Predation by bobcats (Lynx rufus) has been the greatest cause of mortality of whooping cranes (Grus americana) in the reintroduced population in Florida. This study investigated whether the behavior of juvenile cranes during captive rearing and shortly after release can be used to predict their chances of survival once released in the wild. This study also examined differences in behavior based on rearing treatments and whether differences observed during rearing continued at the release site. Experimental rearing treatments were parent reared (PR), hand reared (RR), and hand reared with exercise (HRE). Two annual cycles of cranes were observed from hatch to 20 weeks of age in captivity (n=56 birds). Post-release bebavioral data were collected at the release site for a minimum of two weeks (n=34 birds), with mortality data collected up to one year post release (n=38 birds). Behavioral time budgets were compared using repeated measures ANOVA. Logistic regression was used to build a model to identify behaviors that were associated with first-year survival. During rearing, PR birds were the most vigilant. There were no behavioral differences between HR and HRE birds. Generally, rearing treatments had few long-term effects on the post-release behavior of the birds. The main behavioral differences during rearing and after release were the frequency of bouts and the percentage of time spent performing different behaviors. This may be attributed to foraging strategies and adaptation from captive conditions to the wild. Survival was not related to rearing treatment. Fifty-five percent of the birds survived the first year post-release based upon data pooled over two years. During rearing, the frequency of foraging bouts was positively correlated to survival. Survival was negatively correlated to the frequency of walking bouts during rearing, and release weight of the birds. These correlations accounted for 32 percent of the variability in survival. At the release site, 20 percent of post-release survival was negatively correlated with the frequency of non vigilant bouts. This study suggests that none of the rearing treatments confer a survival advantage during the first year post release, however, survival may be improved by encouraging additional foraging opportunities during rearing.
Additional publication details
Behavioral profiles of the captive juvenile whooping crane (Grus americana) as an indicator of reintroduction behavior and survival
Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Maryland, College Park