by Kasey Stewart, University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh
Earlier this summer, the first parent-reared female whooping crane to hatch a chick in the wild was killed by a predator, in Juneau County, Wisconsin. She may have died while defending her 4-week-old chick. After her death, her mate and chick moved to a new area, but without the protection of both parents, the chick was also found dead of predation just a few days later.
The parent-rearing program began in 2013 at USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center with the hope that, by raising chicks with crane parents instead of costumed humans, these chicks would grow up to display more natural crane behaviors. Ideally, predator avoidance and defense would be some of those behaviors.
While predation is a normal part of life in the natural world, it has had especially devastating effects on the Eastern Migratory Population (EMP) of whooping cranes. High mortality rates have stunted the natural growth of the population. Female 20-14 and mate DAR 37-07 built their first nest this year and successfully hatched a chick on June 8. Two days later the pair were observed reacting effectively to an aerial predation threat. Female 20-14 was only 3 years old this breeding season — 4 years younger than any other adult whooping cranes rearing chicks this season, all of whom were costumed reared by humans. We have hypothesized that techniques like parent-rearing, which are more similar to the rearing of wild chicks receive, better prepare those chicks for release into the population. This, in turn, could eventually lead to better parenting behavior and 20-14 was an encouraging example of what that might look like.
Research efforts on survival and mortality in the Easterm Migratory Population will continue. This year, researchers examined responses of cranes with chicks to an aerial predator and the effects of habitat management such as changes to water levels on chick survival. In the population that nests in northern Canada, high chick recruitment has been correlated to natural water drawdowns. This family group was among those using a managed drawdown on the refuge.
At the time of this writing there are 2 surviving chicks in the Easterm Migratory Population. The oldest is 105 days old. One of those still surviving is another first for the population – the first second-generation wild whooping crane – and researchers are hopeful that it will survive to one day produce a third wild generation.
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 any closer than 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, 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.
To report whooping crane sightings, visit the WCEP whooping crane observation webpage at https://www.fws.gov/midwest/whoopingcrane/sightings/sightingform.cfm