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Whooping Cranes
October 27, 2008

Here we are, the last week of October.

Halloween is on Friday and we loose an hour of daylight (night side) as daylight savings reverts to standard time for the winter months.

That is always a difficult thing for me, loosing that hour of daylight.

A killing frost finally finished off the tender plants, but I managed to save several tomatoes.

We've had a few rainy days and finishing fall clean up is lagging around here.

I did manage to get my birdbath heaters hooked up.

You may want to get on that task yourself if you live in a cooler climate.

Dare I say this?

There is some white stuff mixed with rain today.

I'm never ready for that.

I know several regions have been hammered already.

Hey why not, Dark eyed juncos are here now and that seems to be a sign that snow can't be far off.

The wind and rain has knocked down much of Autumn's fall colors around here and many of the trees look so bare now :-(

The birds are in a feeding frenzy.

If you notice, you can always tell when a change in weather is going to happen because the birds are so sensitive to the Barometric pressure.

When the pressure begins to drop, wildlife knows a storm is brewing.

Because we continue to have new readers, I must repeat myself at times.

Canada geese flocks are now getting bigger as family groups are now forming pre-migration flocks.

With several ponds nearby, the sight and sounds are almost constant.

Still, it is a joy to watch and learn the ways of these large birds.

Robins are in full force as well, as they form loose flocks.

Yes, robins have left the woods to feed on berries and worms in our yards and open fields.

After fledging the last batch of youngsters, robins head off to open wooded areas and swampy areas to find food and better protection.

It is in the woods where small groups begin to form.

With robins, juveniles head off with dad to roost while mom is sitting on the second or third nest.

Dad will help with feeding but often will roost with the others at night.

It's a robin thing and that is why we don't see robins in late summer and early fall.

In some areas where we do have winter, a handful will remain every year.

Have you carved your pumkin(s) yet?

Wash off the seeds and toss some out for your birds.

Cardinals, Jays and other birds enjoy the treats.

Say, is there something special about Autumn that you really enjoy?

Is it the fall colors?

Maybe you enjoy raking leaves and jumping in the pile.

Could be you finally get a break from the triple digit days.

Do you enjoy the fresh air?

Walks in the park?

It could be anything, and I would like to hear from you on this subject.


Every so often I like to have reader involvement, after all, this is your newsletter too.

Write me and let me know what you enjoy about the season.

It may be Halloween or Thanksgiving, but please let me know.

Maybe it is bird watching, watching Monarchs migrate or the chipmunks hoarding food.

We all have something and I would love to share it with others.

Come on..................

We always have fun doingsomething that involves you.

I will publish your thoughts and experiences next week.

Along with your favorite, give me a FIRST NAME, CITY YOU ARE NEAR and STATE or PROVINCE.

This works when you get involved.

I'm looking forward to hearing from you.

Well, as promised............................

This week's feature is on Whooping cranes.

I know, it isn't gardening for wildlife or pertain to backyard critters, but this is an important topic for all of us.

There was so much material to sift through, but not enough time to put it all down.

So, you will get some basics and a few interesting bits.

Whoopers are not the ubiqutous bird that may have an interest to everyone, but they should be.


The Majestic & Endangered Whooping Crane [Grus americana]:

Whooping cranes are perhaps the best known endangered species in North America.

They have become the symbol of our efforts to protect and restore wildlife species that are threatened with immediate extinction.

At one time, whooping cranes were once scattered throughout a wide range, extending from central Canada south to Mexico and from Utah to the Atlantic coast.

Early European explorers recorded this grand and graceful bird in six Canadian provinces, 35 U.S. states and four Mexican states.

Research suggests that Whoopers were never plentiful, but they were wide spread.

Unregulated hunting and habitat loss left only two small flocks by the late 1930s, a non-migratory flock in southwest Louisiana, and a migratory flock that nested in Canada and wintered in Texas.

By 1941, only 16 birds remained in the migratory flock and later that decade the Louisiana flock was destroyed by a storm.

Active intervention by the U.S. and Canadian governments, as well as assistance from conservation groups, has aided the whoopers and today their population stands at more than 500 individuals. extirpated.

