Rearing treatments used in captivity to prepare animals for reintroduction to the wild may have a profound effect on behavior and, possibly, affect their survival after reintroduction. This study examined the behaviors of captive-reared whooping cranes (Grus americana) upon their release in Florida to determine if rearing treatments may affect the behavior of the birds and how these affect their chances of survival in the wild. Individually tagged birds were observed at the rearing facility, the U.S. Geological Survey Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland, from hatch to 20 weeks of age and at the release site in Central Florida for up to 6 weeks post release. The rearing treatments were parent reared (PR), hand reared (HR), and hand reared with exercise (HRE). Observations at the rearing facility are described in a previous paper. At the release site, each bird was observed for 5 min every morning (0700?1000 h) and late afternoon (1500?1800 h) during the 6-week study period. Our results indicated that most of the time, the n = 34 birds were foraging (46.03 ? 1.48%), followed by nonvigilant (20.89 ? 0.73%), vigilant (19.21 ? 0.72%), or performing comfort behaviors (11.61 ? 1.28%). Data were analyzed using mixed models repeated measures ANOVA. There were no significant behavioral differences between HR and HRE birds. PR birds were found in larger groups than HR birds during the first 2 weeks post release and greater than HR and HRE birds afterwards. This may be interpreted as an antipredator strategy for birds that relied on parental guidance during rearing. HR and HRE birds foraged more than PR birds during the first 2 weeks post release and PR birds were more vigilant during the first 2 weeks post release. Across rearing treatments, the percentages of time spent foraging and engaged in vigilant behaviors during rearing were positively correlated with their behavior upon release. If any of these behaviors can be demonstrated to have relevance for the survival of the whooping cranes after release then it may be possible to establish behavioral interventions to increase the frequencies of such behavior, so that they are perpetuated after release.
Additional publication details
The effects of captive rearing on the behavior of newly-released whooping cranes (Grus americana)