2011 Louisiana Chicks Starting to Hatch

Adult whooping crane pair, Ginger and Bubba, in their house at the International Crane Foundation (ICF).
Whooping crane standing over it's nest at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center's (PWRC) captive breeding facility.  Photo from PWRC
Pipped whooping crane egg in a portable incubator.
Four day old whooping crane chick with brood model in the background.  Photo from ICF.

This is an exciting time of year at the captive whooping crane breeding facilities, eggs are being laid, fertility is being checked and chicks are starting to hatch.  It’s also a very busy and stressful time for our colleagues who work at those captive facilities.  There is disappointment, frustration, and sadness when eggs aren’t fertile, or when the embryo dies before hatching.  Unfortunately that’s part of the process, luckily though it’s one aspect that is quickly forgotten as chicks hatch, grow, and thrive.

Starting in April when the first whooping crane eggs are being laid a weekly conference call between the captive facilities is set up so that folks can stay updated on what’s going on at each facility and make arrangements for shipping eggs and dividing them up among the various whooping crane projects.  I participate in these calls as a representative for the LA reintroduction mainly so we can stay informed about the eggs and chicks that are being allocated to us but also having worked at the International Crane Foundation (ICF) for 11 years I know many of the birds and I can’t help but miss them and be curious about how the breeding season is going.

While there are 5 captive breeding centers currently only the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center (PWRC) and ICF rear chicks for the two reintroduction projects with PWRC raising the birds for Louisiana.  This means that eggs have to be shipped from the other breeding centers to either PWRC or ICF.  It’s much easier to ship eggs than to ship live whooping crane chicks but it’s still complicated.  The other thing that’s difficult is to not “count your chicks before they hatch”.  A good deal of the time on the calls is spent talking about eggs; eggs that are known to be fertile but haven’t yet hatched, eggs that have been laid but are too young to determine fertility, and even eggs that haven’t been laid yet and are just predictions – sometimes more hopeful predictions than others.

On yesterdays’s call some decisions about chicks were made and I learned that five chicks for the LA reintroduction project have hatched, three of them just that morning.  Now even with chicks we still have to remind ourselves not to count our whoopers before they’re grown.  Being a whooping crane chick is hard and not all chicks make it, some develop leg problems or breathing problem and some just don’t thrive but none of it is due to lack of effort by the staff at PWRC who work tirelessly to take the best care of each and every chick.  We are excited to have the start of the 2011 cohort on the ground and will keep our fingers crossed that the chicks are healthy and that the eggs yet to come are fertile and hatch.   

Update written by Sara Zimorski