The birds hovered on the very brink of extinction and are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Their 2,500-mile migration route from Wood Buffalo National Park on the Alberta-Northwest Territories border in Canada to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and its nearby coastal marshes in Texas.

Cranes leave Canada in October and arrive along the Gulf coast sometime in November and stay till March, when they begin the journey North.

Whoopers need Marshes and wetlands along the route for roosting.

Perhaps you have seen the giants as the land or take off from roosting spots along the migration trail.

More than 260 are in this flock.

In 1975, experimental efforts to establish a second migratory wild flock began at Gray's Lake National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Idaho.

Eggs were transferred from the nests of Whooping Cranes at Wood Buffalo to nests of Greater Sandhill Cranes in Idaho.

The Sandhill Crane "foster parents" raised the Whooping Cranes and taught them a traditional migration route of Sandhill Cranes to wintering grounds at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico.

These cross-fostered Whooping Cranes, however, failed to form pair bonds with each other and suffered high mortality rates.

The program was discontinued in 1989 and no Whooping Cranes survive in this population.

In the 1980's other options for establishing additional flocks were explored by the U.S. and Canadian Whooping Crane Recovery Team.

The joint team decided that it was still critical to establish a second flock of Whooping Cranes in case disaster struck the natural flock.

In 1993, thirty-three captive reared cranes were released at the Kissimmee Prairie of central Florida in an effort to establish a non-migratory population such as existed once in Louisiana.

After multiple releases, this flock numbered 54 in 2006 and now has 17 nesting pairs.

In 2006, four chicks fledged in this population.

A major problem with captive reared birds is their lack of fear for predators.

Many things are a learning process for Whooping cranes.

On one instance, three fledglings were killed in one night by a bobcat as they were roosting together.

In 1999, governmental, non-profit, and private organizations united to form the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) to establish a new, migratory flock of Whooping Cranes to the core part of their historical breeding range.

This flock migrates between Wisconsin and coastal Florida.

To re-establish a migration route that was completely lost, the chicks are conditioned to follow an ultralight aircraft at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin.

The aircraft guides them on their first migration South.

In the fall, the young Whooping Cranes and a team of pilots and biologists begin the 1200 mile journey to Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Florida.

The birds spend the winter in Florida and return unassisted to Wisconsin in the spring

The flock consists of captive-reared chicks that are led from Wisconsin to Florida behind an ultralight plane.

A lot goes into this project.

Behind the scene, scientists and volunteers work around the clock finding suitable genetic mates, hatching eggs, raising babies and so on.

Some of the Crane eggs come from the wild birds in Wisconsin.

For example, two nests were abandoned in May of this year, the eggs were taken and successfully hatched.

Many of the eggs however, are hatched from a captive population at the U.S. Geological Survey's Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, MD.

The birds are hatched, imprinted on and learned to follow ultralight aircraft on the ground.

Following a veterinarian checkup that showed that all of the birds were healthy, they were shipped to Necedah NWR in large crates, in aircraft provided by Windway Capital Corp.

A quick check by veterinarians upon arrival showed that the birds were ready for their new home on Necedah NWR in Wisconsin.

This year, seven Whooping crane chicks arrived in Wisconsin on June 25.

As you can see, a lot goes on that we don't know or never read about.

How exciting it is that such an effort is going on to protect one of God's creatures.

The first "class," as they are referred to, made the trip in the fall of 2001.

The Cranes will make their way back to Wisconsin.

At least most of them do.

Whooping cranes have been spotted in other areas around the Great Lakes states, including a pair that built a false in Michigan's thumb area.

These Whoopers are believed to be part of the non migratory flock that lives in Florida, but drought conditions forced them to move.

I have no other reports on these birds.

We can only hope these great birds will eventually immigrate to other areas.

The success of this program has been more than anyone could've hoped for except for the 2007 crop.

18 cranes arrived in Florida in 2007.

In February of 2008, storms spawned tornadoes that killed 17 of the 18 Whoopers.

This catastrophic event called for more options.

This year the ultralights and 14 fledglings took off on October 17th, but this time they are flying in two groups of seven and heading to different locations.

Migration time varies becausae of weather conditions and other unpredictable situations that pop up.

