THE WHOOPING CRANE REPORT: 26
Remember this little guy? This is the chick that hatched from one of
the eggs sent from the San Antonio Zoo. He was the first chick
Here he is today, at 49 days of age. The blond "fuzz" at the
top of his head, and the fuzz around his tail feathers are what's left of
his baby down. As he preens his feathers, those bits of down will
eventually wear away. At this age, the chick has been growing wing
feathers awhile, but they haven't hardened yet, and he still can't fly.
These two chicks, WCEP
#2 and #4, have been sharing a pen since they were around 30 days old.
It's unusual for whooper chicks to get along this well; they're often very
aggressive. #2 is the same age as #1, and #4 is only a day younger. It
won't be long before these older birds are sent to Wisconsin to start
This chick, WCEP #10,
is also from the San Antonio Zoo. At 34 days of age, there is a big
difference in development between him and chick #1. This chick's down is
growing out, so that he looks fuzzy all over. But he's starting to grow
his primary feathers.
Here are 5 of the
oldest WCEP chicks in training. You can see the "robo-crane"
puppet head in the extreme right. Dan, piloting the plane, took this
picture while sitting in the ultralight during training. The fencing is to
keep the chicks separated from the plane as they follow it down the field.
The crane head releases mealworms to reward the chicks.
This is WCEP #15.
His egg was produced at the International Crane Foundation, one of
our WCEP partners, and sent to Patuxent so he could be trained to follow
the ultra-light. He's 22 days old. He hasn't started growing his primaries
yet, so his wings are still small.
Beth takes some of the
oldest WCEP chicks out for pond exposure. The chicks not only have to
learn to follow the plane, but they have to be exposed to adult whoopers,
so they'll be properly imprinted, they have to learn to forage, and they
have to learn to roost in water, to keep them safe when they're living in
the wild. The plastic decoy in the right side of the picture is something
they've seen since they were just a few days old. It looks like a whooping
crane and is familiar, so when the chicks are brought to an unfamiliar
place, planting a whooper decoy will encourage the chicks to stay in a
safe area. (The white object in the center of the picture is the pond's
In case it's hard to
remember how little baby whoopers are when they hatch, this young guy is
only 1 day old. At the moment, he's our youngest chick. He will be part of
the non-migratory Florida flock, so he doesn't have to learn to follow
planes. He still has to be properly imprinted, and will need pond exposure
just like his older cousins. But right now all he has to do is learn to
eat and drink. Brenda uses the puppet to lure him to the water bowl in the
hopes that he'll take his first drink.
Some of the non-migratory birds are raised by whooper pairs in the field. Here a female whooper keeps watch over her young chick in an outdoor pen. The chick is only several days old. Adult whoopers supplement the chick's diet with insects that they capture, just as they would if they were in the wild. They also teach their chicks to be afraid of humans. No costumes need to be used in parent-rearing, though protective clothing such as racquetball glasses are required to help the staff deal with aggressive whooper parents.
All Photos, USGS
Whooper chicks -- growing up fast!
It's hard to believe how fast whooper chicks grow, even when you're there to watch it happen every day. It's especially obvious in June, when the early chicks are nearly grown and we're still hatching new ones. We've got whooper chicks in two different buildings now -- the propagation building aviary houses the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) chicks, the ones who will learn to migrate behind an ultralight aircraft, and the crane chick building holds the chicks destined to go to the non-migratory flock in Florida. Some of the chicks going to the non-migratory flock are also raised in the field by whooping crane parents in a process we call "parent-rearing."
In less than 50 days, the oldest chick, produced from an egg brought from the San Antonio Zoo, has gone from a tiny, wet bundle weighing around 140 grams, to a stately bird almost 3 feet tall, weighing 2 kilos. And that's only about half grown. The chicks still have to finish growing their flight feathers, and they'll get a lot taller yet. The WCEP chicks will be sent to Wisconsin before they can fly, so they can get more training in following the ultralight, and get used to the environment that will someday, we hope, be their breeding grounds. There are 18 chicks in the WCEP program, and they'll be sent in separate groups, by age, since some are much older than others.
