One Smart Bird (the following is an excerpt from my upcoming book, The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story.
It could have been abandonment issues, an aggressive gene, or a loose screw, but when number 10-08 from Operation Migration's Class of 2008 pecked away at his shell and entered the world, he was a force to be reckoned with. His parents were from the 2003-generation nesting for the first time at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin. In their inexperience, they abandoned the nest. Their two eggs were collected and transported to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Number 10-08 and his sister 11-08 were incubated and added to the ultralight cohort. When 11-08 was shipped to Necedah NWR, printed on the side of his box were the words, GOOD LUCK. The team isolated him for a couple of days to observe his behavior. Feeling that he’d adjusted to his new home after a few days, they introduced him to the members of his cohort. Within three hours, he had fatally injured one crane and seriously injured two others (one was his sister 11-08). Number 11-08 experienced mental and physical stress, resulting in her feathers developing improperly. Sadly, she had to be removed from training and was sent to the Milwaukee Zoo. The other injured crane was removed as well.
Number 10-08 was isolated again and then placed in Cohort One with the older chicks whom the team hoped would keep 10-08 in line. The strategy worked until it was time to combine Cohorts One and Two. The aggressive crane wasted no time in grabbing the beak of number 13-08 through a chain-link fence. The younger bird was rescued before any serious injury resulted. The next morning, 10-08 attacked several other youngsters from Cohort Two. He was again placed in confinement.
The WCEP team held a conference to decide what to do with the rebel crane. He was too genetically valuable to remove from the flock, but too aggressive to continue to train with the other chicks. The Class of 2008 had already dwindled to fourteen and could not afford another loss. Ten days before the scheduled migration, the WCEP team decided to release the five-month-old chick on the Necedah NWR, hoping he would take up with older cranes and follow them south.
On the evening of October 22, number 10-08 was given his freedom. His flock mates had left on their maiden voyage five days earlier. The training crew left a pumpkin as a goodbye treat, gave the bird a pat on the back, and walked away. A few days later, as if knowing exactly what he was doing, he had taken up with two older cranes, numbers 18-3 and 13-3, who just happened to be his natural parents.
Number 10-08's photo is from OM's website: