Louisiana Whooping Crane Nesting Activity: 2013 – 2015 Update

March 2013: Male L3-10 stands on the nest platform while L4-11 forages a short distance away.
March 2013: Nest platform built by L3-10 and L4-11.
April 2014: First nest and eggs of pair L7 & 8-11.
April 2014: First clutch of infertile eggs from pair L7 & 8-11.
March 2015: L7 or 8-11 sitting on nest, incubating eggs.
February 2015: L1 & 6-11 copulating on the island inside the release pen at White Lake WCA.

In late February and early March a pair consisting of a 3-year-old male and a 2-year-old female (L3-10/L4-11) built two nest platforms and even spent some time standing and sitting on the first one but ultimately did not produce eggs or defend the nests.  This was not surprising given the young age of the birds, especially the female, but was seen as a good ‘first step’ by this young pair.  Unfortunately, the birds were shot and killed in February 2014 and never had a chance to take that next step.

In March, a pair of 3-year-old cranes, L7 & 8-11, produced the first nest with eggs laid in the Louisiana wild in 75 years. They nested on a private farm and successfully incubated a clutch of two eggs full term (~30 days). Unfortunately, the eggs did not hatch and were later determined to have been infertile.  Cranes will re-nest but are more likely to do so if they lose their nest early in the incubation period.  Since this pair had incubated full term we weren’t expecting them to re-nest but were excited and surprised when just ~2.5 weeks after removing the eggs they re-nested.  Once again, they sat full term but the eggs failed to hatch and were later determined to have been infertile like the first clutch. 

Whooping cranes begin breeding at 3-5 years of age and it is not uncommon for young, inexperienced pairs to have unsuccessful nest attempts. As pairs become older and gain more experience, they increase their odds of producing fertile clutches that lead to hatched and hopefully fledged chicks.

This year, the aforementioned pair, L7 & 8-11, now 4-year-olds, returned to the same farm to nest. They have once again produced a clutch of two eggs (~3.5 weeks earlier than last year) and are currently incubating, hopefully, fertile eggs. We are monitoring the nest on a regular basis and will know in the next few weeks if they hatch.  If the eggs fail to hatch we will again collect them, record the size and weight of the eggs, and try to determine whether they were fertile or infertile.  If the eggs hatch we will celebrate this ‘next step’ and turn our efforts to observing and monitoring parent/chick behavior and interactions.   

With a previous year of nesting experience L7 & 8-11 began nesting earlier this year but there are several other breeding-aged pairs we are also monitoring for signs of reproductive behavior. There are three additional established pairs that could nest this spring; two of the pairs are 4-years-old and the remaining pair is 3-years-old.  All of these pairs returned to the release pen multiple times this winter and we observed two of them copulate, which is another ‘step in the right direction’.  In addition to these pairs there is a trio of 4-year-olds which should result in a pair next spring, if not still sometime this spring.

Update written by Phillip Vasseur and Sara Zimorski
Photos by Sara Zimorski, Carrie Salyers, and Phillip Vasseur, LDWF