Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Sandhill Chick Capture June 29th, 2011

His ears are a little askance, but the hood serves its purpose
We woke up at 4:30 and headed out to catch 2 sandhill chicks in the early morning mist. It was a beautiful morning as we waited for the sandhill family to arrive on the scene. A team of 4 men (Dan, Mike, Andy, and Matt) were hiding in the bushes while I and the rest of the surveillance crew (Anne, Eva, and Nicole and Jamie; my two friends from Toronto who are out to visit the Crane Foundation :) watched from our cars.
Nicole, Jamie, and Eva diligently watch the Sandhill family for two straight hours

We waited for 2 hours while the Sandhill family slowly (I would like to emphasize SLOWLY) walked into position for our ambush team on the ground. As soon as the family was far enough away from the marsh and protective cover, the ground crew made a run for them. I do NOT look away from my scope. My job is to keep an eye on the young cranes while the adults are flushing because the young may drop out of sight and hunker down in the grasses at any moment. It didn't take long. The whole thing took 2 seconds at most before there were no more cranes in view. The adults had flown off and the chicks had hidden in the grasses. The ground crew reached location at about 3 seconds in.

A frustrated Ground Crew with no chicks in sight

Well all that excitement was for naught. We didn't find the crane babies. They hid very well. Sometimes the young will poke a head up to see if the danger is gone, so we waited for another 30 minutes. Nothing.

It's strange how somethings work out, though. As we were exiting the scene, we happened to see one of the juveniles pretty far away, right on the side of the road! I see the car in front of us pull off the side, 3 men spill out of the car and RUN. They caught the chick before we even managed to park the car. As I walked up, the chick was already hooded (see above; a nice volunteer sewed these cute hoods for the cranes), and securely wrapped up in Dan's arms.

What we do:
Age estimate (based on eye color because they change from blue to slate grey to orange or yellow)
Check feather growth on the wings (make sure those blood feathers are ok)
Blood sampling (for gender and other health reasons)
Measure the beak and legs
Weigh the bird
Band the bird; USFWS silver, colored bands, and numbered band

Andy Measures the Beak
Why we do it:
Population monitoring; by tracing how many times we see marked birds we can estimate population size, population age, survival, habitat use, etc.

By sampling blood and taking physical measurements, we can estimate the health of the population or the suitability of the habitat the cranes are using.

Matt takes the weight while Dan is close by for safety

This chick was in hand a total of 20 minutes, which is pretty fast for all the analysis we do. Dan and Anne released the chick, who calmly ran towards the safety of the marsh and the reassuring presence of his parents.

Dan allows the chick to gain his footing before release as Anne supervises
 After that first, we were lucky enough to capture one more sandhill chick. The team worked more efficiently on the second bird and we released another healthy chick with new jewelry onto the landscape. Other priceless pics:

The expert stops a hematoma from forming while ensuring no pressure on windpipe/esophagus

Mike and Matt release the second bird

There he goes, "Catch ya later!"

Eva and I watch in fascination as Matt tries to warm up the BIG band.

Second chick, second hood :)


  1. Ooooh neato! You got some really nice photos there too :)

  2. These pics made me miss you guys so much! And how awesome for Dan! He looks like he's getting tons of experience with handling! Yay!