An Insider’s View into the World of Raising Endangered Whooping Crane Chicks

Media contact: Kate Fitzwilliams, ICF Marketing/PR Specialist, 608-356-9462 ext. 147

Baraboo, WI – With a population of less than 600 Whooping Cranes in the world, the International Crane Foundation (ICF) is one of four captive breeding centers raising Whooping Cranes for release into the wild. Captive breeding has become an essential part of saving this endangered species, and through a web camera ICF is inviting you to see a day in the life of a Whooping Crane chick and the dedicated people that care for them.

Destined for the camera, ICF’s 2013 chicks are named after 1970s sitcom characters, a theme that was chosen to commemorate ICF’s 40th Anniversary. The two chicks currently on camera in their chick runs are Squiggy, named after a character in the popular Wisconsin-based sitcom Laverne and Shirley, and Radar from MASH fame. ICF’s chicks have “office hours” and the cam is live between 8:00 am and 5:00 pm CDT (with some flexibility based on the chicks’ schedules). If you don’t see the chicks, they may be resting or outside in their outdoor runs. If live broadcasts are missed, people can view our recorded video highlights.

This is not a wildlife cam, as these chicks are closely monitored and cared for by humans. In the 1980s, ICF researchers began experimenting with costume-rearing of cranes. Today, ICF researchers caring for young Whooping Cranes wear full-length crane costumes to hide their human form and use hand puppets that mimic an adult crane’s head to feed and interact with the chicks.  ICF uses the costume-rearing technique, along with Whooping Crane brood models and adult crane role models, to make sure the chicks imprint on Whooping Cranes and will be prepared for life in the wild.

Exercise is a big part of the chick’s daily routine. According to ICF’s Chick Rearing Supervisor Marianne Wellington, chicks in the wild may walk up to five miles a day when they are less than one week old. Because ICF’s space is limited, their activity in the pen, whether it be pacing, walking or running, is an important form of exercise. Costumed staff, led by Wellington, also works with the chicks in their outdoor yard for more exercise and skills on how to be a crane.

“We closely monitor the chick’s interactions with each other, and that is why they are always housed in separate runs,” Wellington said. “We also monitor weight gain/loss and look for injuries or developmental problems as they grow. We work hard to have chicks grow to be healthy and ready to survive in the wild.”

There are many techniques and tools for raising cranes for release. On our website,  people can explore ICF’s chick runs and other tools used to raise our chicks. ICF has also set up “Chick Chats” where viewers can live chat with ICF staff. The next chat will be with ICF’s Aviculturists – The People Behind the Costumes – scheduled for Tuesday, June 11 at 11:30 am. Click here to join the chat.

ICF plans to raise 8 to 10 chicks for the 2013 Direct Autumn Release, part of the efforts of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership to return a migratory population of this species to the eastern United States. The chicks will be released at Horicon National Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin this fall, where they will follow older cranes on their fall migration south.

Over the past 40 years, ICF has developed unique collaborations and led effective community-based conservation programs, important research projects and innovative captive breeding and reintroduction efforts. ICF is open daily April 15 – October 31, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm, and is located at E11376 Shady Lane Road, Baraboo, WI. For more information, please visit www.savingcranes.org or call 608-356-9462. Special thanks to the Antonia Foundation for making this web cam project possible