Posted July 2019
The Milwaukee County Zoo is excited to announce the arrival and hatching of a whooping crane foster egg! The Zoo received the egg from the International Crane Foundation (ICF) May 12 in hopes that the resident whooping crane pair, Torch and Tiki, would incubate the egg. They did, and a healthy chick hatched May 16. Torch and Tiki are doing an excellent job as “foster parents,” and are teaching the chick important life skills, such as how to forage and obtain food. The privacy fencing around their habitat in the Herb and Nada Mahler Family Aviary will be removed July 26 and the chick will be visible to the public.
Zookeepers and vets closely monitored the chick’s weight and health for the first few days. After seeing the chick was healthy and gaining weight, staff did not handle the chick again, as the exams were stressful for the birds.
The egg was captive produced at ICF, but had the same very narrow hatch window as a large number of wild-produced eggs that captive centers had received. Because of this, the Whooping Crane Species Survival Plan® (SSP) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service jointly decided to explore options of placing genetic holdback eggs (eggs with genetics that are under-represented in captivity and valuable for future captive breeding) with exhibit centers. The Zoo was chosen to receive an egg based on its crane husbandry experience and continued involvement with ICF’s Eastern Whooping Crane program.
At the time ICF was looking to transfer an egg, Torch and Tiki were incubating two infertile eggs, that had they been fertile, would have had a hatch date very close to the hatch date of the egg received from ICF. Because of this, and the fact that Torch and Tiki displayed strong incubation behaviors in the past, it was likely the pair would accept and care for the egg from ICF. This is the first whooping crane egg the Zoo has received from ICF.
Torch arrived at ICF as an egg from the Calgary Zoo in June 2006, and arrived at the Zoo in October 2006. He had been part of an ICF program called Direct Autumn Release, but was removed from the program when he was found with a wing injury of unknown origin. Because of this injury, he could not be re-released into the wild. Tiki hatched from an ICF egg laid by a pair in Necedah. She was transferred to the Patuxent Research Refuge in Maryland for incubation and hatching, and then was part of a training program. She was deemed not healthy enough to remain in the program, and was transferred to the Zoo as a companion for Torch.
Whooping cranes are extremely aggressive and protective when nesting and caring for their chicks. As soon as an egg is laid in a habitat, the pair will no longer allow zookeepers to enter the area for more than a few minutes, and only basic tasks, such as setting out food and water, can be accomplished. The zookeeper doing these tasks must be accompanied by another keeper who acts as a protector. When the chick hatches, at least four keepers are required to service the habitat; three act as protectors for the fourth who is replacing food and water, and tidying the area. Torch and Tiki exhibiting this behavior is a good sign, as it indicates that they are caring for the chick as if it was their own.
Make sure to stop by during your next visit to the Zoo—the chick is growing quickly! (The Whooping Crane habitat is located near the Herb and Nada Mahler Family Aviary exit).