Whooping Crane 15-06 (also known as 615), the lone survivor of the February storm that killed his 17 flock mates, was found dead today in Marion County, Florida. The bird (pictured at right in his pen in January) died at the Halpata-Tastanaki Preserve, the temporary destination for ultralight-led birds in Florida.
Mary Barnwell of the Southwest Florida Water Management District had been tracking 15-06 and discovered his body. "There were no apparent signs of predation and no obvious clues as to the cause of his death," said Operation Migration. The University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine will perform a necropsy.
We had just noted the good news of his surviving the Feb. 2 storm here. After trackers discovered that 15-06 had lived, they kept close tabs on him. He began spending nights on dry land, leaving himself vulnerable to predators, so they captured the bird in mid-February and put him in a pen at the Halpata-Tastanaki site. On March 3, he was set free and had remained at the preserve for the last two months.
Joe Duff, CEO of Operation Migration, told me he was surprised the crane hadn't attempted to migrate this spring. 15-06 might have been confused because other cranes were not around. "Hindsight is 20/20, but perhaps he could have been released near other Whooping Cranes," Duff said. "But there's a risk there, too, with capturing him and transporting him in a box. You never know what might happen." — M.M.
PHOTO OF 15-06 AT RELEASE PEN, JANUARY 2007, © OPERATION MIGRATION.