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Wattled crane pair with young chick. Click here for full-page view with caption. Grus rubicunda - Brolga with chick and egg on nest. Click here for full-page view with caption. Wattled crane with chick. Click here for full-page view with caption. Wattled crane pair with chick in large pen. Click here for full-page view with caption. Pair of whopping cranes with large chick. Click here for full-page view with caption. Siberian crane. Click here for full-page view with caption. Click here for full-page view with caption. Brooder box set up for crane chick. Click here for full-page view with caption. Crane chick feeding from puppet. Click here for full-page view with caption. Chick feeding from spoon. Click here for full-page view with caption. Chick being encouraged to enter pool. Click here for full-page view with caption. Young chick outside being encouraged to eat. Click here for full-page view with caption. Crane gead puppet with opeing bill. Click here for full-page view with caption. Isolation yard. Click here for full-page view with caption. Chicks on icy pool. Click here for full-page view with caption. Brooder setup for isolation rearing. Click here for full-page view with caption. Wattled crane pair with chick.  Click here for full-page view with caption. Costume for isolation-rearing whooping cranes. Click here for full-page view with caption. Isolation-reared whooping crane chicks with costumed caretakers. Click here for full-page view with caption. Costume-rearing sandhill cranes. Click here for full-page view with caption. Pen for a chick. Click here for full-page view with caption. Wattled crane costume. Click here for full-page view with caption.

Introduction and General Information

  • In rearing birds, one maxim should be kept in mind at all stages: all young animals are suicidal; the ones that survive are merely the ones that were unsuccessful.
  • In the wild, survival rates of many species are low, particularly for species which produce large numbers of chicks, while high survival rates are looked for in aviculture.

(B105.13.w4, B106, V.w5)

Waterfowl Consideration
  • Some duckling species are very active and good climbers, able to climb wire netting; a covered run should be used if these are broody- or hand-reared.
  • In the wild, downies would consume a large amount of animal food; small water insects and crustaceans should be provided if possible in addition to rearing meal designed for waterfowl, plus minced green foods or duckweed. Grain such as wheat should not be given for at least the first two weeks.
  • Many species, particularly geese, become imprinted at an early age. In the wild, or with parent-reared birds in captivity, they will become imprinted on their mother or parents. Broody-reared or hand-reared birds may become imprinted on the wrong species, with attendant problems in pair formation at a later stage.

(B97, B139, V.w5)

Crane Consideration
  • Cranes are very attentive and protective parents.
  • In the wild, Grus spp. generally lay two eggs but rear only one chick. The chicks hatch asynchronously and the stronger chick is most likely to survive; death of the weaker chick is probably due at least partly to aggression from the other chick; crane chicks are very aggressive to one another. This is thought to be an adaptation improving the chance of one chick surviving even if there is poor food availability. (P87.1.w1)
  • In captivity, crane chicks can be reared by their parents, by foster cranes of the same species, by foster cranes of another species, by a broody, or they can be hand-reared. All the methods have both advantages and disadvantages. Rearing other than by the parents (or fosters of the same species risks imprinting the chicks on the wrong species.
  • Behaviour of hand-reared cranes is different form that of parent-reared cranes. Both parent-reared and hand-reared cranes can breed successfully. Hand-reared individuals tend to be less nervous and more comfortable in a captive situation, which may be particularly advantageous for nervous species such as Grus monacha - Hooded crane. However, care must be taken to avoid the chicks becoming imprinted on humans. (P1.1986.w4)
  • Note: it is normal for crane chicks to lose weight in the first few days after hatching, increasing again to hatching weight by about three days of age (D437), with a more rapid increase starting on days 4-5. (J23.21.w4)
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Parent Rearing

  • Parent rearing gives the chicks the most natural rearing environment and behavioural cues which may be important for later successful pairing, nest building, parenting and other behaviours.
  • In general, parent-rearing requires less time and effort from the human caretakers than other forms of rearing, as the parents provide warmth, encourage feeding etc.
  • Parent birds generally provide a higher level of care than even the best aviculturist.
  • Many species of birds appear to be poor parents in captive conditions. This may be related to a wide variety of factors including the general environment, climatic differences, lack of appropriate food items and stresses such as disturbance both by other individuals within an aviary or enclosure and by humans.

(B7, B105.15.w2, B139)

Waterfowl Consideration
  • In allowing waterfowl to sit, hatch and rear their own offspring consideration should be made as to the likelihood of predation of the downies, whether or not suitable food will be available or can be provided, and the ease or otherwise of catching the downies to pinion them, if this is required. Leaving non-native species full-winged in open enclosures may be detrimental to local species and may also be illegal if the birds escape into the surrounding countryside.
  • Parent rearing is ideal if a suitable environment can be provided. Swans are generally able to parent-rear, being capable of protecting the cygnets and also being less vulnerable to most predators, due to spending most of the time on the water. Geese are more vulnerable because they spend more time on land, but are also generally good parents and able to rear their offspring if given sufficient space and seclusion.
  • Many duck species are incompetent parents in captivity, particularly in a mixed enclosure, with interference from other birds. Ducklings are also difficult to catch up and pinion on a large lake, and the parents may take the ducklings away to "safety" when a human appears, making provision of additional food difficult. Success may be greater with ducks isolated and undisturbed in a small pen, in which appropriate food can be made available at all times.
  • Aerial predators such as magpies, crows and jays are a serious threat to downies for about the first seven to ten days of life. Netting-covered vermin-proof pens are important for parent rearing geese and ducks, for the first three to four weeks for geese, longer for ducks as they are smaller.
  • Parents may eat the food provided for the ducklings. Small feeding platforms may be provided containing food for the young birds, surrounded by large-mesh netting which allow ducklings to enter but not adults. Feeding traps may also be designed allowing juveniles to be caught for pinioning.
  • Parent-reared waterfowl may be more nervous of humans. This may be advantageous if the birds are intended for release into the wild, but may be less useful if unstressed birds are required for breeding and/or display.
  • Geese and swans show a prolonged period of parental care and it may be advantageous to leave the juveniles with the adults for the same length of time as they would normally be associated in the wild. However, parents may also show aggression to their offspring, for example if they re-nest or at the start of the following breeding season. At this time it is important to ensure the juveniles are removed from their parents' enclosure.

(B7, B29, B37.x.w1, B40, B41, B95, B97, B105.15.w2, B106, N1.69.w1, V.w5).

Crane Consideration

Wattled crane pair with young chick. Click here for full-page view with caption. Wattled crane with chick. Click here for full-page view with caption. Wattled crane pair with chick in large pen. Click here for full-page view with caption.