There is only so much I can mention in this newsletter, but if you are interested, you can learn more by going to these sites.

Operation Migration

Bring Back the Cranes

Whooping Crane Partnership

The flock at Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada's Northwest territory has a total of 266 Whooping cranes is this populationís current estimated current size.

64 chicks hatched this spring from a record 66 nests but they are not added to the count until they reach the Aransas Refuge in the fall.

No chicks fledged in the wild in 2008.

The total of 30 birds reflects the 26 regularly monitored in Florida plus 4 additional cranes believed to be alive in unknown locations.

Droughts and an over population of bobcats have kept nesting down.

Five breeding facilities (Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, International Crane Foundation, Calgary Zoo, San Antonio Zoo, and Species Survival Center in New Orleans) either provided eggs or hatched and raised chicks in 2008.

Four eggs came from abandoned wild nests in Wisconsin and were successfully hatched at Patuxent. 21 chicks are being raised for the release (14 ultralight, 7direct autumn release).


___________In the Wild ______In Captivity _____Totals____________

ADULT _______327_____________62________________389




The tallest North American bird, Whooping Cranes are unmistakable at close range.

Standing at almost 5 feet, these regal birds are entirely white except for their red and black crown and red stripe behind the bill.

In flight, the black feathers at the tips of their long wings (7 to 8 feet wide from wingtip to wingtip) are exposed, and stand out against the white feathers of the rest of their body.

Average weight is somewhere between 14 to 17 pounds.

Sandhill Cranes, North America's only other resident crane species, are smaller and are almost entirely gray in color.

In flight, both crane species fly with their necks outstretched, as opposed to egrets and herons that generally fly with their long necks withdrawn.

With the exception of black wing tips (primary feathers) and a black mustache, the body plumage is snow white.

Red skin and sparse, black hair-like feathers cover the birds crown.


Whooping Cranes rely on wetland habitat for breeding, wintering and migratory stopover.

Relatively long-lived, (up to 24 years in the wild) Whooping Cranes will pair with one partner for life.

Juveniles won't begin to breed until they are 3 or 4 years of age.

Usually, only 2 eggs are laid per clutch and only one chick is fledged per season.

Both of these last two factors have made increasing the population of this species more difficult.

In addition, almost all of the remaining wild breeders are found in Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada, which is at the far northern edge of their historical range.

At that latitude the breeding season is relatively short, reducing the chances of second nesting attempts after a nest failure.

Predators include black bears, wolverines, gray wolf, red fox, bobcats and large raptors.

Whooping Cranes themselves are omnivorous, eating a variety of foods found in wetlands and adjacent upland habitat.

For example, Whooping Cranes are known to eat crabs, frogs, mollusks and fish as well as mice, insects, plant tubers, berries and agricultural grains.

Pairs undertake majestic courtship displays, jumping high in the air with their heads pointing to the sky, and their wings extended.


Currently, the main threat to Whooping Cranes is their limited range, and extremely small population size.

Any disaster at the breeding or wintering sites of wild birds (such as a disease, hurricane or oil spill) could quickly decimate the global population of these elegant birds.

Birds wintering in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge face the threat of a variety of such catastrophic events. A late season hurricane could conceivably impact early winter migrants.

The loss of wetland habitat in the Great Plains is the primary cause of the decline of this species.

Breeding and wintering habitat is currently protected for existing wild populations, but vital migratory staging areas require management and/or protection as well.

In the Aransas N.W.R., heavy boat traffic and mineral exploration have both contributed to the loss of wetlands, though these threats have been reduced recently, and even reversed in some cases.

Collision with man made objects, such as electrical power lines, has been a frequent cause of death for wild Whooping Cranes.

Finally, hunting pressure also played an important role in the decline of Whooping Cranes.

The total population of Whooping Cranes in North America was probably never very large.

This coupled with the relatively slow reproductive rates of the species meant that even minimal hunting pressure led to serious impacts.

Hunting for Whooping Cranes is not permitted.

Accidental shooting by hunters is not thought to pose a great threat but does happen

In 2004 a couple of trigger happy hunters in the state of Kansas shot two Whooping cranes, one died and the other was rehabbed and released.

