Most mornings this past week we have gotten out early to check on the welfare of the juvenile male Whooping Crane #12-15 who now wanders alone in our local wetlands and residential neighborhood. The female # 12-13 that accompanied him in his migration from Wisconsin and subsequent wanderings in south Florida suffered a foot injury and malnutrition. She is receiving verterinary care and rehabilitation at Disney Animal Kingdom in Orlando. For more information, see this earlier post on Birding is Fun.
Since losing his companion, the male has followed a fairly regular pattern of spending nights in a secluded corner of our birding patch the wetlands adjacent to our home, just this side of the patch of green trees in the background. Notice that the water levels have receded enough to allow the ATVs to trespass at will into the posted "protected" wetlands.
He is barely visible unless he emerges from behind the cattails that encircle a small pond which surely provides a food source.
He usually flies out about 30 to 45 minutes after sunrise, and heads for a residential area just north of our home. Although the International Crane Foundation recommends that humans should not approach any closer than 200 yards, the bird often spends much of the day in the same spot, a broad patch of lawn between two homes. When I first saw him there he was standing right next to the sidewalk. I took these photos from the other side of the street, only about 40 feet away. I was impressed at how tall he is.
A pedestrian walked by, his posture suggesiting that he was deeply in thought or meditating. He seemed not to even see the crane, less than 10 feet away.
I am concerned about the survival chances of a lone bird. Many species, notably geese and Sandhill Cranes, forage with others of their kind, but one member of the group always has its head up high looking for danger.This crane forages on a lawn that is certainly laced with fertilizer, herbicides and possibly pesticides.He has been seen eating acorns, but they are now in short supply, so they are not a reliable food source. Most of the wetlands are dried up. Earlier it had foraged along the canals but they are mostly dry. The receding water levels of the lakes and canals do provide rather extensive areas of exposed mud that attracts other birds.
One morning this week as we walked out before sunrise, the fog was lifting just above Mary Lou's head.
Only a few minutes later, the male surprised us by flying up from his overnight resting area just as the sun was coming up.He headed directly towards the residential subdivision, which is just north of our home. Eleven minutes later, instead of following his usual habit of staying there for much of the morning, he returned to the prairie location, and disappeared behind the stand of cattails, remaining there for over a half hour before once again flying up towards the cluster of homes.
After he flew over the wires behind the houses, he turned back 180 degrees and headed towards me, landing at the east shore of the lake in the conservation easement/mitigation area that we call our birding patch..
The crane preened, then foraged actively.
I could not identify its prey. Boat-tailed Grackles were in abundance, and they were finding food in the mud along the shore. White Ibises, Tricolored and Little Blue Herons as well as Great and Snowy Egrets were taking aquatic prey. I hid next to a clump of high grass, and the crane seemed not to notice me. The crane exhibited more situational awareness than when it was in the residential area. When the other waders and blackbirds suddenly flushed (I am not sure why, but they acted as if an eagle, harrier or Peregrine flew over), the crane became very alert and held his head high. He looked up into the sky as a gull flew over.
Then he seemed to notice me and kept looking my way. Soon afterward he took flight and disappeared in the direction of his nighttime resting spot on the wet prairie.