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Parent-reared whooping cranes are wintering in eastern states. Photo courtesy of Tom Benson/Creative Commons

Parent-reared whooping cranes are wintering in eastern states. Photo courtesy of Tom Benson/Creative Commons.

Parent-reared whooping cranes migrate to wintering sites

The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership’s 2016 Parent-Rearing Project has concluded now that all the young whooping cranes released in the fall have arrived at wintering sites. This was the first year that the partnership exclusively employed a method called “parent-rearing,” a practice in which captive-hatched chicks are raised by pairs of adult whooping cranes. Previously, chicks were raised by costumed humans.

From mid-September through mid-November 2016, 12 young cranes making up the 2016 parent-rearing project were released in several locations near adult whooping crane pairs. Teams of staff and volunteers from the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, including Operation Migration, International Crane Foundation and Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, monitored the released birds to observe behavior, associations with other whooping and sandhill cranes and vigilance towards predators. Data collected are entered into the Partnership’s growing database, a valuable resource for whooping crane researchers.

Unfortunately, three of the young cranes were lost to predators in the weeks following their release. But on a positive note, one bird, #30-16, formed a close association with an adult pair, which continued through the southward migration. The three are still together in Seminole County, Georgia.

By the end of October, the 2016 parent-reared cranes began moving south. By mid-December, all except one had left Wisconsin for points south. Finally, with winter setting in, the young bird was captured by the International Crane Foundation and transported to Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in northwest Alabama, joining several whooping cranes and thousands of sandhill cranes wintering there.

Now that all nine of the 2016 cohort have established themselves at suitable winter locations in Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and Florida, the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership’s partners have moved onto planning for 2017.

Thanks to the efforts of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, there are now 104 whooping cranes in the eastern migratory population. Whooping cranes were on the verge of extinction in the 1940s. Today, there are only about 600 birds in existence, approximately 445 of them in the wild. Aside from the 104 eastern birds, the only other migratory population of whooping cranes nests at Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Alberta, Canada, and winters at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Gulf Coast. A non-migratory flock of approximately 12 birds lives year-round in the central Florida Kissimmee region, and an additional 58 non-migratory cranes live in southern Louisiana.

Republished from a Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership news release.

Last updated: June 8, 2020