  • Parent rearing is less labour-intensive than hand-rearing. (B115.5.w3)
  • Parent-rearing provides the maximum opportunity for learned behaviour and strong imprinting on the correct species. (P76.1990.w2)
  • Parent-rearing produces young cranes which are socially well-adjusted. (N28.10.w1)
  • Parent-reared chicks tend to have less leg and toe problems than hand-reared chicks. (B115.5.w3, P1.1980.w8)
  • Chicks which are parent-reared learn foraging, drinking, interacting with other cranes and avoidance of humans and predators; they imprint on the correct species and can be used for release into the wild. (B115.5.w3)
  • Parent-reared cranes generally breed well, without need for artificial insemination. (B115.5.w3)
  • In general, parent rearing allows rearing of only one crane chick per year. (P76.1990.w2)
    • In Balearica, more chicks may be reared: a pair may rear two chicks. (N28.10.w1)
    • In Grus spp., if two chicks are reared, each adult may take charge of one chick. (B484.7.w7, N1.99.w2)
      • When a pair of Grus japonensis - Red-crowned crane at Chester Zoo, UK, reared two chicks, it was noted that they fought aggressively at first, the aggression fading only after several weeks. However, both chicks were reared successfully. (N1.101.w)
    • Production of more chicks may be preferred to increase numbers held, particularly to maximise production of endangered species. (J288.89.w1)
  • Risks to parent-reared chicks are greater than those to hand-reared chicks and include exposure to bad weather, getting wet and chilled moving through wet vegetation, drowning in deep/steep-sided ponds, increased risk of parasitism, and risks from predators. (B115.5.w3, N1.80.w1, N28.10.w1)
    • Risks of predation can be reduced by use of a flight-netted enclosure with a predator-proof perimeter fence. (B115.5.w3)
    • Parent-reared chicks are at greater risk from disease. (P1.1980.w8)
  • Adults will give their chicks natural foods such as insects which they find in their enclosure, but a suitable commercially-prepared diet (crumbles or pellets) will be needed also. (N1.V.9.w1, N1.83.w1, N1.116.w1, B115.5.w3)
    • If possible, use food and water containers which will be accessible to the chick and the parents, so the parents can teach the chick where food and water are. This also reduces the number of containers needed. (B115.5.w3)
    • For the first two or three days, before the chick is mobile, place food and water containers near the nest; later it can be placed further away, where the food for the adults is normally located. It separate feeders are provided for the chick versus the adults, move the chick's containers close to those of the parents. (B115.5.w3)
    • If the adults continually knock over the containers (redirected aggression), secure them in place. (B115.5.w3)
    • Large enclosures with ample natural vegetation are more likely to provide more natural foods (e.g. invertebrates) for the adults to feed to their young. (N1.V.9.w1)
    • A bright light at night will attract insects, and a pair of Balearica regulorum - Grey crowned-crane were noted to make use of this, catching the insects and feeding them to their chick. (N1.IV.13.w1)
    • Note: There is a risk that parents will prefer providing natural live food for their chicks and may not offer them artificial food even if there is not enough live food available. (N28.10.w1) although some adults will bring their chicks to provided food from a few days old. (N1.V.9.w1)
  • Note that aggressive cranes can become very dangerous and even normally shy birds can become aggressive when defending a chick. It may be necessary to have two people fend off the adults while a third replenishes food/water and, when required, catches the chick. (B115.5.w3)
    • To fend off parents, use a soft broom, held at the base of the cranes neck (note some cranes may slide around or jump over this) or use a flexible plastic shield. (B115.5.w3)
    • Take great care to spot the chick and make sure you don't step on it. (B115.5.w3)

Heath care

  • Parent-reared chicks need to be monitored and examined, and treated as required. (B115.5.w3)
  • When chicks are removed for examination/treatment, when returning the chick it is important to ensure the parents can see the chick, and that the chick is never put down between the humans and aggressive parents, as the adult cranes could accidentally step on and harm the chick while attacking or chasing the humans. (B115.5.w3)
  • Initially, once the chicks down is dry, it should be weighed, given a general physical check, and its umbilicus should be checked and disinfected. (B115.5.w3)
  • Monitor visually daily from a distance to detect any abnormalities such as lethargy, respiratory problems, gait or wing abnormalities. (B115.5.w3)
  • Examine once a week (general check and weight) to 40-50 days. (B115.5.w3)
  • Check e.g. for parasites (faecal examination) and give prophylactic treatment as indicated from the history for the collection/enclosure and from results of tests. (B115.5.w3)

Flight capabilities

If chicks are parent-reared in open-topped pens, they need to be monitored carefully from about 55 days old, since a chick flying out of its own enclosure may become exposed to attacks from other cranes (if it lands in their enclosure) or other species (local predators if it lands outside the perimeter of the collection). (B115.5.w3)

  • Parent-reared chicks are behaviorally similar to wild individuals and may be suitable for reintroductions. (P1.1980.w8)
  • Parent-reared cranes tend to be wary of humans; this can be advantageous, in that they are unlikely to attach caretakers, but they may injure themselves or caretakers for example during handling, unless care is taken to make them tamer. (B115.5.w3)
  • Parent-reared chicks tend to be frightened of humans; this may increase the risk of injury and can reduce breeding activity in captive situations. (P76.1990.w2)
    • This problem is most likely to occur if the parents are nervous of people. (P76.1990.w2)
    • Increased human contact (i.e. development of familiarity from an early age) can be used to offset this. (P76.1990.w2)
    • Habituation is assisted by frequent non-stressful interaction with humans, for example a treat being provided when a human enters the enclosure. (B115.6.w8)
  • Separate the chicks away at least three months before the parents are expected to lay again, and place them with conspecifics of a similar age. (B115.5.w3)
  • To separate chicks from their parents, move them at least 200 m away from their parents and out of direct sight, until they have formed a social unit with other cranes of the same age. (B115.6.w8)
    • Note that the chicks will try to establish vocal contact with their parents and also if possible to rejoin them. (B115.6.w8)
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Broody / Foster Rearing

  • Broody hens have been used as foster-mothers for various species for many years. They are used mainly for gallinaceous birds such as pheasants and to a lesser extent waterfowl, although they have also been used for birds such as cranes.
  • Hens will brood chicks, providing warmth, and will usually encourage feeding by example. Care should be taken to match the temperament of the hen with the temperament of the intended fostered chicks, as a very active hen may accidentally harm chicks which are rather slow in their movements.
  • Using a broody to rear chicks carries an attendant risk of disease transmission from the hen.

(J8.17.w1, B42, B106, B139).

Waterfowl Consideration
  • Waterfowl may be reared by a foster hen. The hen will provide warmth and if given free run of the pen with her charges, will encourage the downies to start feeding. In addition, a tame broody will encourage the young birds to be tame. In general, it is easier to keep close watch on broodies and their charges than on waterfowl rearing their own young. However, some hens may accidentally crush the youngsters as they are hatching or in the first few days, and a few apparently kill them deliberately.
  • There is a risk of disease transmission from broodies to the young birds which they rear. In particular, broody hens should be tested for tuberculosis before being used (J8.17.w1).
  • A brooding area with a solid wooden floor should be provided, attached to a run with solid walls (to exclude draughts) and a netting top. The design should exclude vermin, including mice. Additional warmth may be required using a heat lamp, at least in the first days and early in the breeding season (or in later cold wet weather). Downies and broody should be moved to this from the broody coop in which the hen sat on the eggs once they are dry.
  • The run should be placed within a light, well-ventilated building or, ideally, on a sheltered lawn of short grass. Long grass should be avoided and the run moved frequently to avoid the ground becoming poached.
  • In general it is considered safest to provide only shallow water initially, with stones in the bowl to discourage swimming and decrease the risk of downies becoming soaked.
  • Protection should also be given from rain, particularly in the first few days. Outdoor runs should always be covered at night in case of a sudden downpour. Hens may not always encourage their charges to be brooded in cold and/or wet weather, and some downies may choose not to be brooded, with resultant chilling if the pen is not sufficiently sheltered and warmed.
  • Rearing pens for very young waterfowl, including broody-reared birds, should be designed to exclude mice and should be covered with netting to prevent ducklings from climbing out.
  • Waterfowl may also be fostered by other waterfowl. It is important to place the egg under the foster before hatching to reduce the risk of rejection. Fostering to another species involves the risk of imprinting. Behavioural differences (e.g. in brooding pattern) must also be considered. For example, avoid cross-fostering between species with different habits, e.g. cygnets of Cygnus cygnus - Whooper swan onto adults of Cygnus olor - Mute swan, as the Whooper cygnets will move to land to be brooded, while the parent (a species which frequently broods its cygnets on its back on the water) may stay on the water.

(J23.16.w2, B29, B37.x.w1, B41, B95, B97).

Crane Consideration Cranes can be fostered with:
  • Cranes of the same species;
  • Cranes of another species;
  • Broody hen. (J5.8.w4, N1.102.w1)

Fostering with cranes

  • Fostering with another pair of crane of the same species has all the advantages and disadvantages of parent rearing.
  • Fostering with a different crane species risks strong sexual imprinting onto the foster species; this can interfere with mate choice when the bird is grown. (P76.1990.w2, P87.6.w1, P91.1.w1)
  • Note: cross-fostering is not now recommended for rearing crane chicks. However, cross fostering of a chick of a common species to a pair of a rarer species may sometimes be used as a method to stimulate breeding in the pair ,or allow them to practice parenting before being allowed to raise their own chick. (REF****) See: Reproductive Management of Birds (Bird Husbandry and Management)

Fostering with a hen

Fostering with a hen has some advantages over hand-rearing:

  • It is less labour intensive;
  • The hen will teach the chick to eat and drink, and will encourage it to exercise.

