Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership logo
Non-profit organizations, individuals and government agencies joining forces to bring a migratory population of whooping cranes back to eastern North America


Operation Migration Crane Camera logo



Whooping Crane Reporting Website logo


Visit with us!


Facebook logo


Flickr icon


YouTube Icon


Twitter Icon



Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership


Wild Whooping Crane Chick Hatches at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge


June 21, 2009



Contact: Joan Garland, 608-381-1262
Dan Peterson, 608-565-4412


Adult whooping crane pair with two chicks.  Photo by USFWS; Richard Urbanek
These are cranes that hatched at Necedah NWR in 2006.
Photo by USFWS; Richard Urbanek

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. A whooping crane chick hatched this week at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin.  This is only the second time in over a century that a naturally produced whooping crane has hatched in the wild in the Midwest.  


The chick, #W2-09 (W = wild hatched), is the offspring of whooping crane pair #11-02 and #17-02 from the ultralight-led crane Class of 2002.   The behavior of the pair indicated that the chick hatched on June 14 or 15, but visual confirmation was difficult to obtain until June 18 due to dense vegetation. 


This is the second chick to hatch in the wild this year in the eastern migratory population.  Whooping crane pair #12-02 and #19-04 hatched a chick, #W1-09, on June 12 at their nest site in Wood County, Wis.  The chick is from a captive produced egg from the International Crane Foundation, placed in the nest after it was determined that the pair’s own eggs were infertile. 


Numbers 11-02 and 17-02, dubbed the “First Family”, successfully hatched the first wild whooping crane chicks in this population in 2006 at Necedah NWR.  One of their chicks was taken by a predator prior to migration.  The other chick, #W1-06, migrated to Florida with her parents in fall 2006 and recently completed her third spring migration to Necedah NWR. 


“This is an exciting moment for the many dedicated people contributing to this project and another sign of success for WCEP,” said Necedah NWR manager Larry Wargowsky.  “It shows persistence pays off, as once again the First Family hatched the chick by renesting after their first attempt was unsuccessful.”


Both of the chicks that have hatched in the wild this year in Wisconsin are the result of renesting.  This spring, 12 breeding pairs of whooping cranes built nests and laid eggs.  Eleven of the nests were located on the Necedah NWR, with #12-02 and #19-04’s nest located on private land.  All 12 nests failed earlier this spring and five pairs renested—the three other renests also failed.  This nest abandonment pattern is 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, temperature, black fly abundance and distribution, and food availability.


In 2001, WCEP project partner Operation Migration’s pilots led the first whooping crane chicks, conditioned to follow their ultralight aircraft surrogates, south from Necedah NWR to Chassahowitzka NWR in Florida.  Each subsequent year, WCEP biologists and pilots have conditioned and guided additional groups of juvenile cranes to Florida. Having been shown the way once, the young birds initiate their return migration in the spring, and in subsequent years, continue to migrate on their own.


In 2008, in addition to wintering at Chassahowitzka NWR, half of the ultralight-led cranes spent the winter at the St. Marks NWR along Florida’s Gulf Coast.  The decision to split the cohort came after the loss in February 2007 of 17 of the 18 Class of 2006 whooping cranes in a severe storm at Chassahowitzka NWR.  WCEP hopes the two wintering locations will help reduce the risk of another catastrophic loss. 


In addition to the ultralight-led birds, biologists from the International Crane Foundation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rear whooping crane chicks at Necedah NWR and release them in the company of older cranes from whom the young birds learn the migration route.  This is the fifth year WCEP has used this Direct Autumn Release method. 


Whooping cranes that take part in the ultralight and Direct Autumn Release reintroductions are hatched at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Md., and at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wis.  Chicks are raised under a strict isolation protocol and to ensure the birds remain wild, handlers adhere to a no-talking rule and wear costumes designed to mask the human form.


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 graduated classes of whooping cranes spend the summer in central Wisconsin, where they use areas on or near the 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 515 birds in existence, approximately 360 of them in the wild. Aside from the 80 WCEP 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 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.


For more information on the project, its partners and how you can help, visit the WCEP website at http://www.bringbackthecranes.org.






Back to Newsroom