As many as 43 young Whooping Cranes will fly south this fall to their wintering grounds in Texas, Florida, and other southern states.
The wild population that breeds in and around Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Canada produced 23 fledglings this summer, according to surveyors with Parks Canada. The birds, observed during a five-day count in early August, were in 23 family groups, meaning no sets of twins were observed, said Stuart MacMillan, the park manager.
“During the 2015 nesting period, it was an exceptionally dry year in the region,” he said. “Ponds in the nesting area were noticeably dryer, but what impact this may have had on crane productivity is not yet known.”
The Wood Buffalo cranes winter at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas coast; they usually start to arrive in mid-October.
In Wisconsin, the 2015 Whooper class consists of 20 juveniles in four groups:
• Eight young cranes hatched in captivity earlier this year at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin, and raised by costumed handlers will be released at Horicon National Wildlife Refuge in October to mingle, and hopefully make the migration south, with adult Whooping Cranes.
• Six young cranes hatched at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Maryland, are training to fly behind Operation Migration’s ultralights at White River Marsh State Wildlife Area in eastern Wisconsin. They will fly to St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, south of Tallahassee, Florida. Their trip is expected to take six to 16 weeks depending upon weather conditions.
• Three birds that were hatched at Patuxent and raised by captive crane parents there will be released at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin in September and should follow migrating adults in October.
• Three Whoopers hatched in the wild at Necedah NWR have fledged and will likely follow their parents to southern wintering areas.
“We’ve achieved a lot of milestones with the class of 2015 and are hopeful these young birds can make it safely to their wintering grounds and help us build the flock,” says Davin Lopez, a conservation biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, which is part of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership.
Joe Duff, Operation Migration’s co-founder and chief executive officer, says the young Whoopers now training with ultralights “make up one of the best, most attentive cohorts we’ve ever had the honor of working with. All six are very attentive to the aircraft and currently can fly for up to 30 minutes at a time.” If the weather cooperates, Duff anticipates beginning the southward migration on September 20.