USGS USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center



Mortality of 17 Juvenile Whooping Cranes in Florida Storm

We are deeply saddened to report the loss of the 17 juvenile whooping cranes from Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) 2006 Ultra-light led migration. The young birds died at their pen on the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge as a result of the violent storms that swept through Florida during the evening and early morning of Feb 1 and 2. Fortunately, one of the 18 birds in that group escaped the storm and is now doing well in habitats inland. Other survivors from the 2006 release group include three young whooping cranes that were part of WCEP’s methods of direct autumn release (DAR). DAR birds are released to adult cranes on the breeding grounds in early fall; the older birds lead the chicks south on migration.

Class of 2006 cranes at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge during Summer 2006;  photo by Robert C. Doyle, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
Class of 2006 cranes at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge during Summer 2006; photo by Robert C. Doyle, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
"Class of 2006" Whooping Cranes at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge during Summer 2006,
Photos by Robert C. Doyle, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Reesarch Center

Until the complete results of all the necropsies are in and the pen site is fully examined, our speculation remains that the deaths were caused either by drowning or electrocution from a lightning strike. WCEP is in the process of conducting a review of the mortalities with the goal of outlining possible actions, and revising protocols if necessary, to minimize the potential for catastrophic loss of birds due to a storm.

This 2006 group of Ultra-light whooping cranes was a special one as they were hatched under difficult conditions at Patuxent last spring, just after another severe storm destroyed all our breeding pens and delayed the crane breeding season for several weeks. We will remember these 17 beautiful young whooping cranes for their incredible spirit as they take their special place in the history of the recovery of the Whooping Crane; in fact they were one of the best trained and healthiest group of birds we have worked with.

We are grateful to all the dedicated people who helped to make the 2006 migration possible and recognize this is a great loss to them, to those of us who work with the birds, and to all people who cherish the cranes. The progress of whooping crane recovery has not been without setbacks and heartache along the way, but we have overcome those difficulties as we will overcome this one. We are on a long road to the recovery of the whooping crane and we will continue with our efforts to save this incredible, magnificent species. The Patuxent crane crew has begun our many preparations for the crane breeding season this spring and we are looking forward to the production of another healthy group of whooping cranes for release in 2007.

Class of 2006 cranes at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge during Summer 2006; photo by Robert C. Doyle, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
Class of 2006 crane at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge during Summer 2006;; photo by Robert C. Doyle, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
"Class of 2006" Whooping Cranes at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge during Summer 2006,
Photos by Robert C. Doyle, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Reesarch Center

More information about this sad and devastating loss can be found at the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership website.