Disadvantages include:

  • The hen soon is unable to brood the rapidly-growing chick, therefore additional shelter and possibly heat is needed.
  • The chick may imprint on the wrong species;
  • Each hen can foster-rear only one chick, due to the aggressive nature of crane chicks (B484.7.w7), and a separate pen is required for each hen-plus chick.
  • A vermin-proof, predator-proof pen is required.
  • There is a risk of disease transmission from the hen to the chick.
  • If the same pens are used each year, there is a risk of pathogens building up in the substrate.


  • At Chester Zoo, UK, bantams have been used to incubate and foster-rear Balearica pavonina - Black crowned-crane chicks. In 1995, two chicks, with their bantam foster hens, were placed together in a large enclosure when they were 15 and 17 days old. This was successful and the hens were removed from the enclosure a month later. (N1.102.w1)
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Artificial Rearing

  • Many birds bred in captivity are hand-reared. Hand-rearing allows a greater number of birds to be reared (initial clutches may be removed and hand-reared, with the birds re-laying). The abnormal rearing environment may, however adversely affect later behaviour. One potential problem is that birds reared in an abnormal environment may not themselves exhibit normal parental behaviour as adults.
  • A well-recognised problem, of more concern in some species than in others, is that hand-reared birds may become imprinted on humans and not later recognise their conspecifics as appropriate mates. This is less likely to occur if the birds are reared alongside others of their own species. If reared together with chicks of another species, they may preferentially mate with that species.
  • Hand-reared birds may be less wary than parent-reared birds. This may be useful or detrimental depending on the circumstances. It may increase vulnerability to predation in birds intended for release, but may be useful in producing birds which are less stressed in a captive situation, and therefore more likely to breed: this may be very important in breeding endangered species.
  • Hand-rearing also requires suitable equipment in the form of brooder boxes, runs, heat lamps etc. and requires a considerable input of time and effort. Not all species are easy to hand-rear and some require considerable experience and expertise.
  • Hand rearing has the advantages of allowing good control over temperature and food availability.

(B105.15.w2, B139, V.w5,).

Waterfowl Consideration General considerations:
  • Success with rearing, particularly of duck species, may be greatly increased with hand-rearing. Losses due to predation and abandonment, in particular, may be decreased.
  • Once downies have hatched and dried, they should be transferred from the hatching incubator to a heated broody box. Broody boxes should have solid sides and a mesh top to prevent active birds from jumping or climbing out.


  • The most common method of providing heat is by an infra-red heat lamp. This is usually suspended over the brooder box by means of a chain, allowing the lamp to be raised or lowered as required to adjust the temperature inside the box. Incandescent bulbs may also be used to provide heat, but are more vulnerable if knocked or splashed with water (and may shatter), and do not allow for a period of darkness, which is important for all except Arctic-breeding waterfowl.
  • A thermal gradient should be present from directly under the lamp (warmest) to the far end of the box, allowing the downies to chose for themselves the most comfortable area. A sturdy thermometer may be placed inside the box to monitor the temperature, which should initially be about 90-99 F (32.2-37.2 C) directly under the lamp, reducing to 65-70 F (18.3-21.1 C) (or ambient temperature if higher) by about three weeks old.
  • N.B. thermometer temperatures are a useful guide, but behavioural monitoring should be used also: if the downies are all underneath the lamp and huddling together, they are too cold and the lamp needs to be lowered. If they are staying in the far corners of the box, as far away from the lamp as possible, panting and appearing stressed, they are too hot and the lamp needs to be raised.

Substrate and Cleaning:

  • Suitable substrates for young waterfowl should stay dry to avoid wetting and chilling and a non-slip surface is preferred to avoid splay-leg. Newspaper is not very suitable as it quickly becomes sodden and is also slippery when dry. Towels may be used initially but quickly become soiled and wet. Hay and straw should be avoided as they may be a source of Aspergillus spp. spores. Wood shavings, hay, straw and paper might be eaten, which may lead to Impaction. Rubber mats with a stippled surface have been used successfully, as has synthetic turf. Plastic-covered weldmesh or stiff plastic mesh on a frame may be used and has the advantage that spilled feed, water and droppings can fall though to a gutter area underneath to be washed away. Good hygiene is very important and brooder boxes should be cleaned daily to avoid bacterial and fungal growth and associated diseases.


  • There are two main approaches to the provision of water for downy waterfowl. Downies may be kept with full access to water for swimming from the first or second day. In such conditions it is important to watch the birds carefully for the first few days and ensure they are kept warm and dry when out of the water, as there is a risk of the birds becoming too wet with resultant Chilling. It is particularly important for the diving ducks (especially seaducks and stifftails) to have access to water for swimming and diving from an early age (B29).
  • Alternatively, downies may be maintained with only drinking water, provided in small vessels or in shallow bowls partially filled with stones to prevent swimming; this may be safer and requires less constant watching, and is often used for dabbling ducks and geese, particularly for small delicate duck species. The amount of water is gradually increased to allow paddling, and full access to water is allowed only after the first full plumage of contour feathers has grown.
  • If full water access is provided from an early age, a constant flow with surface-level drainage should be used, and an area of stippled rubber matting or mesh must be provided under the brooder lamp.
  • If waterfowl have been reared without full access to water they must be watched carefully when first let onto water as they may become water-logged and sink (see: Drowning); they are also at greater risk of Chilling until the first plumage has become waterproof.


  • Food should be provided once the birds are out of the hatcher. For most species which normally peck at food, dry crumbs or small pellets may be provided in a bowl close to water. For species which would sieve their food, food should be finely ground and made up into a wet slurry. Initially, crumbs with a protein level of 19-20% may be given, with this being changed to pellets of about 15-16% from two to three weeks old onwards. Fine grit should also be provided.
  • Some waterfowl are difficult to get feeding initially, and may fail to gain weight and die, usually during their second week (see: Starveout). A variety of techniques have been developed to encourage waterfowl downies to feed; see: Stimulating Feeding of Downies (Waterfowl).
  • N.B. It is important to ensure that downies are actually eating, not just appearing to eat. Daily weighing is a useful indication, although weights normally decreases in the first two or three days as the yolk sac is absorbed. Careful observation is required to ensure that food is actually being ingested, and tube feeding may be required for some very difficult birds which are slow to begin to feed.
  • For goslings and other grazing species access to growing grass (i.e. turf, not just cut grass) is important.


  • The number of hours of light provided should mimic the normal daylight hours of the natural environment where the birds are reared. In the case or Arctic-breeding geese, this would be constant daylight. Tropical species may be best maintained on a cycle of 13 hours daylight, 11 hours dark, while temperate species require something in between, such as 16 hours of light, 8 hours dark. Temperate species given too many hours of daylight are prone to overfeeding, with the attendant risk of the development of Angel Wing.

Outdoor runs:

  • Young waterfowl should be given access to an outside run in suitable weather as young as possible, and may normally be moved outside at least in daytime by as early as one to two weeks old, depending on the weather. 
  • The run should be placed on clean short grass in an area not used by waterfowl (adults or juveniles) the previous year.
  • Runs should provide sunny areas (weather permitting) and shade to avoid sunstroke/heatstroke, and should be designed to exclude mice. Thought should be given to the fact that the direction of the sun moves during the day, so that a board giving adequate shade in the morning may need to be moved in order to continue to provide shade later in the day.
  • The young birds should be shut away at night until the down is being replaced by the first proper feathers. Depending on climate, some heat may be required at night at this stage.
  • Until birds are both fully feathered and waterproof it is advisable to ensure that either the birds are shut in at night or the whole run is covered at night, to avoid the risk of birds becoming soaked during a nightime downpour.
  • Once fully feathered, juveniles may be placed in larger pens, with a good-sized pool. At this stage, birds which have previously been maintained off water must be watched and may need to be dried if they become to wet; waterproofing usually develops properly within a couple of days. These pens should provide sun, dry spots for resting and shelter from rain, as well as areas in sunshine.

Mixing broods:

  • Ideally, birds are raised in broods of the same age and species. Juveniles of different species but the same age and size may be reared together also; however some birds reared with a different species may be prone to choose a bird of the wrong species as a mate when adult. Every effort should be made to avoid rearing a youngster without other waterfowl for company (except for Biziura lobata - Musk duck ducklings).

