Monday, May 23, 2011

Whooping Cranes in Rice County

Sunday morning we received a listserv email that two Whooping Cranes were found on Saturday east of Dennison in Rice County, Minnesota.  Unfortunately we were busy all day Sunday, and we could not check out the report until late in the afternoon.  I harbored little hope of finding the birds.  Strong south winds probably pushed these migrants on their way.  But Sunday was stormy, so perhaps the birds stayed down.  As you can see, we found the cranes.

I suspect these birds originated from Wisconsin, where the Wisconsin DNR and other organizations have initiated a recovery program.  Since 1999, cranes have been released in Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin and migrate to Chassahowitzka NWR on the Gulf coast of Florida. Many birders saw two cranes in Rice County, Minnesota, last fall.  It surprises me that we are beginning to find Whooping Cranes in Rice Co., since we are west of a direct route between Wisconsin and Florida (but well east of the traditional crane migratory path between Texas and northwest Canada).
The Wisconsin program is an effort to establish a secondary crane flock to act as a population buffer in case the wild flock in Texas meets with disaster.  In 1941 only 15 individuals remained in the wild flock (that now numbers over 180).  By late October 2010, Wisconsin boasted about 96 wild birds.  About ten of these followed an ultralight aircraft to Florida.  Eleven cranes, banded and radio tagged, were let go near older, already released adults.  Presumably the birds found in Rice Co. are two of those 11.  Notice the radio transmitter on the left leg of the bird above.  The bird below is a second bird, as you can see by the differently colored bands on the right leg.  The two birds appeared to be a male and a female, but see my previously posted information about ascertaining the sex of living Whooping Cranes.  I will add more about these birds if and when I receive more information.
Update from International Crane Foundattion “Based on leg bands previously reported, these two birds are both juvenile males numbers 1-10 and 8-10.  They moved from Wisconsin into Goodhue County, MN for a short time and then made a brief trip back to the Necedah NWR  before returning to Minnesota to this location in Rice County just recently.One of them does have a satellite transmitter so if they move from this spot, we should get a location on them within a couple of days or so.”

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