Last month I was in Virginia visiting my parents and celebrating my mom’s birthday and since they only live a few hours from Patuxent Wildlife Research Center (PWRC) I went up to visit for a day. Also I was dying to see some whooping crane chicks, this being the first spring in a long time that I haven’t been helping hatch and raise them. To help beat the heat their staff starts at 7 and in order to beat the DC traffic I started even earlier. Just my luck on that day VA and MD were in the middle of a heat wave and it was actually cooler back here in LA than it was there. (It hadn’t been that way before and it hasn’t been that way since.) I arrived about 7:30 and was greeted by Jane, Barb, and Sharon who were working in the chick building where the youngest chicks were still living. The rest of the crew was out feeding all the adult cranes. Jane asked if I’d like to help walk some chicks so we decided I would go with Barb and take a group of 4 chicks on a walk. We got costumes and boots, MP3 players, and mealworms for treats and walked down to get the chicks. This group of 4 were in the middle of the age range and were living together in an outside pen. They were bigger than I was expecting but just as cute as I expected!! We opened the gate and all 4 came out and eagerly followed us as we made several laps around the series of pens. They were great followers and we walked, stopping occasionally to forage or rather encourage the chicks to forage and find the mealworms we had discreetly dropped on the ground. These chicks were at that perfect age where they were still very attentive to the costume but not clingy. After we finished walking those guys we went down to the pond pen where the oldest 7 chicks were living. These guys were big and beautiful – all feathers and no fuzz. We hung out for a short while making sure they were all okay then headed back to the crane chick building so I could see the little guys, the downy, fuzzy chicks who actually still look like chicks instead of juvenile cranes. They were indeed fuzzy and adorable and I could have spent all day just watching them but there was more work to be done.
With the morning feeding and chick exercise done the crane crew moved on to other tasks. Jane, Robert, and I went back to the big pond pen to put some new larger bands on several of the oldest chicks. This helps them get used to having a larger band on their leg since they will later have multiple bands and transmitters on their legs, and it makes it easier for the staff to distinguish the birds when they monitor them on video. I stayed and watched the birds on video for a while then returned to the office area to help with whatever was next. With 11 chicks living in the outdoor pens one of the crane chick buildings was now empty so the adult role model birds were ready to be moved out and back to their normal pens. Some of the crew worked on moving those birds and Charlie, Sharon, and I went up to the vet hospital to get a female whooping crane that had been injured and was now recovered enough to go back to her pen. After that it was time for lunch and then the crane staff meeting which I sat in on so I could give an update on the released LA birds and hear all about the current LA chicks that are being raised. Before I knew it, it was time to head out so I wouldn’t get stuck in the afternoon DC traffic. It was way too short of a visit but it was great to see the chicks and especially great to see my friends at PWRC.
Update written by Sara Zimorski