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THE WHOOPING CRANE REPORT: 31

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New!Visit our new Whooper Report Site Map and find out what you've been missing! New!
We have 8 web pages of General Information, 24 different Whooping Crane Chick Reports, and 31 Whooper Reports. There's lots of information, photos, and videos packed on these web pages, so check out our site map and find out what you've been missing.

See our most recent crane videos!

Slip, a young male whooper, stands by a feedshed in the snow. Photos, Kathleen O'Malley, USGS
Slip, a young male whooper, stands by a feedshed in the snow. The white whoopers nearly disappear in the snowy background. Some birds like Slip, who has a persistent tendon problem, have to have paths of hay tossed over the snow to make sure they have better footing. In this picture, the snowfall was still fresh and Slip was getting around well. Once the snow began to thaw and refreeze, we spread hay between the feedshed and the water cups to make sure Slip had good footing.

The white pipe behind 02-90018 is an automatic waterer. Photos, Kathleen O'Malley, USGS
The white pipe behind 02-90018 is an automatic waterer. Flowing water enters the cup and flows out to drain away, giving the bird a constant supply of fresh water. Every cup has to be checked every day to make sure it doesn't freeze. 

Due to heavy starling predation, the crew constructed new feeder guards of heavy plastic.  Photos, Kathleen O'Malley, USGS
Due to heavy starling predation, the crew constructed new feeder guards of heavy plastic. They reduce the starlings' access to the feeders -- especially through the top of the barrel -- and limit how much food the starlings can steal, while still allowing the cranes free access to their feed. Feeders are checked daily to be sure cranes don't run out of food, and that their own access to the food isn't limited.

Is It Spring Yet?

Not yet, unfortunately. The birds seem ready for spring and the staff is, too. Usually, our winters at Patuxent are mild, and in some years we have no snow at all. But the last two years have brought long spells of low temperatures and several snow falls. Last year, we had snowstorms that shut down the government for days at a time. This year, the snow wasn't as heavy, but once it arrived, it stayed around, and the low temperatures caused icy conditions.  The one benefit of low temperatures is that it makes the snow dry and fluffy, so that it doesn't cling to the flight netting. When snow accumulates on flight netting, it can cause damage to the pen if it isn't removed, sometimes even causing them to collapse if enough snow or ice builds up. It doesn't matter if the government is officially closed; during storms like this the staff has to go out to the pens, regardless of the hour, and remove the snow before damage can occur. Once the snow stops, we have to dig or snowblow paths to be able to open gates so staff can get into pen complexes, and either snowblow or dig paths or put down hay trails for any birds that have problems getting around their pens. 

Fortunately, most of the cranes handle the snow well. They all have feed sheds that keep their feed dry and they often use the sheds to get out of the snow themselves. Birds insulate themselves from the cold by expanding their feathers and trapping their own body heat.  Long-legged birds like cranes will stand on one leg, tucking the other leg up in their feathers to warm it, alternating legs so they don't lose too much heat. Every bird at Patuxent is checked daily, as are feeders and automatic water cups. The feed is not adversely affected by the cold, but the snow cover means there is less forage for wild birds. Flocks of starlings will descend on the crane feeders en masse, emptying them quickly. This year, the snow cover has lasted long enough that the starlings have become a persistent problem. In an attempt to reduce their consumption of crane feed, the staff made feeder guards out of heavy plastic, which helped a great deal. 

In addition to the snow, we've had freezing rain. Ice accumulations on the flight netting can be a significant problem, since there's no real way to get it off, and if too much accumulates, you have the same problems you do with too much snow. Fortunately, we didn't get too much freezing rain; it coated everything, but not severely and the nets, pens, and of course, the birds got through it all.

Lately, we've had more rain (last year was the wettest year in Maryland on record), but temperatures have crept up so that the snow has gradually melted away. We've been promised some dry weather this week, and better temperatures. As a prelude to breeding season, it's hard to predict how snow cover will affect the birds. Last year, with the heavy snow cover from major storms lasting a long time, breeding started late.

Patuxent in the Snow

The refuge and the crane complex are always beautiful in the snow. 

The Red Series covered in snow.  Photos, Kathleen O'Malley, USGS
The Red Series covered in snow.  This series houses Florida sandhill cranes who act as incubators for whooping crane eggs. You can see some of the birds near the entrance of their large feed sheds.

Two greater sandhill cranes don't seem to mind the cold, but they do make use of the wind screen made from tennis netting. Photos, Kathleen O'Malley, USGS 
Two greater sandhill cranes don't seem to mind the cold, but they do make use of the wind screen made from tennis netting. 

This large pond is completely frozen over and snow covered.  Photos, Kathleen O'Malley, USGS
This large pond is completely frozen over and snow covered.

Photos, Kathleen O'Malley, USGS

Whooper tracks in the snow. Photos, Kathleen O'Malley, USGS
Whooper tracks in the snow.

Ice coats the vegetation the same way it coats flight netting. Photos, Kathleen O'Malley, USGS
Ice coats the vegetation the same way it coats flight netting. 

The Refuge always looks beautiful in the snow.  Photos, Kathleen O'Malley, USGS
The Refuge always looks beautiful in the snow.

 

This Year's Migration Success!

Regular updates and pictures of this year's ultralight migration can be found on Operation Migration's website in their Field Journal. More updates and information on the WCEP project can be found at:
The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership
website and The International Crane Foundations' website. Find out where the previously released birds are at: http://www.savingcranes.org/about/whats_new/. Information about the final destination of the migration is at the Chassahowitzka NWR site.

Florida Update!

More information about this year's production in Florida and the status of the non-migratory whoopers can be found on the Whooping Crane Conservation Association's website under Flock Status

See our Crane Videos!

Click here to ask questions about Patuxent's whooping crane program.   And don't forget to check out our new SITE MAP to learn more about our previously published whooper reports. Please check our site on April 1 for a web page update!  

Whooping Crane Reports

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Hatch Day (Click on numbered links to view all other egg (negative numbers) and chick days).

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Other Patuxent Crane Information

U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, 
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA
URL http://whoopers.usgs.gov
Contact: Jonathan Male
Last modified: 02/26/2004
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