L3-10 is the surviving male from the first cohort that was released. In the spring of 2011 he left the White Lake marsh with three other birds and moved north to rice fields in Evangeline Parish. The group of four birds stayed at that location for several months before moving southwest into Jeff-Davis Parish. Not too long after this move #3-10 separated from the other three birds though we don’t know if he chose to leave them or if he got left behind or chased away. Although initially puzzling and a tad bit sad that he was by himself it turned out to be a good thing. That fall two of the three birds he had previously been with were shot and killed and the third bird disappeared at the same time of the shooting incident under suspicious circumstances. Had he been with them he might have been killed as well.
L4-11 is a female from the second cohort of birds released in LA. After food was discontinued at the release pen in March of 2012, L4-11 remained in the marsh with seven of the other birds until early July when they all left and flew north. Seven of the birds flew north to Avoyelles Parish but for unknown reasons #4-11 separated from them in Jeff-Davis Parish. The location where she spent the summer and fall was within ~5-10 miles of both #3-10 and ‘The Trio’, a group of three 2011 birds who had left the marsh several months before her.
With three groups of birds (two groups consisting of only a single bird) so close to each other I figured it was just a matter of time before they found each other and joined up and in October 2012 that’s what started to happen. #3-10 moved a few miles south and found ‘The Trio’. He attempted to join them and while they would tolerate his presence at a distance if he came too close they would chase him away. Nevertheless, he was persistent and kept hanging around in the same area, often the same field, but always at a distance. Then in December 2012 #4-11 flew south and joined the loose group of four. She and #3-10 instantly paired up and though all five birds were often seen together they would also sometimes split into separate groups: ‘The Trio’ and ‘The Pair’.
As spring arrived there seemed to be more a little more animosity between ‘The Pair’ and ‘The Trio’ at times. This is totally normal; #3-10 was almost three years old and the rest of the birds were almost two. They were starting to show more adult behavior and be more territorial and less tolerant of other birds – even birds they had previously associated with.
In late February a local farmer reported that he thought the cranes had built a nest in one of his crawfish fields; he indicated he had seen them pulling and piling up vegetation and that he had even seen one of the birds laying on the nest. I had seen the birds just a few days earlier and they didn’t appear to be tending to a nest but I made arrangements to meet with him and see what he was referring to. Sure enough when we arrived #3-10 was standing on the platform but soon wandered off to forage. #4-11 took his place and stood on the platform for several minutes before wandering off to join her mate. After the cranes had moved away several coots got up onto the platform and the cranes didn’t pay any attention. This indicated that although the pair has built the nest platform they were not defensive of it. If they had eggs or if #4-11 was going to lay eggs they would have defended the nest, not walked away from it, and certainly never let other birds get up on it!
Several weeks later, in mid-March, while checking on ‘The Trio’ and ‘The Pair’ I observed ‘The Pair’ actively building a new nest platform in a different field and that is what is shown in this video clip. The bird on the left, #3-10, appears to be standing on the start of a nest platform and pulling up and adding more vegetation to the existing platform. #4-11 also displays this nest building behavior, by pulling up vegetation and moving it/tossing it behind her, even though she is not actually at the nest. As with the previous nest the birds did not remain tied to or defensive of this nest and actually moved out of the area several days after this video was taken.
#4-11 was not quite two years old at the time they were building these nests, really too young to produce eggs but this behavior is a step in the right direction and very typical of young, newly paired birds. We hope to see more of this from additional birds in the future.
Update written by Sara Zimorski, video taken by Ron DeRoche