Field Work by the Numbers – Banding Whooping Cranes at Wood Buffalo National Park

The fieldwork I’ve been assisting with at Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories of Canada has wrapped up. We spent an amazing – and hard – four days banding 19 juvenile Whooping Cranes!

The project is aimed at better understanding the movements of family groups as they migrate south of Wood Buffalo through the Alberta oil sands and along the Central Flyway to their wintering grounds in Texas. Through blood and other samples from the banded chicks, we are also analyzing the health risks encountered by the families during migration and comparing various measures between the nesting and wintering grounds.

Here is a report by the numbers:

43 horse and deer fly bites, 39 visible scratches and 12 bruises on yours truly.

22 “runs” to locate chicks of up to 12 minutes through the wetlands of Wood Buffalo, plus return trips to the helicopter.

19 cranes banded over four 12-hour days. This equals half of the 2019 chicks counted during the recent population survey.

10 yards from one of the chicks, I lost my left shoe. But we found it again…

The secret to releasing a chick after banding is to walk away slowly. We think we see Barry’s missing shoe over to the left…

6 Gatorades, two bags of Miss Vickie’s Applewood Smoked BBQ potato chips, and local pizza helped sustain the effort.

4 incredibly safe days of helicopter flights. The pilot Paul Smith worked with us in 2017 and virtually walked us to each bird via radio. Thank goodness for sea bands and ginger tabs to ward off motion sickness!

3 staff from Parks Canada rotated with us in the field. It was a true collaboration between the Canadian Wildlife Service, Parks Canada, U.S. Geological Survey, International Crane Foundation and the private helicopter company Phoenix Heli-Flight, Inc.

2 rainbows greeted us upon our return to Fort Smith, Canada, as squalls moved through the area.

1 happy vet. In five trips to Wood Buffalo since 2010, I have had the privilege to participate in the safe capture of 60 young Whooping Cranes – truly beautiful creatures.

Story submitted by Dr. Barry Hartup, Director of Conservation Medicine for the International Crane Foundation. Click here to learn more about the work in North America.