Travels with George – Wandering With Whoopers Part 1

In 2019, three Whooping Cranes chose to summer not far from the International Crane Foundation’s headquarters in Sauk County, Wisconsin. Last year, the birds returned to their territory, paired and nested – pictured above – all the while under the watchful eye of our Co-founder George Archibald, who spent countless hours meticulously documenting the birds’ behavior – read George’s essay from spring 2020 here. As the promise of spring unfolds, George has returned to the wetland to await his beloved cranes’ return.

Today, February 23, 2021, it appears that the intense cold has crumbled. It’s windless, the snow is melting and the pure blue sky is gorgeous. The clear air carries the songs of both Tufted Titmice and House Finches.

The marsh where the Whooping Cranes nested is still covered by deep snow protruded by the brown stems of emergent vegetation and the conical, snow-capped mounds of muskrats. It’s silent there and perhaps about to awaken. Then I’m reminded of the old saying about March, “In like a lamb and out like a lion.” And the worst blizzard I’ve experienced in Wisconsin came on April 7, 1973. So at this point, all I can promise is continued optimism.

The neighbors of the northwest side of the marsh are wildlife enthusiasts. They have plowed a track through the snow north from their house and across a cornfield and scattered corn in the depression for 55 wild turkeys. This morning when I arrived, there were only four turkeys. A snowbank hid Their legs, and they were standing motionless with heads held high. They looked like Sandhill Cranes. Until I got them in focus through my binos, I thought they were Matt and Annie and their colts from 2020.

That Sandhill Crane pair silently nested in a partially wooded portion within the territory of the Whooping Cranes. There was a standoff when they appeared in mid-May with two colts on the cornfield where the Whoopers fed. Although the Sandhill Cranes were submissive to the Whooping Cranes, they managed to fledge both colts, while the Whooping Crane lost their colt on June 29 when it was 54 days old.  A coyote is suspected of but not proven to be the predator.

And so the 2021 drama begins.

Story submitted by George Archibald, Co-founder and Senior Conservationist. Click here to learn more about our work in North America.