USGS USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center


Whooping Crane Chicks in Training

Our whooping crane chicks have been very busy the past several weeks–growing flight feathers, practicing following the ultralight and learning to get along with one another.  Whooper chicks can be very aggressive toward each other and in their first month or so after hatching the chicks at Patuxent live in individual pens.  They are gradually introduced to each other during exercise walks and training sessions.  The technicians spend a great deal of time socializing the chicks so that they can eventually share a pen.  Sometimes the socialization goes smoothly and other times it is a long and tedious process, with technicians having to “baby-sit” the young cranes and break up frequent squabbles.  These squabbles can be very aggressive resulting in injury, or even death, among the group of chicks, so "baby-sitting" by the costumed technicians is very important. Eventually the crane chicks sort out amongst themselves who is “top crane”, the fighting stops, and the birds can live peacefully together.

The first two groups of WCEP ultralight whoopers have left for the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin.  Group One, which was comprised of eight chicks, was shipped on June 26th.  This group included birds that hatched from eggs originating at Patuxent, the International Crane Foundation (ICF), Necedah NWR and the Calgary Zoo.  Five birds in Group Two were sent on July 6th.  The chicks in Group Two represented Patuxent, ICF, the Calgary Zoo and the Audubon Species Survival Center.  Our final five chicks, Group Three, were scheduled to be shipped on July 12th but we postponed the shipment because all the chicks were not getting along and could not live together.  Chicks #18 and #22, in particular, were being troublemakers, causing great disruption to the group.  Every day, though, the chicks are making progress and we are confident they will be a cohesive group by the new shipment scheduled for July 20th.

After the last group of WCEP ultralight chicks is shipped, we will have three whooping crane young that will stay at Patuxent.  Two are genetically valuable and will become part of the breeding flock.  A third chick, held back for health reasons, will be used as an imprint model for future generations of ultralight release birds.

Whooping Crane Chick stretches her wings, showing partially grown flight feathers. Photo by Laurie Lin, Operation Migration. © www.operationmigration.org Whooping Crane Chick stretches her wings, showing partially grown flight feathers. Photo by Laurie Lin, Operation Migration. © www.operationmigration.org
Brian Clauss trains Group Two. Photo by Laurie Lin, Operation Migration. © www.operationmigration.org

Brian Clauss trains Group Two. Photo by Laurie Lin, Operation Migration. © www.operationmigration.org

Group Three getting to know each other at the pond. Photo by Laurie Lin, Operation Migration.  © www.operationmigration.org

Group Three getting to know each other at the pond. Photo by Laurie Lin, Operation Migration.
© www.operationmigration.org