While the WCEP chicks are being trained to follow the ultralight and are being taken out to the ponds to learn how to roost and forage, the chicks slated for the non-migratory flock are still hatching. They need much the same care and exercise as the WCEP chicks, but they don't have to learn to follow planes. Not all the non-migratory birds are costume-reared. Because they don't have to follow planes in flight, and therefore, don't have to have a close relationship with costumed technicians, some of the chicks are raised by whoopers. Parent-reared chicks have to be monitored closely to make sure they're gaining weight properly and are healthy, just like costume-reared chicks. However, that's quite a bit more difficult when you have to confront an angry pair of protective whooper parents determined to keep their chick safe from you. Parent-reared chicks grow up to be very wild.
Lucky's parents have raised another whooper chick successfully! According to the Whooping Crane Conservation Association's website, their chick has already taken its first flight, at a younger age than Lucky did. The chick is about three months old. Both of Lucky's parents are from Patuxent. Lucky himself is doing fine and is all white now, having lost his juvenile plumage.
Another whooper pair is raising a chick which is now over 57 days old and doing well. We're all anxiously waiting to hear that this chick has taken his first flight! Photos of this chick can be seen on the WCCA's website. There is a third pair with a living chick, also.
The biologists in Florida have found 7 nests this year. Some have failed, unfortunately, and some pairs have already lost their eggs or chicks, but some pairs are still sitting eggs and one pair has made a second nest and laid a second clutch of eggs after losing their first chicks!
More detailed information on the pairs and photos can be found on the WCCA's website. Also look under their newsletter articles for more information and photos.
There are 21 birds in the new migratory flock, 5 from 2001, and 16 from 2002. As of May, all 21 had returned to the vicinity of the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge area, and are choosing suitable habitat. For recent updates check out our partners' websites:
The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership website:
Operation Migration's website:
and the International Crane Foundations' website:
The Necedah National Wildlife Refuge also has a website:
Please check our site on July 24th for a web page update.
See our Crane Videos!
June 10, 2003: We currently have 28 very active whooper chicks ranging in ages from 2 days old to the oldest at 50 days old. Eighteen of the birds are being trained for the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) migration project. All 18 have had extensive exposure to the ultralight plane as part of their "ground school" training, and are following well. Because the chicks all hatch a different times, they are grouped in similar ages for training. The 10 oldest chicks are scheduled to be shipped to Wisconsin very soon. Because of age differences, this group will be treated as two different cohorts, until they all mature further and the age differences aren't as significant. The last eight, which are still quite young, will be sent after they've gotten older. The weather has continued to be a challenge as the East Coast has experienced more unseasonably cool, rainy days that have negatively impacted the chicks' exercise and training regimens.
There are currently 10 whooper chicks scheduled for the Florida non-migratory release program. These are the youngest chicks at Patuxent, and the oldest of them is about two weeks of age. Six of the chicks are being costume-reared and 4 are being parent-reared by whooping crane pairs. All 10 chicks are currently thriving.
Current whooping crane egg production is 51 eggs from 10 producing females. Thirty eggs are fertile. Twenty-six eggs hatched. In addition, 2 eggs sent from the San Antonio Zoo, and 1 egg sent from the International Crane Foundation also hatched. One whooper chick slated for the WCEP program died, apparently from peritonitis; we are speculating that might have been caused by the thorny-headed worm [Acanthocephalans sp. -- More information on this parasite can be found on line in "Cranes: Their Biology, Husbandry, and Conservation" at http://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/resshow/gee/cranbook/cranebook.htm in Chapter 8: Medicine & Surgery]. There is another whooper egg scheduled to hatch within the week, and the fertility of the last egg is still unknown.
Check out the Whooping Crane Conservation Association's revamped website! It has current flock information and other interesting news items:
Other whooper links can be found on our links page.
Click here to ask questions about Patuxent's whooping crane program. Please check our site on July 24th for a web page update!Whooping Crane Reports
Hatch Day (Click on numbered links to view all other egg (negative numbers) and chick days).