If you see a whooping crane along the migration routes or off route, report it right away.

Now here are some fun facts on Whooping cranes.

The trachea (windpipe) of the Whooping Crane coils about 23 cm (9 inches) into its sternum (breast bone) while the bird calls, increasing volume and allowing for variation in pitch.

An average Whooping Crane egg is 102 mm long (4 inches), and weighs 208 grams (7 ounces).

Both parents take turns incubating the egg.

Eggs are incubated, on average, for 30 days.

Egg color varies from a soft blue to a grey-green or tan, usually with tan and brown splotches.

The splotchy color of the egg provides natural camouflage against the russet colors of the nest. This helps keep it safe from predators.

In the wild, both parents feed and raise the chick.

In the wild, whoopers normally lay 2 eggs but usually only one chick survives.

Whoopers are born with blue eyes that change color as they grow older.

At about 3 months, their eyes will be a stunning aquamarine color.

At about 6 months, their eyes will be bright gold.

Whooper chicks have down, not feathers, when they hatch.

Their color varies from a light blond to a dark cinnamon-brown.

Whooper parents catch food for their chicks all day long.

Whooper parents have to teach their chicks to eat and drink.

They teach them to eat by catching food for them--insects, small fish and invertebrates, and small mammals like mice or voles.

Videos taken of crane parents on the nest have shown them teaching their chicks to drink by patiently dipping their own beaks into water and letting it drip from their bill.

Most birds are attracted to moving water, so the water dripping from the parent's bill is very attractive to the chick who will try to catch it and end up getting their first drink by accident.

At around 40 days of age our chick will grow feathers that are cinnamon and white in color, and he'll have black wing tips.

At 90 days they are ready to fly or fledge.

After a year of age, he will be pure white with black wing tips and black facial markings.

The top of his head will be covered with bright red skin with spare black feathers. This is called a "crown."

Nests are often built up mounds surrounded by water for protection.

So, swimming is a natural activity.

Since the young chicks are usually too small to walk through the deep water their parents can wade through.

Parenting skills in whoopers, like in humans, is learned. Whoopers become better parents with experience.

Yet another reason for slow growth rates in populations.

Whooping Cranes are territorial in both summer and winter, living in family groups. Newly paired cranes often locate their first territory near that of their parents.

Naming System

Each bird that is raised and released has a 3-digit number that becomes its "name" for its whole life. The number tells something about the bird.

The first digit (5) stands for the hatch year (2005).

The last two digits stand for the order in which these chicks hatched. So, #501 hatched first and #520 hatched 20th.

Gaps in the number system happen when a chick dies, or if a chick is removed from the flock and raised as a breeding bird.

Here are some examples of crane names (numbers) that I am aware of, having read about it in the past.

Cranes 516 and 522 were retrieved from Michigan in 2006.

Cranes 301 and 318 were spotted more than once in Michigan and retrieved to take back to Wisconsin.

Whoopers have been spotted hanging out with Sandhill cranes as well.

Other cranes sightings have been reported from several locations in Michigan.

There have been crane sightings in Ontario, Quebec, Ohio, New York and other states where the cranes haven't been re-introduced by man.

Isn't that exiting?

If you live near any of the whooping cranes, be sure to take in the sights, but keep your distance.

You may also live near migration routes of the wild whoopers or the ultralight clans.

Enjoy seeing one of earth's rarest birds, The North American Whooping Crane.

Besure to check out "Operation Migration" for updates on the ultralights and cranes.

Thanks to USGS for many facts and tidbits, plus several photos.

Well,it's time to fly for now.

Before I go, here is your thought for the week.

There are many ways to measure success; not the least of which is the way your child describes you when talking to a friend.

-- Unknown

Can you hear the pin drop as you think about that?


Not many of us stop to think of that as a measure of success, do we?

And it holds true to this very day, even with our adult children.

Thankfully, you did the best you can and could do.

So SMILE and put a little skip in your walk.

Live for the now and plan for the future.

A smile is a good way to start the day isn't it?

Until next time my friend.

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers. Better yet, have them sign up so they can recieve their own letters.

Gardening For Wildlife.

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