A Whooping Crane Chick’s First Six Days
The images on these pages represent a rare opportunity to observe and photograph a whooping crane chick with its parents during the first six days of his life. In June of 2005, the exhibit birds in the Amoco Whooping Crane exhibit at the International Crane Foundation (ICF), Baraboo, WI, were allowed to raise a whooping crane chick.
The whooping crane pair built a nest near the water’s edge and began breeding activity in April, but the male molted his flight feathers before the pair produced their own egg. (The absence of flight feathers interferes with the balance required for breeding.) So biologists placed a dummy egg on the nest and allowed the parents to incubate it. In the meantime, an artificially incubated egg was carefully selected for genetic qualities that made the chick appropriate for ICF’s captive breeding program. (A chick that is exposed to human activity cannot be released in the wild.)
When the chick began pipping or cracking the egg shell, biologists waited for it to break through the shell and receive outside oxygen. They then placed the egg on the nest. Hours later, in the early morning darkness, the chick hatched and the exhibit birds began to parent their first whooping crane chick.
First day, June 19, 2005. When I arrived around 11:00 am, the chick was sleeping, barely visible in the grass. The parents emitted contact calls steadily, a deep purring sound that offers reassurance and communication. When the chick was awake, he joined their communication with “peeping”. The parents continuously hunted and offered food, the male mostly hunting in the water, the female hunting insects close to the chick. In his earliest moments, the chick reached awkwardly for the food, just inches away, and loosing his balance, often tumbled over on his face. The parents would patiently back away, watch him right himself, then slowly and patiently offer the food again.
Whooping crane feathers normally lay smooth and sleek. The male’s molted feathers are still hanging on, making his feathers look in disarray. The last photo in the first row is of the female offering the chick food and shows the normal appearance of a whooping crane’s feathers. The stain under the female’s neck was caused by the nest’s decaying grasses.