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3-Day Old Whooper Chick Learning to Eat

Photo by Nelson Beyer
USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center

For our first video, we have footage of a 3-day old whooper chick who is learning to eat and drink. A puppet head that looks like an adult whooping crane is suspended into a bowl of food and it is moved by a technician standing outside the pen. When it moves, the chick is attracted to the bowl and begins to eat. In the background you can see an adult whooper moving around. The adult lives next door to the chick to give the chick a proper imprinting model. The sounds you can hear are the technician imitating a crane's brooding call, and the chick answering that call.

The still photos, below, were taken from this video so that users who cannot access the video can still experience the story.

Whooper Chick Video (160x120)
Whooper Chick Video (320x240) 

Whooping Crane Chick Learning to Feed, Photo 1

Whooping Crane Chick Learning to Feed, Photo 2

Whooping Crane Chick Learning to Feed, Photo 3

Whooping Crane Chick Learning to Feed, Photo 4

Whooping Crane Chick Learning to Feed, Photo 5

Whooping Crane Chick Learning to Feed, Photo 6

Whooping Crane Chick Learning to Feed, Photo 7

Photos by Kathleen O'Malley
USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center


The Chick's Eye View

It's chick season at Patuxent, the busiest time of year. So far, we've been blessed with beautiful weather and a great group of strong, healthy whooper chicks.

Life looks very different from a chick's eye view, and taking video from their perspective makes the world seem like a much bigger place.

The green on the floor is carpet padding, which covers the pen floor until the chick is 7 days of age. After 7 days, the padding is removed and replaced with a fine, laboratory grade hardwood bedding. We don't use the hardwood bedding prior to 7 days because it has a tendency to get in the chick's eyes. After 7 days that problem seems to resolve. The bedding is much easier to clean than the carpet padding, but the padding is what's best for the youngest chicks.

Behind the chick is plexiglass and wire barrier that separates the chick from an adult whooper that stays in the pen next door. You can make out the long black legs of the adult, and his tail, and in picture 5 you can see his head. The chick and the adult interact through the safety barrier, as the adult's curiosity makes him investigate the chick. The adult may even vocalize or purr to the chick. The chick will watch the adult carefully and often imitate his behavior when he gets older -- eating when the adult eats, preening when the adult preens. The adults get possessive of "their" chicks and will growl and threaten the technicians who come to collect the chick for weighing or medical treatment. Occasionally, we have even seen an adult whooper struggle to feed the chicks through chinks in the fencing, though this isn't very common. The adult in this pen is watching this chick because the technician is making the puppet head move, so he's curious.

This youngster is only three days old. He weighs about 120 grams and hasn't learned yet to eat and drink independently, but he's getting there. He's mobile, and enjoys wandering his 8 foot by 8 foot pen. In a day or so, he'll be allowed outside into his 20 foot grassy run, but right now we want him to focus on learning to feed himself.

The puppet head pointing into the food bowl is made from a plastic head, and red and white felt. The tip of the puppet's bill is red to help attract the chick to it. The red food bowl and red water jug rim also attracts the chick, and as he pokes at the red plastic, he often ends up with a mouthful of food or water.

The chicks respond amazingly well to the puppet, and are often eating and drinking on their own by 5 days of age. This little guy is still getting the hang of things. A technician is outside the pen, where the chick can't really see her. There's a string tied to the puppet that she pulls to make the puppet head bob up and down. The motion of the head, combined with the red bill tip, and the food spilling out of the bowl, attracts the chick enough to make him investigate and peck at the bill tip.

Eventually, he gets food in his mouth, which encourages him to do it again. A technician might stand outside the pen and work with a chick for 20 minutes or more if the chick keeps eating. Eventually, they'll get distracted or get satisfied and move away. This chick wandered back and forth between the food and water while the puppet head bobbed, and eventually ate quite a bit, then drank on his own, too.

The results are recorded on a record outside the pen, so all the techs can keep track of the chick's progress. Each chick is fed every 1-2 hours or more if their progress is slow. Each chick is treated as an individual, their responses noted so that problems can be dealt with quickly.

After this chick ate all the food he'd wanted, he finally got curious about the video camera on the floor of his pen and came over to poke at it. The tech was surprised it had taken him that long to investigate it, but he'd been very hungry.

Please check our site on June 28 for a web page update and new crane footage!

Click here to ask questions about Patuxent's whooping crane program.   Please check our site on June 28 for a web page update and new crane footage!

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


























To check on updates after day 126, go to whooper's home.

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U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, 
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA
Contact: Jonathan Male
Last Modification: 7-June-2001@7:55 (edt)
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