THE WHOOPING CRANE REPORT: 39
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How We Have Grown!
These long-legged, gangly juveniles are WCEP #01 and #02. 01 is in the foreground with the blue band.
It may look as if WCEP #01 and #02 are sharing a pen, but there is actually a plate of Plexiglas separating them. They're getting along very well, especially during training, but bouts of aggression can occur without warning between young chicks, so keeping them safely separated in their pens is extra insurance against injuries.
Photo, Kathleen O'Malley, USGS
Training in the Open Field
Mark Nipper, anOperation Migration employee (Mark can be seen in report 38), works with Patuxent staff to train the WCEP chicks. Here he is driving OM's trike, while leading the four chicks known as "Group 2" on a training exercise.
WCEP #05, ten days older than the other three birds, can be seen on the left. The trike goes back and forth along the fenced track, keeping the fence between the machine and the chicks.
Mark uses the robo-crane puppet head to dispense mealworms onto a patch of sand where the chicks can easily see them. The mealworms are a tasty reward for the chicks for working hard. While #05 is still standing slightly away from the group, he will move up to take his share of the snack.
Pleased with the progress of the group, Mark uses the robo-crane to lead the birds back to their pens. They will train in the field every day until it's time for them to go to Necedah NWR in Wisconsin.
Photos, Vicki Trabold for USGS
Current Number of Chicks: 18
WCEP Chicks: 16
Patuxent Chicks: 2
WCEP #19, our newest chick, was an egg when our partner, the International Crane Foundation (ICF), sent him to us.
Photo, Kathleen O'Malley, USGS
WCEP #19 is only 24 hours old, but he's already moving around his pen and learning to eat and drink even though his legs still show some puffiness from being in the egg. This is the second chick we've raised fromICF this year to be part of the WCEP program.
You can really see the amazing growth young whoopers can achieve when you compare the day old chick in the picture above, to our oldest chicks in the picture on the left. WCEP #01 is in the foreground with the blue band. He's 40 days old. Behind him is WCEP #02 at 39 days.
To compare the chicks' sizes further, little WCEP #19 weighs about 114 grams (about 4 ounces), while WCEP #01 weighs 3.6 kilograms (around 7 and a half pounds).
In the picture at the top on the left, WCEP #02, in the background, is relaxing his wing and letting it droop a little, giving us a good view of the shafts of his blood feathers as they grow in. The big fluffy tips on those feathers are tufts of down that the chick will soon groom away as the new feathers develop. Developing the whooper's big feathers takes a lot of protein and energy, and the chicks' rapid growth usually slows while their bodies concentrate on growing feathers.
Coping with Chick Conflicts
The younger WCEP chicks are still being trained in the circle pen (seereport 35). But many of the older chicks are just too large to be contained in that small area. There are now two groups of birds being trained in a large field near the aviary. A strand of vinyl-coated fencing is strung along the field to keep the chicks safely separated from OM's trike, and the chicks go out every day to learn to follow the trike longer distances. Training them as a group helps them learn to get along, but for whoopers, this is a difficult lesson. In nature, whooper chicks usually grow up alone or, occasionally, with one sibling. They stay with their parents for a year. They can be very aggressive with other chicks. As a result, chick conflicts often cause the trainers working with the birds to rearrange group dynamics to encourage cooperation among the chicks. Some chicks develop attitude problems toward certain other chicks, which can have lasting affects on their behavior.
Group 1 originally consisted of the four oldest birds, #01, #02, #03, and #05, who were closest in age. However, #05, the youngest, was easily intimidated by the older birds, and would avoid training with them, often leaving the group and going off by himself. Once a chick starts acting fearful, it encourages an aggressive response in the others, and if the situation escalates, it could result in a bird that will always be submissive to other birds and fearful of them, and could seriously affect that bird's desire to follow or associate with others.
To prevent this from happening, #05 was moved to group 2, which now consists of #05, #06, #07, and #08. #05 is 36 days old, while the other three are at least ten days younger. It was hard for #05 to be intimidated by them, since he towered over them. #07 showed some aggression towards #05, possibly because he was still acting a bit shy, but #07 was so much smaller than #05 that it didn't cause any problems.
You can see in the pictures that #05 is still standing away from the younger chicks, but he's no longer leaving the group and he's training much better. His size advantage gives him an edge with these younger birds, but because he's not aggressive, it's not a cause for concern. The group, in spite of its size and age differences, is getting along surprisingly well.
The trainers continually have to consider each bird's reaction to its environment, its social standing, and the training itself to get the best results. The chicks change in size, attitude, and behavior from day to day, and the trainers have to respond to this or run the risk of having a bird that simply will not react properly to the training. This early chick training is absolutely critical to each chick's success along the migration route.
This Year's Migration Success!
You can read regular updates and see pictures of the WCEP migratory flock as they leave Florida to return to Wisconsin at the International Crane Foundations' migration website: http://www.savingcranes.org/about/whats_new/. Several of the birds from 2003 have already arrived at Necedah.
Their migration photo journal can be seen at: http://www.savingcranes.org/about/whats_new/.
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 June 10th for a web page update (sorry but we will have to delay this for a week or so--please check back later)!Whooping Crane Reports
Hatch Day (Click on numbered links to view all other egg (negative numbers) and chick days).