(J23.16.w2, B7, B13.46.w1, B29, B37.x.w1, B41, B95, B97, B108, P3.1987.w1, P4.1992.w1, V.w5)

Crane Consideration
  • Hand-rearing is likely to be necessary when production of cranes, e.g. from endangered species, is maximised to increase numbers held and/or for release programmes. (J288.89.w1)
  • Care must be taken to avoid chicks imprinting on humans so that they will, when adult, not pair with their own species. (B31, P2.1986.w4)
  • Detailed protocols should be available in the chick-rearing facilities. (B115.5.w3)
  • When handling is necessary this must be done with care. See: Bird Handling & Movement - Holding & Carrying
  • If cranes hatch cleanly and start feeding properly, the main losses and injuries are from accidents. (N28.10.w1)
  • It is important to ensure that crane chicks never fall from a height. (N28.10.w1)
  • Non-slip surfaces and sufficient exercise are essential for healthy leg and toe development. (N28.10.w1)
  • Correct temperature, nutrition and exercise are essential for good growth and development. (P91.1.w6)
  • Accommodation must be predator-proof and large enough to allow adequate exercise. (B115.5.w3)
  • Partitions between chicks and adult or subadult socialization models need to be sufficiently robust to prevent the older cranes reaching the chicks - they must not be able to dig under the barrier or jab their bill through the barrier. (B115.5.w3)

Brooder boxes

  • These are suitable for very young chicks or sick chicks. (B115.5.w3)
  • Chicks can be moved to brooder boxes from the hatcher 24 hours after hatching (P90.1.w2); after the excess fluid around the leg joints has been absorbed. (N28.10.w1) once th chick is fully dry. (J23.21.w4)
  • The floor area should be at least 1 m. (B115.5.w3, N28.10.w1)
    • This can be used for two or even three crowned crane chicks (Balearica spp.) for the first three weeks. (N28.10.w1)
    • If a single brooder box is to be used for more than one chick it must be dividable with partitions to make it possible to separate the chicks for the first week. (N28.10.w1)
    • If two boxes have a removable panel between them, the panel can be removed for temporary socialisation under supervision, or one chick can be given a larger area for exercise. (P90.1.w2)
  • The sides should be at least 20 cm tall. (N28.10.w1)
  • They should be easy to clean. (B115.5.w3)
  • The substrate must be non-slip, e.g. indoor-outdoor carpeting, non-slip rubber mats for cars, or Astro-turf matting. (N28.10.w1)
    • Have two or three sets of mates to allow them to be changed daily to be washed and sterilised. (N28.10.w1)
  • The design should allow easy access to the chick. (B115.5.w3)
  • Partitions between brooder boxes should allow visual contact between chicks but prevent physical contact - e.g. plexiglass, plastic covered wire or flexible plastic mesh. (B115.5.w3, J23.14.w5) 
    • With wire or mesh, chicks may damage eyes or bills fighting through the barrier. (B115.5.w3)
  • A mirror can be used to assist correct imprinting. (P96.1.w1)
  • Power must be available, together with a means to suspend an infra-red lamp over the brooder box. (N28.10.w1)
    • Note: the box size should be sufficient to provide a temperature gradient so the chick can place itself where it is at its most comfortable temperature. (N28.10.w1)
    • In addition to the main, thermostatically-controlled heater, there should be a back-up heater, on a separate thermostat, for each box. (P90.1.w2)
    • The temperature under the heat lamp should be 35 C initially, and the room maintained at about 26.7 C. (J23.14.w5)
    • Keep the temperature in the brooder box at 35 C for the first week, reducing to 28-30 C in the second week and 25 C in the third and fourth weeks. (P91.1.w6)
  • Non-tip, sterilisable food and water containers are needed for each chick. (N28.10.w1)
    • Ceramic cat food bowls are useful for this; they are heavy enough not to be tipped over. (N28.10.w1)
    • Glass marbles or pebbles placed in the water bowl may help stop a chick slipping if it steps into the bowl, as well as encouraging it to drink. (N28.10.w1)
  • A sod of earth and grass can be placed in a brooder box to allow a chick to scramble on it looking for insects, which provides some exercise. (N28.10.w1)


Indoor runs

  • This should provide a controlled environment, with a heat lamp, height-adjustable.
  • Food and water should be available.
  • For ease of cleaning, a concrete floor covered with 5-6 cm ( 2inches) of sand, shavings or wood chips is recommended.
  • Shavings: a rubber non-slip mat or piece of carpet may be placed on the concrete, under shavings, to ensure good, nonslip footing. (B115.5.w3)
    • There is a risk of pathogens growing in wet shavings. (B115.5.w3)
  • Wood chips: these should be dust-free and preferably laboratory grade. (B115.5.w3)
  • Sand of 2.5 cm (one inch) deep provides a good surface with minimal chance of slipping, and there is less risk of pathogens growing in wet substrate than with shavings. However, while it is being cleaned (faeces sifted out), dust from the sand can fill the air. (B115.5.w3)
  • Note: there is a risk of particles of sand or shavings getting trapped under the eyelids and causing irritation or injury.
    • For the first two weeks, non-slip carpet placed over the sand or shavings is recommended. (B115.5.w3)

Outdoor runs

  • These should be about 3 x 7 m to be large enough to house growing chicks and let them exercise.
    • An outdoor run of this size also may be used for a female and her chick, if the chick requires intensive care.
  • A non-slip surface is important.
  • Turf is an excellent surface, providing good environmental stimulation for the chick, but is difficult to disinfect.
    • To reduce pathogen and parasite loads, use turf-covered pens on alternate years, till lime into the soil, or remove the sod and replace with fresh sods each year. (B115.5.w3)
    • In temperate climates, it may be sufficient to leave the pen fallow for 4-5 months each year.
  • Concrete substrate covered in 2.5 cm (one inch) deep sand can be used. The sand can be removed at the end of each year and the concrete scrubbed and disinfected. 



  • Flooring must provide good, non-slip surface.
  • Splayed legs, hock rotation, joint damage and slipped tendons may occur due to slippery flooring.
  • Outdoor carpeting without either backing or foam padding is suitable as a substrate, particularly during the first 7-10 days when chicks are more likely to get bits of sand or shaving substrates in their eyes.
    • Carpeting must not unravel or fray, nor have loops which small sharp toenails can catch in.
    • Carpet must dry quickly.
  • Non-slip rummer mats (as used in cars) or pieces of Astroturf also provide a non-slip substrate. (N28.10.w1)
  • Newspaper is not appropriate; it does not provide a good enough surface. (N28.10.w1)
  • For each brooder box or indoor run two or three mats or pieces of carpet are needed to allow daily cleaning. 

(B115.12.w8, N28.10.w1)


  • Soiled/wet carpet should be replaced with clean dry carpet pieces.
    • Carpets should be left to dry in sunlight to help bacteria and fungi.
  • Wet or soiled sand or shavings should be removed and replaced with dry bedding. Cat litter scoops or wire mesh scoops can be used to sift faeces and soiled bedding.


Monitoring development

Weight and growth rate

  • The chick's growth rate, as indicated by its percentage weight gain per day, indicates its health.
  • Plotting weights on a graph allows the chick's growth rate to be compared to a normal growth chart.
  • For chicks up to 2 kg, a scale with 1% accuracy should be used.
  • Weigh young chicks inside a box. The floor of the box should be lined with a non-slip substrate such as carpet.
  • A closed box may be used to reduce human contact during weighing.
  • Chicks which are being hand-reared can be taught to walk onto platform scales once they reach about 1 kg, but walk-on scales generally are accurate only to about 20 g, limiting their usefulness for monitoring weight gain in chicks of this weight.
  • Weigh chicks as soon as possible after hatching.
  • Initially weigh a chick at the same time each day, until records show it has started to gain weight. After this, weigh at appropriate intervals determined by the chick's health and the rearing methods used.
  • Expect a 10-15% weight loss during the first three to five days as the chick absorbs its yolk sac; it should then start to gain weight.
    • Chicks which lose more than this should be encouraged to eat and drink.
    • Subcutaneous fluids and/or gavage feeding may be needed if the chick continues to lose weight or becomes lethargic.
  • During days 10-40 the chick's growth rate is fastest and must be monitored carefully.
  • Weight gains of more than 10-15% per day on several consecutive days are of concern, being linked to leg development problems.
  • Note: parent-reared chicks rarely develop leg problems seen commonly in hand-reared chicks, despite often showing faster growth. This is likely to be related to the facts that parent-reared chicks get more and better exercise, that they are always on natural substrates (never concrete) and that they are fed livefood by their parents, and fed consistently through the whole day.

