THE WHOOPING CRANE REPORT: 11
Film and photos Jennifer Green, USGS
Enrichment: Keeping Whoopers Happy
Keeping wild animals captive presents challenges. One of the greatest of these is reducing animal boredom and stress. Bored and stressed animals can develop behavioral problems, and have difficulty establishing strong pair bonds and producing young. Facilities like Patuxent look for ways to enrich the environment of their captive animals for the animals' well-being.
Whoopers nest in an isolated part of the world, northern Canada, and human disturbance can have a profound effect on their nesting success. In Canada, whooper pairs might use as much as 200 acres per pair to raise their young, most of that in wetlands. At Patuxent, they must be satisfied with a spacious pen (45' x 65') that is mostly dry. The cranes do have a lot of opportunities to forage naturally, and can catch voles, mice, and insects in their pen. They can hear and see other cranes, and see the surrounding environment, and other wildlife that is kept safely away from them. All this enhances the limited environment of the pen, but it's a far cry from the wild. Recently, we have been giving pairs hand-dug ponds in their pens. The ponds are filled daily or water is left running slowly into it to make up for the natural drainage. The chance to wade in the water and dig around in the mud stimulates the birds and gives them more opportunities for natural behavior.
Maintaining the crane colony means that human disturbance is an every day occurrence. We try to minimize this, and don't handle the whoopers unnecessarily, but we have to feed them, maintain their pens, and check on their health. This happens often enough so that our presence, to the birds, means that something they won't like is about to happen. We wanted to give the whoopers a more positive experience to associate with our presence.
The simple act of tossing whole smelt (a small fish) to the birds as a regular treat helped them view us differently. The commercial diet our birds normally eat, while nutritious, is always the same. Smelt is a natural food, so giving them the smelt was like handing out crane candy. Many of the birds soon started anticipating their treat. This helped them view our arrival as more than just a stressful event.
In this month's video, Jenn (who took the film) and Jared, toss smelt to Goliath and his mate. These two birds look forward to this every day and will approach the techs if they take too long to deliver. While many of the birds aren't this acclimated to the techs' presence, there is a definite improvement even with shy or stressed birds. Once the birds know that the techs are there to toss smelt, many of them relax and look forward to it. Sometimes the entire colony will erupt in calls as the techs go from pen to pen. It's as if the cranes are telling one another, "Get ready! Here comes the smelt!"
To follow the progress of the whoopers in Wisconsin, log onto the Operation Migration website for recent updates, including pictures, that are posted at the bottom of this page:
Previous Whooping Crane Videos:
Pre-Flight training (See Report 10):
Please check our site on September 27 for a web page update and new footage!
Click here to ask questions about Patuxent's whooping crane program. Please check our site on September 27 for a web page update and new crane footage!Whooping Crane Reports
Hatch Day (Click on numbered links to view all other egg (negative numbers) and chick days).