For only the second time in more than a century, wild-hatched whooping cranes have fledged in the wild in the Midwest. Two did it in Wisconsin, one on public land and one on private.
This news report reminded me that a side trip to the International Crane Foundation is well worth the extra time, if you're up at the Wisconsin Dells or in Madison. I did it once while at a conference in Madison and another with the family when we were playing at the Dells.
Well worth the short hop to Baraboo, Wis., but check the hours. It's not open during the winter.
Here are the details on the wild whoopers fledging (I love how they number or name the chicks):
Wild Whooping Crane Chicks Fledge in Wisconsin
The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) is celebrating another success in its efforts to reintroduce a wild migratory whooping crane population in eastern North America. Two wild-hatched whooping crane chicks have recently fledged, or become capable of flight. This is only the second time in over a century that naturally produced whooping cranes have fledged in the wild in the Midwest.
The chicks, #W1-10 and #W3-10 (W = wild hatched) were both observed flying with their parents this weekend. Number W1-10 is located on the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in central Wisconsin, and #W3-10 is on private property in Wood County, Wisconsin.
Seven chicks initially hatched this year in the wild, the largest number to hatch in WCEP project history. Wild-hatched chicks face a precarious existence in the first weeks of their lives, and natural loss of chicks due to predation is common. The survival rate for WCEP with these two chicks is within the range of survival rates for wild sandhill crane chicks in south-central Wisconsin currently being studied by the International Crane Foundation.
The two wild whooping crane chicks are the result of renesting. Earlier this spring, nine breeding pairs of whooping cranes built nests and laid eggs, but all nine pairs abandoned those first nests. The nest abandonments earlier this spring are similar to what has been observed in previous years. WCEP is investigating the cause of the abandonments through analysis of data collected throughout the nesting period on crane behavior and black fly abundance and distribution.
In addition to the two wild chicks, 13 whooping crane chicks are being conditioned to follow ultralight aircraft by a field team from Operation Migration and the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. This fall, Operation Migration will guide the young cranes on their first southward migration from Necedah NWR to Florida, the cranes' winter home.
An additional 11 chicks will be migrating south as part of WCEP's Direct Autumn Release (DAR) project. Biologists from the International Crane Foundation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are currently rearing the whooping crane chicks at Necedah NWR. The chicks will be released this fall in the company of older cranes from whom the young birds learn the migration route. This is the sixth year WCEP has used this DAR method.
In the spring and fall, project staff from the International Crane Foundation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service track and monitor the released cranes in an effort to learn as much as possible about their unassisted journeys and the habitat choices they make both along the way and on their summering and wintering grounds.
Most of the whooping cranes released in previous years spend the summer in central Wisconsin, where they use areas on or near Necedah NWR, as well as other public and private lands.
Whooping cranes were on the verge of extinction in the 1940s. Today, there are only about 550 birds in existence, approximately 400 of them in the wild. Aside from the 96 WCEP birds, the only other migrating population of whooping cranes nests at Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Alberta, Canada and winters at Aransas NWR on the Texas Gulf Coast. A non-migrating flock of approximately 30 birds lives year-round in the central Florida Kissimmee region.
Whooping cranes, named for their loud and penetrating unison calls, live and breed in wetland areas, 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.
WCEP asks anyone who encounters a whooping crane in the wild to please give them the respect and distance they need. Do not approach birds on foot within 200 yards; remain in your vehicle; do not approach in a vehicle within 100 yards. 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 or photograph whooping cranes.
Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership founding members are the International Crane Foundation, Operation Migration, Inc., Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, 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 flyway 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, public donations and corporate sponsors.
To report whooping crane sightings, visit the WCEP whooping crane observation webpage at: http://www.fws.gov/midwest/whoopingcrane/sightings/sightingform.cfm.