As reported last week, two Whooping Cranes were spotted near Carleton College owned McKnight Prairie, located in Goodhue County. Later that same day the Whoopers flew over campus and Northfield, as they continued their southward migration. Additional information on the birds adds some intriguing details to the story.
According to the leg band information, these birds are likely a three year old pair. These birds were both raised at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in central Wisconsin. Their identification numbers are 7-07 for the male, and 39-07 for the female
The male was released using the ultralight method, learning the migration route by following an ultralight aircraft to the Chassahowitzka NWR on the gulf coast of Florida.
The female was released using the Direct Autumn Release (DAR) method. She was raised on the Necedah NWR and released at the end of October 2007 near other Whooping Cranes on the refuge. The hope for DAR birds is that they follow other cranes (preferably Whoopers) south and learn the migration route that way. Unfortunately her first fall migration was with 5 other juvenile DAR birds, and they left the refuge before any of the adults, heading straight south into southern Illinois. They were in a nice location habitat wise, but because they were juveniles with no other cranes, were off the main eastern migration flyway, and the fields they were in were used heavily for duck hunting, the staff at the International Crane Foundation (ICF) decided to capture and transport them to the Hiwassee NWR in Tennessee where a large number of Sandhill Cranes winter, as well as a high number of Whooping Cranes. On the 2008 spring migration, 39-07 (and five other juveniles) went straight north, five of them winding up in the thumb of Michigan’s lower peninsula. Once again, ICF headed over to capture them. They succeeded in capturing four of the five birds and brought them back to the Necedah NWR where they were released.
Partway through the 2008 spring/summer, a group of four birds, including our pair, joined up and headed over to Minnesota where they remained until beginning fall migration. They traveled into Florida (led by the two males that knew the way) before heading back north into Lowndes County, Georgia, where they spent the winter. The group split up sometime in the spring of 2009 but our pair remained together, spending spring and the early part of the summer just northwest of the Necedah refuge and even building a nest platform (our female was too young to lay any eggs). Eventually they headed back into Minnesota and began the 2009 migration from there again that fall, wintering at the same location in Georgia.
This spring, there was no evidence that they built a nest, even though the female was likely old enough to lay eggs. They remained mainly on private cranberry property and state-managed marshes northwest of the Necedah, Wisconsin NWR. They had last been detected on the state marsh on the 4th of September before being sighted near McKnight Prairie in Goodhue County, Minnesota on September 13, 2010.
Summary information regarding Whooping Cranes sighted near McKnight Prairie was provided by the International Crane Foundation. See their website for more information on the Foundation, Whooping Cranes, and their programs to conserve crane species worldwide.