Second Update Florida's Non-Migratory Whooper 2009 Breeding Season

Marty Folk, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reports that “One whooping crane chick hatched from the nest described in my first update. Today the chick is 24 days old. A second nest was initiated in Lake County on 4 March. This 2nd nest was incubated longer than necessary (something that never happens in Wisconsin!) and on Friday we collected 2 non-viable eggs for necropsy. We video-taped both nests this year with surveillance equipment that recorded the activity at the nest during all daylight hours. We will be analyzing this pool of video, along with other footage previously recorded through the years, to determine if incubation behavior by the birds may have been associated with nest success.”

Marty advises, “We’ve not witnessed any other nesting activity this spring. Because of drought, there is little suitable habitat available.Beginning in March we began intensively monitoring the flock in order to collect more data to help us understand what happens to the birds when they go missing. In March, 3 field people drove 9660 miles, flew 28.6 hours, and spent long days monitoring the flock. So far we’ve recovered no dead birds (we need birds to die so we can find them and necropsy them). What we have documented is substantial movements by much of the flock. Some birds have dispersed beyond where we could find them (beyond the central FL peninsula), only to return later. Several are still missing. Dispersal is a suspected reason why birds have “disappeared” in the past. So even if we don’t document mortality with our intensive monitoring, we are documenting this extreme rate of movements/dispersal. We suspect the birds are moving in response to drought, perhaps looking for wetter/greener pastures.”

Since the beginning of the year one pair has been bouncing between 4 points in north and central Florida (see attached figure). The minimum distance traveled by the whoopers this past quarter was 470 miles. This much traveling of course increases the odds of travel-related mortality such as collisions with power lines, etc.

Marty stated, “We continue to monitor 4 migratory whoopers in Polk County and the 1 on Paynes Prairie near Gainesville. We will keep you posted.”