(B115.5.w3, J23.14.w5)

Leg development

  • Hand-reared chicks get less exercise than wild chicks; they can gain weight too fast, putting strain on their legs, and this can result in permanent deformities. Restricting food intake and enforcing exercise can be effective if initiated at the first signs of leg weakness. (J23.17.w5)
  • The legs of each chick should be checked daily. 
  • When the chick is standing, walking on a flat surface, the legs should be parallel to one another, perpendicular to the ground, without any bowing inwards or outwards at the hock.
  • When the chick is walking on a flat surface, the middle toe of each foot should point forwards, parallel to one another. If the toes begin to point outwards or inwards, this may indicate the development of leg rotation.
  • Good leg development can be encouraged by ensuring adequate exercise.
    • If the chick is raised next to a live imprinting model and follows the adult/subadult crane a lot of the time, it may not need more exercise.
    • Parent-reared chicks, which rarely develop any leg problems, get more and more varied exercise than do hand-reared chicks.
  • Increasing exercise at the first signs of leg problems, as well as food restrictions and taping as necessary, may be used to correct the problem.
  • Providing the opportunity to swim may assist in ensuring adequate leg exercise.


  • From two months of age, chicks spend a lot of time practicing flying, and need an unobstructed area, at least 15 m long, for exercise. Once they have fledged they may be wing-clipped. (B115.6.w8)

Diet and feeding

  • The feed needs to be appropriate for a fast-growing bird with a high metabolic rate and is different from the diets for adults for either maintenance or breeding. (B115.5.w3)
  • This should be fed from hatching until the chick fledges or finishes growing its flight feathers. (B115.5.w3)
    • Once the chick has fledged and finished growing its flight feathers, the diet can be changed to standard crane maintenance diet. (B115.5.w3)
  • A diet of no more than 24% protein and 0.73% sulphur-containing amino acids is recommended. (B115.5.w3)
    • Diets which are too high in protein, particularly sulphur-containing amino acids, have been linked to developmental limb problems. (B115.5.w3)
  • For further details of nutritional requirements see Food and Feeding for Birds (Bird Husbandry and Management) 
  • Food must be fresh (no more than three months from manufacture), dry, intact and free of contaminants (e.g. mould, vermin). (B115.5.w3)
  • Initially, the diet needs to be in the form of chick crumbs or crumbles. Once the chick is self-feeding, 5 mm diameter pellets can be mixed in and the proportion of these increased gradually, so that by 3-4 weeks the chick is eating pellets without any crumbles. (B115.5.w3)
  • For parent reared birds, provide a 50:50 mix of crumbles and pellets from the beginning. (B115.5.w3)
  • If a balanced diet is not available, or its vitamin content is suspect, a standard dose of water-soluble vitamins and electrolytes designed for poultry can be added to the water; use of this should be stopped once a proper balanced diet is available. (B115.5.w3)
  • In many facilities a poultry starter ration (e.g. turkey starter) is used and supplemented with protein sources such as insects, fish or rodents. (B115.5.w3)
  • At Walsrode, in addition to a standard starter diet, a mixture is given mased on insectivorous food and meat; the quantity of this is reduced gradually so that by 6-8 weeks chicks are eating only the pelletted food.
  • The insectivorous/meat mix is as follows: 50% insectivorous food (designed for small birds and quail), 25% finely ground beef hearts, 10% quark (a yoghurt-like milk product), 10% mealworms (with half provided live and half quick-boiled), 5% lettuce or other green foods, a trace of fortified yeas, trace of a calcium supplement and 5-8 fresh-killed crickets (Gryllidae). This is mixed with water as needed to give a moist but not saturated mixture, and each chick is given 50-100 g daily. (B115.5.w3)
  • Supplementary feeding may be needed using gavage of a liquid diet. (B115.5.w3)
    • Gavage with small quantities of food may stimulate a newly-hatched chick's appetite. (B115.5.w3)
  • Crane chicks appreciate live food such as crickets, locusts and mealworms; these should be provided in moderation. Naturally available insects such as cranefies and grasshoppers, also small slugs, are also appreciated. (N28.10.w1)
  • Provide soluble calcium grit - oyster shell or limestone. (N28.10.w1)
  • Chicks provided with access to e.g. a grassy outdoor area for exercise will find some natural food (insects such as grasshoppers and crickets) for themselves. (J23.21.w4, P90.1.w2)


  • This should be available at all times. (B115.5.w3)
  • Provide in a non-tip bowl, sufficiently deep to allow the chick to drink, shallow enough to make sure it can get out easily if it stumbles into the bowl. (B115.5.w3)
  • Marbles in the bottom of the bowl attract the chick's attention (encouraging drinking - see below) and help to keep the bowl upright. (P96.1.w1)
  • Replace the water daily, and more often if it becomes contaminated.
    • Bowls with a large open surface are likely to need changing more often.
  • Note: It is important to make sure the chick is drinking. Crane chicks need to be taught to drink. Chicks which do not drink enough and become dehydrated may appear dazed and lethargic, and stop eating (dehyrated chicks lose the desire to either eat or drink). (B115.5.w3)

Teaching/encouraging chicks to feed

  • Chicks are precocial. In the wild, they can feed themselves from about 2-3 days old, but they appear to be dependent on their parents for some of their food and will continue begging until they leave/are driven away at the start of the next breeding season. Hand-reared chicks generally can be taught to eat out of a disk containing food, by sticking a bright red dowel into the food as an attractant: the chicks peck at this and unintentionally get a beakful of food. (J23.17.w5)
    • The dowel can be suspended over the food; chicks will peck at this red, swinging, object. (P1.1980.w8)
  • Chicks which are slow to learn to feed themselves may need to be force-fed initially. (J23.17.w5)
  • For about a day after hatching, chicks mainly rest. They should be offered food once they are alert and active. (B115.5.w3)
  • Chicks need to be offered food initially, for example using forceps. Time and patience is required. (B31)
  • Usually, chicks will be feeding themselves adequately by 10 days old. (B521.19.2.w19b)

Standard training

  • Cranes offer food to their chick from their bill. Similar methods can be used to teach chicks to eat. (B115.5.w3)
  • Most chicks respond best to long, thin red shapes, although Balearica spp. and Mississippi sandhill cranes may respond better to black. (B115.5.w3)
  • While offering food, play a recording of the brood call used by crane parents, or imitate this. (B115.5.w3)
  • Food can be offered to the chick from a red feeding spoon held in the bill of a crane-head puppet, the the tip of a feeding utensil is dipped in water then in crumbles, and the food sticking to this is offered to the chick. (B115.5.w3, P96.1.w1)
  • Chicks will generally stab at the stick or spoon, get some crumbles in their bill and swallow these. (B115.5.w3)
  • Offer food until the chick loses interest (for newly hatched chicks this may be only five minutes). (B115.5.w3)
  • Move the feeding utensil closer to the bowl of food, so that in two or three days the chick is pecking at the food where the utensil dips into it. 
  • After a few days, the chick will eat when the food is moved in the food. At this stage, a the puppet head, taxidermy head or dowel can be suspended from a string, with the string passing through an eyelet in the ceiling and then to a point outside the pen, so the attractant can be bobbed up and down in the food without anyone entering the pen.
  • Encourage feeding five or six times daily until the chick is routinely eating without being fed and is gaining weight; this may take 4-14 days. (B115.5.w3)
  • Colour contrasts and shiny objects may be used also to attract the chick's attention to the food: bits of hard-boiled egg yolk scattered over the chick crumbs, placing brightly coloured sweets (candy) such as Smarties, or a shiny object, partly buried in the crumbs for the chick to peck at. (N28.10.w1)

Use of live food

  • Live food (e.g. mealworms, waxworms) may be placed on top of the crumbles to encourage feeding.
  • This may be the only way to start self-feeding in a chick which has initially been parent-reared.
  • Note: There is a risk that the availability of live food will further discourage a chick from eating crumbles. This is a problem because the insects do not provide a balanced diet.
  • Chicks which are used to live food will start digging through the crumbles to reach mealworms (mealworms burrow to the bottom of the bowl).
  • For chicks which are not used to live food, the insects may first be offered e.g. from the bill of a crane head puppet.

