THE WHOOPING CRANE REPORT: 4
Damien holds Tux before he is placed in his shipping crate. The dark markings on his face are clearly visible, but his red crown hasn't grown in yet, and he still has cinnamon feathers around his head and neck. His eye color is gold now.
As Damien holds Tux, Jane stretches his wing out before brailing it. Jonathan stands behind them, ready to help with brailing. (Since Jonathan does not normally handle the breeding flock, he does not need to wear a TyvekŪ suit.) The brail is a clear plastic strap, fastened by rivets, which will be used to restrain his wing. Brailing the birds helps prevent injuries during shipment, and insures that should Tux get out of his crate, he won't be able to fly away. Tux's wing is in excellent condition with no broken feathers.
After being placed in his shipping crate, Tux and the rest of his cohort rides to the airport in a heated van. Each bird is in its own crate which is labeled and has many ventilation holes. Here, Damien carefully lifts Tux's crate, with him in it, into the plane that will take him to Florida.
The birds are the only passengers on this flight. The company that transports them, NorthSails (*), does so voluntarily, a wonderful donation to the crane program. The crane's crates are secured in the plane and the flight is direct from Baltimore to Florida. Much better than first class! The crew started working with the birds around 8 AM. The plane left Baltimore around 10:30 AM.
Once the birds arrive in Florida, they are transported directly to the release site, a privately-owned ranch. There are a lot of people on hand to help handle the eight birds. Most of them are staff and volunteers of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. These are the people who monitor and care for all the whoopers in Florida. Here Tux is carefully brought out of his shipping crate. The veterinarian in Florida, Dr. Marilyn Spaulding, (on the right, wearing the stethoscope) stands by in case any of the birds has suffered an injury or has any other problem from shipping. All the birds are fine. It's now around 7 pm.
Dr. Spaulding examines Tux for any health problems. All the birds were examined prior to shipment, but this exam on-site ensures nothing was missed, or that nothing has changed in the birds' health because of shipping. The blue band around Tux passively restrains his wings and protects his feathers from damage.
After Dr. Spaulding examines Tux's mouth, and eyes, she covers his head with a hood to reduce his stress while she continues the exam. It will take a while before all eight birds are examined and ready for the release pen. The environment and the people are all new to them. The hoods limit what they can see and help calm them during the process.
Finally, the exams are over and Tux and the other birds are carried to the release pen. The pen is made of a flexible but tough plastic material which reduces the chances of injury while the birds are in it. The birds will continue to wear the brails while they are in the uncovered pen. They can see their new environment and get used to it before the brails are removed. The pen is located near a wetland on this private farm.
Tux and his sibling Chessie get reacquainted in the release pen. Tux's right wing is brailed and he can't extend it completely. When it's time to release the cohort, the birds will be caught, examined quickly, and then the plastic brail will be removed. This happens two weeks after the birds arrive. The birds can see all around them so they can get familiar with their new home. They are fed by an automatic feeding system, which will remain in place for as long as the birds continue to use it. It is nearly dark now, and after the long, traumatic day the cranes have had, the oncoming night will encourage them to rest before they begin to explore the pen and learn about their surroundings.
photos by Gary R. Morse,
TUX GOES TO FLORIDA!
On January 17, we shipped Patuxent (Tux), the crane chick we've featured on these pages since April, to Florida for release into the wild. Along with Tux went Chesapeake (Chessie), his sibling, and six other young-of-the-year birds.
In the last two reports, we've shown the quarantine procedures we use prior to shipment. We have to be sure the birds we're sending to the wild are fit and healthy and ready for the trip.
Because the birds are still in quarantine, anyone handling them must wear TyvekŪ* coveralls.
Since the crew handles cranes in the breeding flock in the course of their work, the TyvekŪ suits prevent them from passing anything to the quarantine birds on their clothing. When they enter the pen they use disinfecting footbaths to dip their feet and then cover their shoes with TyvekŪ boots to prevent passing pathogens that might have collected on their boots.
Two weeks after the birds were put into the release pen in Florida, their brails were removed, freeing their wings. By the next day, all the birds had flown out of the pen and were free in the wild. This year, Patuxent has sent 15 young cranes to Florida, and the International Crane Foundation has sent 6. Of the 21 birds released, 20 are surviving and doing well, including Tux, Chessie, and their entire cohort. What happens to the chicks after this depends on their survival skills. All of us at Patuxent hope for the best for these birds, as we do for all the release whoopers. We know you do, too. It's a wonderful feeling for all of us here to know we've had a chance to put something back into the wild!
Please check our site on MARCH 14 for a web page update!
Click here to ask questions about Patuxent's whooping crane program. Please check our site on March 14 for a web page update!
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