North American Crane Working Group


Date of this Version


Document Type



Hartup, B.K., N.M. Czekala, G.H.Olsen, and J.A. Langenberg. Fecal corticoid monitoring in whooping cranes trained to follow ultralight aircraft. In Chavez-Ramirez, F, ed. 2005. Proceedings of the Ninth North American Crane Workshop, Jan 17-20, 2003. Sacramento, California: North American Crane Working Group. Pp. 247.


Reproduced by permission of the NACWG.


The use of fecal corticoid assays to measure stress in North American cranes has been limited to laboratory validation and a single field project involving reintroduced sandhill cranes (Ludders et al., 1998, 2001; Hartup et al., 2004). In 2001, we documented trends in corticoid concentrations among a cohort of ten costume-reared whooping cranes subjected to ultralight aircraft training and migration. All samples were analyzed by a validated corticosterone 125I radioimmunoassay for determination of corticoid levels. Fecal corticoid concentrations in chicks exhibited a logarithmic decline over the first 14 days after hatching (r = 0.86, p < 0.001). Fecal corticoid concentrations then stabilized at baseline levels (median 68 ng/g, range 17–186 ng/g, n = 116) during the subsequent six weeks of costume-rearing and aircraft habituation in captivity. Fecal corticoid concentrations of eight cranes increased 8-34 fold during shipment in crates to Wisconsin for field training. Increases in fecal corticoid concentrations were positively correlated with age (r = 0.81, p = 0.01), but not body weight (r = 0.44, p = 0.28) at the time of shipping. Fecal corticoid concentrations returned to baseline levels within seven days, and were sustained throughout the remainder of the training period (median 77 ng/g, range 22– 292 ng/g, n=190). Elevations in fecal corticoid concentrations were observed one (p = 0.035) and four days (p = 0.003) following physical examination and placement of leg bands compared to three days prior to the procedures (median 176 ng/g, range 116 – 553 ng/g, n = 19). Fecal corticoid concentrations decreased to pre-procedure levels within seven days. Fecal corticoid concentrations and variation during the 50 day migration period were similar to training levels in Wisconsin, except for a one day increase observed following a violent storm and escape from the temporary holding pen the preceding night (median 243 ng/g, range 228 – 280 ng/g, n = 7). There was an overall decline in fecal corticoid concentrations from the cranes during the migration (r = 0.42, p < 0.001). Acute stressors such as capture and restraint and severe storms were associated with stress responses by the cranes that varied in accordance with lasting physical or psychological stimuli. The overall process of costume-rearing, ultralight aircraft habituation, training and artificial migration was not associated with elevations in fecal corticoid concentrations suggestive of chronic stress.