Young Whooping Crane In Capture Project Dies

NORTHERN JOURNAL (Article reprinted with permission)
• Sun, Sep 02, 2012
Young whooping cranes, 31 in all, have been banded with transmitters for three summers in their summer Wood Buffalo National Park habitat. (Photo: Courtesy of Parks Canada)

A juvenile whooping crane has died, possibly from a self-inflicted wound suffered trying to escape capture in Wood Buffalo National Park. The bird was to be banded as part of a program attaching radio transmitters to juvenile cranes. The carcass has been shipped to the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Centre in Saskatoon for autopsy.

“We don’t know the cause of death. The crane was injured. It may have happened as part of the capture process,” Stuart McMillan, Wood Buffalo National Park manager of Resource Conservation told The Journal.

Crews land in a helicopter and try to round up the young birds, which naturally run away. McMillan said cranes are known to scratch themselves while running.

The bird was seen to be injured after it was captured for the banding process. A veterinarian is part of the capture crew and the young bird was examined immediately, treated with an antibiotic and released. It returned to its parents and things seemed normal. Some time later, the signal from the transmitter stopped moving. On investigation, the bird was found dead.

“It is certainly disappointing. We didn’t want to have a result like this. We want to find out what happened to prevent it from happening again,” said McMillan.

He said if the cause of death is from the capture process they will study it and make changes to procedures to minimize the risk of it happening again. 

The banding exercise, called “telemetry,” is a joint Canada-US project. Thirty one juvenile cranes have been outfitted with transmitters over the last three years without incident.

Migration routes, habitat sought during migration, food sources and threats cranes face are just some of the information the project hopes to gather. The data is still preliminary, and it is too early to draw conclusions.

It is known that whooping cranes often stop in the same places year after year as they come and go annually between Aransas Wildlife Refuge in Texas and Wood Buffalo National Park in the NWT. In some places where they are known to stop each year, people gather to watch for them. It is hoped that public awareness can be raised once more is learned about where and when they stop.

One thing being investigated is the impact of power lines. Dead cranes have been found in the vicinity of power lines but no one knows why. Some speculate lines should be marked along the migration route and that new lines planned in those locations be erected at different sites. One benefit of the radio transmitters is that a dead bird can be found right away.

“When a crane dies it is best to look at an intact carcass to determine the cause of death, not one decomposed or torn apart by scavengers. If banded with a transmitter which stops moving, we can go look for the bird right away,” said McMillan.

This winter, adult birds will also be captured and banded at the Aransas Wildlife Refuge.