Dampening the food

  • For chicks which are reluctant to eat dry crumbles, moistening the food may encourage them. The moistened food sticks to the feeding utensil better, improving the chance of the chick getting a good mouthful of food when it pecks at the utensil.
  • Food should be moistened just before feeding and discarded afterwards, since bacteria and fungi are more likely to grow on moist food.
  • Moist food also provides the chick with some fluid intake.

(B115.5.w3, N28.10.w1)

Other chicks

  • A poultry chick of a couple of days old, which is already eating, can be placed with the crane for the crane chick to imitate the other chick's pecking. (N28.10.w1, J23.14.w5)
  • Chick crumbs can be scattered onto the poultry chick's back; the crane chick may peck at these and discover crumbs as food. (N28.10.w1)

Liquid food

  • Liquid food can be offered from a syringe; the tip of the syringe is coloured red and a drop of food suspended from the tip is taken as the chick pecks at the red tip. Once the chick is feeding, the syringe tip can be dampened and dipped into the crumbles, and these offered to the chick. (B115.5.w3)

Methods involving handling the chick

  • The chick's bill can be dipped into the crumbles, so it becomes accustomed to the food bowl as a source of food.
  • Crumbles can be placed into the chicks mouth to make it accustomed to the texture of the food.
  • Gentle force feeding can be carried out using dampened chick crumbs and wetted egg yolk on a teaspoon. The chick is held with one hand; it is allowed to stand, perhaps backed up into one corner of the brooder. The head is held carefully between finger and thumb and the chick's bill is opened gently. The tip of the spoon holding the food is introduced into the bill and a forefinger is used to push some food into the chick's mouth. Keep hold of the chick for a moment; some food is likely to be shaken out of its mouth by the chick head shaking, but some will remain and be swallowed. (N28.10.w1)
  • Note: These methods may disturb the chick and make it frightened of the foodbowl and/or the handler; the other methods are preferred. 


Tube feeding (gavage)

  • Chicks reluctant to feed may be tube fed (fed by gavage).
  • This provided nutrients and fluids, and may encourage the chick's appetite.

Teaching/encouraging chicks to drink

  • Place coloured marbles or similar shiny objects in the water bowl; the chick will be attracted to and peck at these.
    • Once the chick is drinking, remove inedible objects.
    • Marbles also weigh down the water bowl, helping to keep it upright.
  • Floating insects may be used to attract the chick's attention to the water. (B521.19.2.w19b)
  • Lure the chick to the water using a crane-head puppet, taxidermy model, red dowel or similar. Use this to stir the water, dip the tip into the water then raise it so water drips, move the tip under the water to encourage the chick to pursue it.
  • Fill a red-tipped syringe or gavage tube with water, and hold it near the chick with a suspended drop at the tip, so that as the chick grabs the tip the drop of water falls into its mouth
  • Never squirt the water into the chick's mouth, as it may aspirate (breath in) the water.
  • If the chick is not drinking, lift the chick above the water and lower it so its bill dips into the water once or twice.
  • Alternatively, dip its bill into the water once or twice; take care to avoid the chick aspirating water or becoming fearful of water.
  • Provide a small pool; the chick may drink once it wades into the water.
  • Note: if the chick becomes significantly dehydrated (as indicated by decreased elasticity of the skin just above the hock), subcutaneous fluids may be needed.
    • Rehydration may make the chick more active and encourage drinking.

    (B115.5.w3, B521.19.2.w19b, P96.1.w1)

Food rationing

  • This may be required for a chick which, despite regular exercise, is gaining weight too fast (more than 10-15% per day sustained over several days) and/or is showing early signs of developmental limb deformities. (B115.5.w3)
  • Several methods of limiting food intake can be used: (B115.5.w3)
    • Remove food at night; this mainly prevents chicks from eating early in the morning (they normally do not feed much at night).
    • Leave food overnight, but remove it for most of the daytime, providing it for only four 15-60 minute periods during the day.
      • On this schedule, the chick still gets enough food for growth and to not feel too hungry, so it is unlikely to develop vices such as eating bedding or faeces.
    • For a chick eating pellets, change the food back to crumbles or a crumble/pellet mixture, so that eating takes more time and energy.
    • Remove food at night and only provide it three or four times a day for an hour each time.
      • This regime is most likely to make the chick frantic and/or encourage it to develop vices such as eating bedding.


  • "Regular exercise is necessary for normal development and growth of strong, straight legs." (B115.5.w3)
  • Developmental leg problems are less common in parent-reared chicks than in hand-reared chicks, and this may be due to the hand-reared chicks getting less exercise and therefore the leg muscles being less well developed. (J29.3.w1)
    • Chicks should be exercised daily to help prevent leg problems. (P96.1.w1)
    • Chicks which are parent reared in captivity or the wild are active and moving most of the day; this amount of exercise is unlikely to be provided by human caretakers. (B115.5.w3)
    • In a large (400 m) pen with many stimuli (pools, plants, insects, toys) and a live adult crane in an adjacent pen, chicks may get sufficient exercise. For chicks kept in smaller pens without such stimuli, at least 20 minutes of exercise twice daily is needed. (B115.5.w3)
    • Chicks can be walked for any time from 10 minutes upwards (depending on the age of the chick and available time of caretakers. (B115.5.w3)
    • Chicks should be exercised on natural surfaces providing a non-slippery surface; smooth concrete and tarmac (blacktop) are slippery and should be avoided. (B115.5.w3)
    • Chicks should be started on exercise gradually and the amount increased slowly. (B115.5.w3)
    • Balearica regulorum - Grey crowned-crane chicks can be run together in an outside short-grass paddock by about 8-10 days of age. This situation encourages ranging and foraging for insects, increasing exercise. (N28.10.w1)
  • If chicks are ill their exercise may need to be decreased. However, if sick chicks do not get exercise they are likely to develop leg problems. (B115.5.w3)
  • Development of toe problems does not appear to be prevented by exercise. (B115.5.w3)


  • This is useful for exercise, particularly for chicks with leg problems such as hock rotation or bowing, and traumatic leg joint injuries. (B115.5.w3)
  • Two or more chicks can be swum at the same time, if they are compatible. (B115.5.w3)
  • Do not swim chicks in cool weather. (B115.5.w3)
  • Note: purchasing and maintaining a suitable pool requires a certain monetary outlay.(B115.5.w3)
  • A caretaker must always be present when chicks are swimming. (B115.5.w3)
  • Swimming sessions may be carried out for 5-20 minutes. (B115.5.w3)
  • Chicks should be removed from the pool before they start to sink or to get cold. (B115.5.w3)
  • Young chicks may lose buoyancy if swum for more than a few minutes. (B115.5.w3)
  • Once out the pool, chicks can be kept outside if it is sunny and warm (above 27 C (80 F); otherwise they need to be placed inside under a heat lamp. (B115.5.w3)
  • Take care when placing chicks back on land as they may be unsteady initially. (B115.5.w3)
  • Chicks with leg problems can be swum several times a day, or for up to 30 minutes at a time. (B115.5.w3)
  • Many chicks object to being made to swim; some may injure themselves trying to get out of the pool. (B115.5.w3)
  • Some chicks relax to much and float rather than swimming. Providing insects for them to catch on the surface of the water may encourage activity. (B115.5.w3)
  • Caretakers can purr at the chicks to encourage them to follow, or nudge them gently. (B115.5.w3)
  • If 2-4 chicks are swum at the same time they may encourage one another to keep moving. Aggression between chicks can be prevented by using hands, long-handled brushes or brooms to keep them apart. (B115.5.w3)
Socialisation and behavioural requirements
  • Young crane chicks are aggressive to one another and will actively attack one another, particularly if food-stressed; this aggressiveness decreases with age. Hand-reared chicks need to be kept separate (i.e. housed individually), at least when not under supervision, to prevent them fighting and injuring or even killing one another, until nearly fully grown. (J23.14.w5, J23.17.w5, J55.84.w1, P87.1.w1, P96.1.w1)
  • Young chicks being exercised in groups need to be supervised constantly. (P90.1.w2)
  • Aggression levels vary between species; for example Grus leucogeranus - Siberian crane chicks are particularly aggressive. (P96.1.w1)
  • Sibling showed aggression to each other within the first hours after hatching but soon started tolerating each other, then at 52 days of age a serious fight led to the death of both chicks. (N1.V.8.w1)

