News Releases

First Whooping Crane of the Season Hatches at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge

NECEDAH, WI – The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership and staff at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin are celebrating the first wild whooping crane chick of the 2014 season.  The chick represents the latest success in the effort to sustain a wild migratory population of endangered whooping cranes in eastern North America.

The chick hatched May 8 at Necedah refuge from the first nest of the year.  The chick’s parents are 13-03 (female) and 9-05 (male). The chick will be assigned the number W1-14: “W” for a wild chick, 1 for the first hatch of the year, and 14 for the year. The pair was first seen incubating on April 9, 2014.

Service intern Trevor Lauber was the first to observe the chick.  “I was specifically looking for a chick since we thought there was a chance they would hatch today, and sure enough there was a little, brown fluffball next to the parent sitting on the nest.”

Thanks to the efforts of WCEP, there are now 100 whooping cranes in the eastern migratory population. In addition to #13-03 and #9-05, at least 13 pairs are currently nesting.

This year is the first of a three-year project on Necedah that examines whooping crane nesting habits on the refuge, especially when the birds choose to nest.  It is hoped that the project will result in better nesting success on the refuge.  For more information go to http://www.fws.gov/refuge/necedah/whooping_crane_funding.html

Whooping cranes are long-lived birds that may start nesting attempts at three to five years of age and can continue hatching eggs and rearing chicks past the age of 30.  In captivity, the oldest breeding whooping crane is currently 41 years old.  The oldest whooping crane known to be producing young in the wild is 32 years old.

In 2001, the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, a cooperative of nine organizations dedicated to restoring whooping cranes to the eastern United States, began releasing young whooping cranes in central Wisconsin. Cranes were conditioned to follow ultralight aircraft piloted by Operation Migration Inc. from Necedah National Wildlife Refuge to Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Florida.  Each subsequent year, WCEP partners have conditioned and guided additional groups of juvenile cranes to Florida. Having been shown the way once, the young birds initiate their unassisted return migration in the spring, and in subsequent years, continue to migrate on their own.  In 2008, St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge along Florida’s Gulf Coast was added as an additional wintering site for the juvenile cranes.

In addition to the aircraft-guided birds, biologists from the International Crane Foundation (ICF) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rear whooping cranes at Horicon Refuge to be released in the company of older cranes. This reintroduction method is known as the Direct Autumn Release (DAR). Each year, young cranes hatched at ICF are transported to Horicon National Wildlife Refuge, are raised in isolation from humans. The young birds are then released in the autumn with older whooping cranes from previous releases, with hopes that the young will follow older wild cranes south to learn the migration route. The DAR method supplements the aircraft-guided migrations and has been a success since its inception in 2005.

In the spring and fall, WCEP partners 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 at 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 600 birds in existence, approximately 445 of them in the wild. Aside from the 106 WCEP birds, the only other migratory 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-migratory flock of approximately 19 birds lives year-round in the central Florida Kissimmee region, and an additional 25 non-migratory cranes live in southern Louisiana.

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, 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.

Contacts:

Heather Ray, 905-718-1292, heather@operationmigration.org

Doug Staller, Necedah NWR, 608-565-4400 Doug_Staller@fws.gov

Joan Garland, 608-381-1262, jgarland@savingcranes.org