Injured Whooping Crane Doing Well In The Wild At Hiwassee State Wildlife Refuge In Meigs County

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

 The injured female crane released last Saturday at Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency's Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge, is doing well foraging in the general area.

“She looks like she is adapting to walking on her foot after toe surgery,” said Eva Szyszkoski, International Crane Foundation, WCEP Tracking field manager.  “She is not even limping now and she is flying well.”

Fishing line may have entangled her middle toe, cutting off circulation and rendering it useless.

The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) first heard there was a problem with one of the 111 whooping cranes in the Eastern Migratory Population from members of the public who first reported a whooping crane limping around the outskirts of North Miami.

The female crane, #13-12, is part of a special effort to establish an eastern migrating population of whooping cranes.  Released directly into the wild on October, 2012, at Horicon National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin, it linked up with five other young-of-the year birds and migrated together, ending up the farthest south so far of any bird in this population since releases began in 2001.

This is the first time whooping cranes have reached the Everglades, foraging in Hendry County (Southwest of Okeechobee) at remote cattle ranches.  In early January, two cranes showed up at the interface of wetlands and suburbia on the eastern side of the Everglades, in Broward and Dade Counties.  Members of the public reported that one of the birds was limping.  This bird later showed signs of distress, acting listless, with an apparent injury to her right foot.

The partnership team responsible conducted a quick but thorough discussion to determine the best possible outcomes, weighing the risks of capture with the benefits of medical treatment and possible relocation.

“We chose to capture this injured whooping crane, and it has turned out to be the right call,” said Billy Brooks, Whooping Crane coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the Eastern Migratory Population.  “Because of the efforts of Dr. Scott Terrell, DVM, at Disney, and that of the capture team, we were able to get this bird healthy and back out into the wild.”

She was captured on Jan. 26, and transported to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, where her right middle toe was amputated due to an injury and subsequent infection. 

The veterinarians maintained an isolation protocol, operating in costume without using human voices as they treated the bird. 

She remained at Disney and continued to improve until being transported north on Saturday. 

“The longer you hold a bird, the tamer it can become,” said Mr. Brooks. “We have to keep them as wild as possible, and two weeks in captivity is about as long as we like to keep an injured bird in captivity.”

The crane was released at the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency's Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge, in Meigs County. The Hiwassee Refuge has played host to thousands of sandhill cranes over the past two decades during their annual migration. Operation Migration used the Refuge as a rest stop on their ultralight led migration during the first several years of that effort.  As a result, several whooping cranes now migrate to the area and spend most of the winter with groups of sandhill cranes.  Eight whooping cranes have been sighted at the Refuge this month.

No other whooping crane from this population has ever been captured, transported to a medical facility, treated, and successfully re-released back into the wild over the twelve years of the program.  Prior to this case, none had been deemed releasable due to the extent of their injuries.

Whooping cranes were on the verge of extinction in the 1940s. Today, there are only about 600 birds in existence, approximately 445 of them in the wild. Aside from the WCEP birds, the only other migratory population of whooping cranes nests at Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Alberta, Canada and winters at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Gulf Coast. A non-migratory flock of approximately 20 birds lives year-round in the central Florida Kissimmee region, and an additional 28 non-migratory cranes live in southern Louisiana.

Formed in 1999, WCEP is a group of agencies, non-profit organizations, and individuals. The partnership’s mission is the restoration of a self-sustaining migratory population of whooping cranes in eastern North America.  Achievement of this mission will bring the whooping crane closer to recovery from its current status as a species in danger of extinction.

For more information on the project and its partners, visit the WCEP website at:

To report whooping crane sightings, visit the WCEP whooping crane observation webpage at:


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