North American Crane Working Group


Date of this Version


Document Type



Drewien, Roderick C., Wendy L. Munroe, Kent R. Clegg, and Wendy M. Brown. Use of cross-fostered whooping cranes as guide birds. In: Urbanek RP, Stahlecker DW, eds. 1997. Proceedings of the Seventh North American Crane Workshop, 1996 Jan 10-13, Biloxi, Mississippi. Grand Island, NE: North American Crane Working Group. pp. 86-95.


Used by permission of the North American Crane Working Group.


We tested the use of wild, cross-fostered, adult whooping cranes (Grus americana) as guide birds to adopt and lead young whooping cranes on a predetermined migration route in the Rocky Mountains. We captured 3 wild adults (1 male and 1 female in 1993, 1 male in 1994) during winter at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge (Bosque NWR), New Mexico, and moved them to captive facilities 80 kIn from Grays Lake National Wildlife Refuge (Grays Lake), Idaho, where they had originally been raised by sandhill crane (G. canadensis) foster parents. Adults were held for 6.75-7 months without complications. Five isolation-reared whooping crane chicks (chicks), 14-21 days old, were placed in enclosures next to penned adults, and were released with adults when 24-47 days old. Adults and chicks commingled in the pen until chicks fledged in late August. Their activities were recorded throughout the captive period. Although adults and chicks appeared to develop bonds in captivity, adults did not remain with chicks after release and migrated without them. Chicks did not permanently associate with any cranes after release in Idaho or, in 1 case, after transport to New Mexico. Injuries and deaths of 3- to 5-month-old chicks during vehicle transportation limited evaluation of the guide bird technique.