THE WHOOPING CRANE REPORT: 5
pear trees in the crane pens will bloom as spring breezes cause a flurry
of dancing and courting. Nest building has already begun.
This is a whooper nest
in the wild. The nests at Patuxent are usually on dry ground and may be
smaller, but the structure is the same.
This whooper egg sits
in a mechanical hatcher as the chick begins to hatch. The hatcher will
provide optimal hatching conditions for the chick who will later be raised
by hand for release.
These two whooper
chicks, less than 24 hours old, are introduced to their artificial parent
who will teach them how and what to eat. All human-reared whooper chicks
are raised by costumed technicians to keep them from becoming imprinted on
This chick, in the
lower left corner, is being raised by a whooper pair. Parent-raised
whoopers are taught everything they need to know by their parents and are
very wild. But we have more chicks than we do whooper parents, so many of
the chicks will have to be hand-raised.
A wild whooper pair strolls the sand flats at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge where the wild flock migrates for the winter. As the number of birds in the wild flock slowly increases, we hope that our efforts to establish two other breeding flocks of whoopers will ensure the future for this beautiful species.
Breeding Season Begins.
Long before the groundhog sees his shadow, the Whooping Crane Restoration Ecology Team (WCRET) is making plans for the upcoming breeding season. Officially, the season begins in early January, when we put up sawhorses blocking the roads, so that traffic is diverted away from crane breeding pens to help reduce disturbance. We'll spend the next 9 months driving "the long way around" to give the birds the privacy they require.
This year, the team expects to have 8 producing whooper pairs, including 6 naturally fertile pairs. We expect the pairs to produce 5-6 eggs per bird, a higher number than birds in the wild who typically lay only 2 eggs. Our hatching success (how many chicks successfully hatch from fertile eggs) is 93%, but we keep working to improve it. Our fledging success (how many chicks live to 70 days of age) is 86%, which averages out to more than 3 fledged chicks per pair per year. This is higher than any other crane breeding facility, and much better than wild pairs who produce only 1 chick a year. In 2000, we fledged 32 whooper chicks. Some of us can remember when fledging even 2 whoopers was a major success! We always hope to raise even more chicks in the next breeding season.
Most of the chicks we raise will be part of ongoing research projects aimed at improving reintroduction techniques. Patuxent produces 2/3 of all the whoopers released into the wild.
There are two primary reintroduction techniques we are working on. One focuses on establishing a non-migratory population of whoopers in central Florida. There are now over 70 whoopers living wild in Florida. Secondly, as members of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, we hope to release costume-reared whoopers trained to follow an ultra-light aircraft. We hope these birds will be the start of a second migratory flock. The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership is the combined effort of over 65 conservation-minded groups, including the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center (PWRC), Operation Migration, the International Crane Foundation (ICF), FWS regions 2, 3, 4, and 5, 20 state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), many Indian nations, conservation organizations, individual corporations, landowners, conservationists, and numerous private individuals. This experimental migratory flock will migrate from Necedah National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in central Wisconsin to the Chassahowitzka NWR, north of Tampa, Florida.
Whether we can accomplish our goals largely depends on our whoopers, and the kind of productive year they will have. And only the natural progression of breeding season holds the answers.
Please check our site on April 18 for a web page update!
Click here to ask questions about Patuxent's whooping crane program. Please check our site on April 18 for a web page update!
Hatch Day (Click on numbered links to view all other egg (negative numbers) and chick days).