Group-rearing young chicks

  • Group rearing is possible with some cranes: 
    • Whooping cranes and Greater sandhill cranes have been found too aggressive.
    • Florida sandhill cranes have been reared in groups of four.
    • Mississippi sandhill cranes have been reared as pairs and kept as fours for two weeks.
  • Balearica regulorum - Grey crowned-crane chicks can be run together from as young as 8-10 days of age. (N28.10.w1)
    • Lower-ranking chicks may pace along the fence line trying to escape more aggressive chicks; this may result in toe injuries, even tearing out of the nail if it gets caught in the netting. (N28.10.w1)
  • Reducing light in the indoor pen is beneficial.
    • Infra-red bulbs can be used as the main light source. (P1.1980.w8)
  • Placing a number of small visual barriers in the pen can help. (P1.1980.w8)
  • Group-rearing generally is more successful in spring, in the cooler weather.
  • Chicks for group-rearing must be the same age - hatched within 24 hours of one another.
    • If one chick in a group is too aggressive, moving it up to be with older chicks may be effective. (B521.19.2.w19b)
  • Aggression can be hunger-related, therefore group-housed chicks need to be fed frequently, with more than one feeding station available.
  • Use of live food may be advantageous.
  • Usually, aggression decreases around fledging, but chicks which have lived amicably together for weeks to months may suddenly fight; aggressive individuals need to be moved to separate pens.

Use of poults

  • For larger numbers of chicks, it has found been possible to rear sandhill crane chicks in groups of at least six crane chicks plus 6-10 turkey poults of a similar size to the crane chicks. (J55.84.w1)
    • Turkey poults of 10-12 days old are appropriate for placing with crane chicks which are two days old. (P1.1980.w8)
  • Placing turkey poults in with crane chicks (whooping or sandhill) reduces aggression directed at other crane chicks, because some of the attacks are directed instead at the turkey poults. (P1.1980.w8, P87.1.w1)
  • Bronze broad-breasted turkeys, and Cochin chickens (placid) can be placed in with the chicks, with at least one poult per two chicks, or preferably a 1:1 ratio. These act as aggression targets, help teach the crane chicks to feed, and may stimulate exercise.
  • With the turkey poults present, chasing continues but injuries are reduced, while the chasing does provide exercise. (P1.1980.w8)
  • Crane chicks must not be allowed to kill poults.
  • Chicks may still be injured by other chicks or by poults.
  • Very aggressive chicks may still need to be separated.
  • Poults must be free of diseases or parasites which could be transmitted to the crane chicks; they must be health-checked before they are placed in with the crane chicks. (B115.5.w3)
  • Note that pens become dirty sooner, due to the extra birds, and more cleaning is required. (B115.5.w3)

Imprinting cues and socialisation models

The following methods can be used to minimise imprinting on humans and maximise correct species recognition of hand-reared cranes so that they respond appropriately to their own species and are wary of humans:

  • Playing species-specific calls to chicks during hatching, while they are still in the egg; (P76.1990.w2)
  • Minimise contact with humans; (P76.1990.w2)
  • Provide each chick with a stuffed crane model in a brooding posture, with taped crane vocalisations coming from the model; (P76.1990.w2)
  • Feed chicks using a crane head model; (P76.1990.w2)
  • Maximise contact with other chicks of the same species; (P76.1990.w2)
    • Groups or four or more chicks raised with visual contact with one another and exercised together tend to show reduced interest in their human caretakers. (B115.5.w3)
  • Provide visual contact with other chicks. (J23.14.w5)
  • Provide visual contact with adults or subadults of the correct species. (B115.5.w3, P76.1990.w2)
    • Ideally, provide visual contact with an adult or subadult in the first few days of the chick's life. (B115.5.w3)
  • For a single chick with no conspecific adults or other chicks available, a mirror can be provided. (B115.5.w3)
  • For a very young or sick chick, a taxidermic crane can be provided as a brooder model. This is in a brooding position, carpals extended and neck arched downwards, bill nearly touching the floor or dipping into the food or water bowl. A taxidermic head dipping into the food bowl can act as a feeding model. (B115.5.w3)
    • Prerecorded brood calls can be played during feeding, or the caretaker can purr in imitation of these, while the chick is learning to feed. (B115.5.w3)
    • Additionally, pelt fragments of the correct-colour feathers can be left for the chick to cuddle up to. (B115.5.w3)
    • A brooder models may be left in the pen until the chick loses interest, but should be removed if a chick starts pecking at a model or is unwilling to leave it for exercise. (B115.5.w3)
    • A chick which responds strongly to these may show immediate acceptance when offered a live conspecific as a socialisation model. (B115.5.w3)
  • The presence of a live conspecific crane close by in visual and acoustic contact helps to reduce chick imprinting on humans. (B115.5.w3)
  • Housing older chicks adjacent to adult or subadult conspecifics is beneficial to let the chicks observe social behaviour. (B115.5.w3)
  • Adults or subadults should be in pens in sight of the outdoor runs housing the chicks, or individual adults/subadults may be in adjacent pens. (B115.5.w3)
    • Socialisation models need to be chosen for their behaviour, including their ability to adapt to the accommodation. (B115.5.w3)
    • Cranes which are nervous or call constantly are not suitable; loud calling may seriously frighten the chicks. (B115.5.w3)
    • Hand-reared subadults, which are not frightened of humans, are not aggressive to humans and are young and curious, may be most suitable. 
      • They are likely to adapt well to the accommodation, particularly if they were reared in the same facilities. 
      • They may interact with the chicks, purring and tapping on the barrier.
      • Note: Interest may be curiosity or may be aggression; always assume that the crane may be aggressive and that it will kill the chick.
      • Older hand-reared cranes may be less suitable as they are likely to be aggressive towards humans.


  • At Patuxent, males and female, and adults and subadult, Whooping cranes have been found to be good imprinting models, showing an interest, vocalising to chicks, interacting with them, protesting when humans handle the chicks, and even feeding the chicks through the fence. In contrast, interest shown by Sandhill cranes has been aggressive and predatory. (B115.5.w3)
  • At ICF, some Whooping, Siberian and Wattled cranes have been interested in the chicks, others have not. (B115.5.w3)
  • Chicks can be socialised by being taken out for exercise together, under supervision; close supervision is needed to prevent fighting between young chicks. (B115.5.w3)

Forming groups or cohorts

  • Older chicks may be kept together. (P2.1986.w4)
  • At 10-12 weeks chicks can be placed in groups of 2-10 birds (depending on e.g. pen size), next to pens containing conspecific adults. (B115.5.w3)
  • Older chicks can be formed into cohorts and kept together during the day. (B115.5.w3)
    • Monitor closely for aggression initially. (B115.5.w3)
    • Separate the chicks into individual pens at night. (B115.5.w3)
    • Provide two or three feeding and watering stations to ensure all chicks get to eat and to minimise the risk of injuries.
    • Take particular care when combining parent-reared and hand-reared chicks. (B115.5.w3)
  • Fledged chicks can be penned with one another for socialization. (B115.5.w3)
  • Chicks should be grouped together from three months of age. It can help to tame parent-reared birds if they are grouped with hand-reared cranes. (B115.6.w8)
  • Socialisation of juveniles into flocks increases contact with birds of the same species and facilitates normal social development. (P76.1990.w2)
  • Socialisation is easiest in autumn, which is the time that wild cranes normally socialise during migration, but can be carried out earlier under careful supervision. (P76.1990.w2)
  • Disadvantages of forming flocks include increased risks of losses due to aggression between cranes, and increased risk of disease transmission. (P76.1990.w2)
  • From six months of age the cranes may become aggressive, particularly to individuals of the same sex. Ensure there are at least two feeding and watering points, at opposite ends of the enclosure (three points for large pens containing 10-15 cranes), so submissive birds are able to eat and drink, and observe carefully - make sure submissive individuals do eat and drink. Submissive individuals which are regularly attacked by other birds need to be removed from the group. (B115.6.w8)
  • Keep subadults in groups of 2-16 birds until they are paired. if a pair forms, they can be very aggressive and need to be removed to a breeding pen (if the pairing is desirable), or if the pairing is not wanted, one or both birds needs to be moved out to another enclosure to stop the aggression. (B115.6.w8)

