the new parents to become distracted again.
At Patuxent, we were following the events in Florida closely. Lucky is the embodiment of our hopes for the future; he's the reason we do the work we do. Ironically, some of us who've worked at Patuxent for a long time have also spent years raising eagle chicks for release into the wild, when those birds were more endangered than they are now. So, hearing that these two endangered species we have worked to save were in a life-and-death competition was frustrating. The lack of rainfall in Florida has impacted all the species living there, making the struggle for resources fierce.
However, the whooper parents had learned their lesson. They remained extremely attentive to Lucky, and he grew and thrived. Every night, the parents would return to the nest platform and the female would brood the chick while the male stood guard over them. During a thunderstorm, the female brooded the chick on the nest to protect him. We were fascinated to hear that Lucky's behavior during thunderstorms was much like our own chicks: he would hunker down, peep, or run to his parents. Our own chicks do the same thing during noisy thunderstorms, cuddling up against the stuffed brooder models that serve as their surrogate parents.
When Lucky was 3 weeks old, the eagle attacked again. This time, the female whooper crouched over Lucky with her wings spread, protecting him, while the male whooper jumped up at the eagle to drive her away. A pair of protective whooper parents are formidable foes and the eagle left, no doubt in search of easier prey. Later that same week, 3 boys on bicycles rode up to the edge of the marsh. The female whooper fearlessly charged them, and the boys decided it would be best to leave!
Lucky's diet largely consisted of earthworms the parents would dig out of the soil at the edge of the marsh (enough to stock a baitshop, as biologist Marty Folk told us), or some of the large flying insects like dragonflies and katydids easily caught among the vegetation. At one time, the Tindells counted the parents feeding the chick 37 food items in a 5 minute period! As Lucky grew and needed more and more food, the parents actually caught mallard ducklings to feed their growing chick!
When Lucky was 6 weeks old, the marsh began drying up due to the lack of rain. The loss of water was dangerous to the chick, allowing predators like bobcats or dogs to make inroads into the marsh. Most predators won't wade through water to catch prey, so the nest platform, when surrounded by water, is a safe haven, as is water deep enough for the birds to roost in. When the water receded, exposing the nest platform, the parents built another one where the water was deeper. This was a surprise to the biologists, since they weren't aware that platform-building behavior would continue at this stage of chick-rearing. As the water continued to recede, the parents would eventually build more nest platforms whenever they needed a new, safer haven to keep Lucky protected.
When Lucky was almost 10 weeks, the marsh had dried up considerably, leaving only a small basin of water in the center. Roaming dogs became a serious threat. The Florida staff consulted with the local police department and animal control authorities, who gave a lot of support to help control loose dogs in the area. When a chick is close to fledging, it's very vulnerable to predation as its practice flights often take it farther from the parents than at any other time. It was during this period that the chick reared in 2000 was lost to a bobcat. Everyone anxiously worried about the drying marsh and the dogs, and hoped Lucky's luck would hold out.
But even though Lucky was now a large young crane, almost as big as his parents, they hadn't seen the last of the eagles. A pair of bald eagles landed in the marsh, no doubt looking for food. Whether these were the same eagles who had snatched Lucky's sibling is impossible to say. But Lucky's parents didn't care if they were the same birds or not. The whooper pair immediately attacked the eagles. One of the adult eagles, startled by the attacking whoopers, flushed immediately, but the other eagle wasn't as quick to get off the ground. The whooper parents pounced on that eagle, stomping on it. Satisfied that they'd made their point about the sanctity of their marsh, the whooper family regrouped some distance away. The volunteer who had observed the interaction checked on the battered eagle and called local wildlife officials to get the bird some help.
By June 6th, Lucky was fully fledged, capable of flying 200-300 yards at a time, often leading his parents into flight. He is now fully capable of flying well enough and long enough to avoid predators and keep up with his parents wherever they decide to go. Cranes are vulnerable to predation all their lives, but Lucky has gotten through one of the most hazardous periods. He will, most likely, remain with his vigilant parents until he's around a year of age. Assuming he survives, we might hope that these parents, with the valuable experience they now have, will nest again, conditions permitting, and produce more healthy chicks.
And let's hope the eagles have learned to hunt elsewhere!
Other whoopers in Florida did nest and lay eggs this breeding season, but the lack of rain fall and decreasing water levels didn't permit them the same success as this pair had. The Florida biologists continue to hope for the return of normal rainfall which, they are convinced, will encourage a very welcomed whooper baby boom in central Florida.
Please check our site on August 1st for a web page update.
See our Crane Videos!
|Patuxent's partner in the experimental non-migratory flock releases is the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission:|
Click here to ask questions about Patuxent's whooping crane program. Please check our site on August 1st for a web page update!Whooping Crane Reports
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