Whooping Crane Chicks Hatch in
the Midwest in Over 100 Years
June 23, 2006
F. Levin, 612-713-5311
Garland, 608-356-9462, x142; 608-381-1262 (cell)
The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) is celebrating
a milestone in its efforts to reintroduce a wild whooping crane flock in
eastern North America. On June 22, two whooping crane chicks hatched at
the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin. This historic event marks
the first time in over 100 years that a whooping crane has hatched in the
wild in the Midwest.
The two chicks are offspring of whooping crane pair 11-02 (a male)
and 17-02 (a female) from the ultralight-led crane Class of 2002. The pair nested
earlier this spring at the refuge, but their egg(s) were lost--likely due to
predators. They renested and began incubating on May 23.
"With the hatching of the first two wild chicks from the migratory
whooping crane reintroduction, another chapter in wildlife history has been made.
The journey took six long years of dedication, vision and believing it could
happen--as well as the blood, sweat and occasional tears of the many partners
that worked on the project. This istruly the start of a new generation of wild
things...and a symbol for restoring our wild places," said John Christian, co-chair
of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership.
“This is an incredible moment for the many dedicated people
contributing to this project, however, much like these young chicks, while we’ve
succeeded so far, there’s much more work ahead to ensure this population
of whooping cranes will sustain itself for generations to come,” said Kelley
Tucker, co-chair of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership.
"This is a long awaited moment," said Signe Holtz, director of the
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' Bureau of Endangered Resources, "the
success of this effort sets a goal for endangered species recovery efforts everywhere.
The partnership of public, private and government organizations that has made
this possible shows what can be done when we all pull together with a common
goal in sight. These chicks have a long and dangerous road ahead of them, but
with luck we'll see them wing south with their parents this fall."
In May, another “first” occurred when two whooping crane
chicks from a nest in the wild hatched in captivity. WCEP biologists removed
the two eggs from a nest at the Necedah NWR after their parents wandered away
from the newly laid eggs for a long period of time. The chicks were hatched at
the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Maryland. They will join the
crane Class of 2006, which will learn the migration route between Necedah NWR
and Chassahowitzka NWR in Florida this fall by following Operation Migration’s
Biologists from the International Crane Foundation and the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service have also begun releasing additional chicks into the
company of older birds in the fall at Necedah NWR. These chicks will learn the
migration route from adult whooping cranes or sandhill cranes.
WCEP is using this “direct autumn release” technique
to complement the known success of the ultralight-led migrations. Chicks for
direct autumn release will be reared in the field and released with older birds
after fledging, or developing their flight feathers. This method of reintroduction
has been extensively tested with sandhill cranes and proven successful. Four
whooping cranes were released by this method in the fall of 2005.
WCEP asks anyone who encounters whooping cranes in the wild to please
give them the respect and distance they need to remain wild. Do not approach
birds on foot within 600 feet and try to remain in your vehicle. Do not approach
cranes in a vehicle within 600 feet or, if on a public road, within 300 feet.
Also, please remain concealed and do not speak loudly enough that the birds can
hear you. Finally, do not trespass on private property in an attempt to view
In 2001, Operation Migration’s pilots first led whooping crane
chicks conditioned to follow their ultralight surrogates south from Necedah NWR
to Chassahowitzka NWR. Each subsequent year, WCEP biologists and pilots have
conditioned and guided additional groups of juvenile cranes to Chassahowitzka
Project staff from the International Crane Foundation and the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service track and monitor north- and southbound cranes in an
effort to learn as much as possible about their unassisted migrations and the
habitat choices they make along the way. ICF and FWS biologists, along with Wisconsin
DNR biologists, and continue to monitor the birds while they are in their summer
In the first four years of the project, returning whooping cranes
have used wetlands in 35 of 72 Wisconsin counties, primarily within the lower
two-thirds of the state along major rivers and wetlands. In addition to the core
reintroduction area of Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, the birds’ increased
use of wetlands along the lower Wisconsin River and in more than 15 state wildlife
areas, private wetlands and Horicon NWR demonstrates the value of preserved habitat
to the success of this restoration effort.
Whooping cranes were on the verge of extinction in the 1940s. Today,
only about 300 birds exist in the wild. Aside from the 63 Wisconsin-Florida birds,
the only other migrating population of whooping cranes nests at the Wood Buffalo
National Park in the Northwest Territories of Canada and winters at the Aransas
National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Gulf Coast. A non-migrating flock of approximately
60 birds lives year-round in the central Florida Kissimmee region.
Whooping cranes, named for their loud and penetrating unison
calls, live and breed in wetlands, where they feed on crabs, clams, frogs and
aquatic plants. They are distinctive animals, standing five feet tall, with white
bodies, black wing tips and red crowns on their heads.
Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership founding members are the International
Crane Foundation, Operation Migration Inc., Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource,
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife
Research Center and National Wildlife Health Center, the National Fish and Wildlife
Foundation, the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, and the International
Whooping Crane Recovery Team.
Many other states, provinces, private individuals and conservation
groups have joined forces with and support WCEP by donating resources, funding
and personnel. More than 60 percent of the project’s budget comes from
private sources in the form of grants, donations and corporate sponsors.
For more information on the project, its partners and how you can help,
visit the WCEP website at http://www.bringbackthecranes.org -- (Medium-res. photos of the crane chicks and
adult birds are available on request)
Educators and students are encouraged to visit Journey North for
information and curriculum materials related to the whooping crane project:
by: Richard Urbanek