Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Youngest bird to lay eggs in the EMP

33-07 and 5-09 looking intimidating
I know. You're wondering what the EMP is. Well if I haven't explained it already, it's the Eastern Migratory Population of Whooping Cranes. There are 4 separate whooping crane populations. The original migrates from Wood Buffalo, Canada to Aransas, Texas (~250 birds). The second is a non-migratory population in Florida (~25 birds). The third is a new population of non-migratory birds in Lousiana (this is their first year). The fourth is this population of ~100 birds that migrate from Wisconsin to Florida.

Back to subject: Yes, you heard me!!! The YOUNGEST bird to ever lay an egg in this population was 5-09 shown above, right. The egg did not hatch after 40 days (10 days past the time it takes for a chick to hatch), so Eva and I were sent in to collect the egg. These two birds are a young couple. They associated with each other last year in a large group of young cranes, but this year things became a little more intense. They started defending their territory and they built a nest.

Eva and I didn't know what to expect when they started sitting on the nest. Cranes take turns incubating eggs so both birds have a chance to relax, stretch their legs, and get a little food multiple times a day. We wouldn't have been surprised if just the female was the only one sitting on the nest in early May, but 33-07 (the male) was taking an active role in sitting on the nest and defending the territory. Something seemed a little suspicious. So we watched and waited. Eventually we observed that they were rolling something in the nest. But what? We speculated they adopted rocks, maybe a turtle (poor hypothetical turtle), and then we started thinking that it could really be an egg by the end of May.

We gave them more than an extra week to try to hatch whatever they had in there. Birds will abandon naturally if nothing happens after 30 days (the usual incubation period). This young couple had a really great nesting experience during their first year together. (And may I add that they had a lovely home)

5-09 flying near the nest

As Eva and I approached the nest we discovered it's an egg! It's really an EGG! and what a handsome nest. We were half expecting 33-07 to attack us. The landowner and his family was expecting it, too. They were standing by with their cameras ready for the excitement. 33-07 and 5-09 rushed us while we were still in the canoe, but once we got out of the canoe the birds flew off and threatened us from a distance. I'm glad it didn't come to any close contact because 33-07 seems really mean (the landowner says 33 defends an entire cornfield from all other birds... really... that's just excessively territorial. Add to that the time I saw 33-07 attack a Canada goose; they were both mid-flight and he bit the goose by the tail feathers and threw it down to the marsh... I was really scared).

So we were lucky not to have close contact. I just tried to look really big and intimidating so it wouldn't come to man-v-crane. What an exciting day.
Defense against the Dark Cranes

P.S. the egg was definitely not going to hatch. It smelled terrible (yup, like rotting egg).

All pictures in this post were taken by Eva. Thank you, Eva!

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