Sibling recognition

  • Cranes reared together are less likely to form a proper pair and reproduce with one another; they may behave as a pair, but generally do not lay eggs. They usually re-pair with other birds quite easily. (P76.1990.w2)
    • Avoid grouping potential mates together as cranes kept together act as siblings and may refuse to form proper pairs with one another. (B115.6.w8)
    • If there are several cranes of the same species being reared together it is preferable to determine the sex of the birds early and divide the chicks into same-sex groups to minimise the adverse effects of sibling recognition. (P76.1990.w2)
      • However, homosexual pairs may form; additionally, same-sex groups can be aggressive. (B115.6.w8)

Dominance and submission

  • Dominance patterns established during interactions of chicks tend to be maintained throughout the life of the cranes. (P76.1990.w2)
  • Chicks which are constantly dominated by others may develop patterns of submission; this can interfere with pairing and reproduction. (P76.1990.w2)
  • Introductions of young chicks to one another should be carried out carefully, with constant human supervision. (P76.1990.w2)
  • Juvenile flocks of 2-4 cranes can be formed, but if one individual becomes very submissive it must be removed from the group immediately and placed in an adjacent enclosure to allow its confidence to return; often it is not possible to return it to the group. (P76.1990.w2)
  • Aggression levels increase as sexual maturity develops in the spring of the second year; it is preferable to separate the juveniles from one another during the previous autumn, then introduce them to potential mates by placing the two birds in adjacent pens. (P76.1990.w2)
  • This can be used to provide birds for captive breeding or for release. (B115.5.w3)
  • Both visual and auditory interaction with humans is minimised. (B115.5.w3)

Screen rearing

  • Uncostumed caretakers work from behind a screen for feeding chicks.
  • Caretakers may or may not talk in the chick-rearing facility, but do not talk while weighing or medicating chicks.
  • There is as much visual contact with imprinting models as possible.
  • Chicks reared in this manner are imprinted on cranes, but are tolerant of humans and tend to be good display birds which breed readily and are tolerant of humans.

Costume rearing

  • For all interactions which are positive (e.g. feeding), the human caretakers wear a loose mantle and hood concealing the human form.
  • Methods of imprinting and socialisation are used (e.g. brooder models, live social models).
  • Uncostumed humans are seen only when the chick is undergoing stressful procedures such as routine medical procedures.
    • If the chicks do not need to have a strong bond with costumed personnel after release, costumes may be worn during such procedures.
  • Costume-reared chicks are suitable for captive breeding or for release, but may need to be acclimatized to humans if they are to remain in captivity. (B115.5.w3)
  • Costume-rearing is labour-intensive.
  • Facilities used for this type of rearing should be designed so that chicks do not see uncostumed humans entering/leaving the facility, and the chicks should be buffered from traffic noise and human voices outside.
  • Solid fencing, tennis wind netting and vegetation may be used to provide the required isolation.
  • Within the facility, opaque walls, tennis netting and portable screens can prevent chicks from seing uncostumed caretakers.
  • In the main door to each chick's pen is a one-way viewing window, and a hole to allow a crane-head puppet through to feed the chick
  • Feeding can be carried out also using a costumed caretaker.
  • The aim of the costume is not to make the caretaker look like a crane but to disguise the human shape.
  • The costume can be specially made, or can be based on a modified Hindu sari.
  • The costume should be made from opaque, breathable material, should be loose-fitting and covers at least head to knee, with the cover over the head the same material as the body, while camouflage screen fabric over the face hides facial features.
  • If a more crane-like appearance is wanted, an extra piece of material with scattered feathers sewn onto it may be attached to the costume's wing sleeves using velcro or snap-fasteners (press-studs) to allow it to be removed when the costume is washed. (B115.5.w3)
  • For the last two days before the egg hatches, no human voices are allowed in the incubator room.
  • Recorded brood calls of cranes are played when eggs are checked.
    • At ICF, calls are played for 30 seconds to 2 minutes at a time; at Patuxent they are played for 15 minutes at a time, four times a day. (B115.5.w3)
    • If calls are played excessively there is a risk the chick will be overstimulated, hatch too quickly and have problems such as an incompletely absorbed yolk sac. (B115.5.w3)
  • Costumes are worn from the time the egg pips, so the hatching chick will not see an uncostumed person.
  • If assistance is required during hatching, the chick's head is covered or personnel carrying out the procedure wear costumes.
    • Note: the welfare of the chick takes priority over its not seeing an uncostumed human.
  • Once dry and ready to leave the hatcher, a costumed caretaker transfers the chick to a closed opaque box for transfer to the chick-rearing facility. (B115.5.w3)

Strict isolation rearing

  • Note: This method has evolved to give costume-rearing and screen-rearing
  • Chicks were reared in isolation from human contact but also from contact with most other live stimuli; they could see other chicks, but not touch them, and no live adults were present to act as imprinting models.
  • The chicks were fed through the pen door using a crane puppet head.
  • For pen cleaning, a person covered in a sheet captured the chicks and placed them in boxes.
  • At about fledging time, chicks were abruptly introduced to humans when people entered the pens to give physical examinations and move them to larger pens.
  • Results of this type of rearing varied:
    • Some sandhill cranes were initially hesitant then curious about people and followed them, acting like hand-reared chicks.
    • Other sandhill cranes, and red-crowned cranes, were nervous and flightly, actinh like wild-caught individuals. (B115.5.w3)
    • Two Blue cranes isolation reared but with a pair of adult common cranes in an adjacent pen were generally quieter than hand-reared birds. When exposed to people (when fully feathered), both chicks shunned humans and the older chick was very nervous, pacing if not able to get out of visual contact. Both chicks struggled more when handled than did hand-reared chicks, with the younger bird hissing and trying to attack using her bill, while the older chick did from stress during laparoscopy. (P87.3.w3)

Human avoidance conditioning

  • This is carried out to provide deliberate negative exposure of chicks to humans. (B115.5.w3)
  • It is used particularly for those chicks which appear too tame for release. (B115.5.w3)
  • Basic handling can be used for human avoidance conditioning: while all positive, parental-type interactions (e.g. feeding) are carried out by humans, slightly stressful procedures are carried out by costumed caretakers with the chick hooded, and extremely negative procedures, such as taking blood from larger chicks, are carried out by non-costumed humans. (B115.5.w3)
    • If the chick does not appear upset, then on release the human(s) chase it, yelling and clapping their hands. (B115.5.w3)
  • Mock attacks on chicks can be carried out. 
    • Non-target chicks are isolated away from the activity if possible (e.g. locked into the inside pens while the activity occurs outside).
    • The attacks take place in the presence of the live imprinting models so that alarm calls from those birds can verify the "danger"; if there is concern the older birds may not react sufficiently, or they are not available, recorded alarm calls are played at the appropriate time.
    • One or two uncostumed humans burst into view and race through the chick-holding area, making loud noises, perhaps banging on pots and pans, to frighten the chicks. Any chick which does not show an appropriate fear response - fleeing, freezing in an erect position, or squatting to hide in the grass - is briefly grabbed roughly then released. the humans then leave abruptly.
    • Costumed chick-parents may or may not be present. If they are, the costumed "parent" flees from the humans, or turns and chases them away, "protecting" the chicks.
    • These training sessions may occur once or twice per month, with a total of one to five sessions.
    • These sessions probably are not required for birds which are already wary of humans, but may be useful for individuals which are calmer and tamer.
    • Note: Chicks and adult imprinting models may injure themselves fleeing into fences; the activity should take a minimum time and be discontinued if any birds appear likely to injure themselves. 



Detailed records should be kept for each chick including:

  • Developmental milestones (e.g. eating and drinking unaided);
  • Weight gain;
  • Medical problems;
  • Veterinary treatments;
  • Dietary changes and supplementation;
  • Exercise type and amount;
  • Socialization with other crane chicks;
  • Exposure to crane imprinting models;
  • Changes in behaviour.


Associated techniques linked from Wildpro

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Authors & Referees

Authors Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5)
Referee Suzanne I Boardman BVMS MRCVS (V.w6)

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