An Elegant Program: Whooping Cranes on the Move

The whooping cranes are on the move again.

In one of the conservation world’s most elegant programs, ultralight pilots disguised as mother cranes lead these beautiful birds through their migration each year.

The population was so close to extinction in the 1940s, with 15 birds, that there weren’t enough parents left to produce and lead their flocks. So over the decades scientists learned to disguise themselves as whooping cranes and raise the birds from eggs in hatcheries. This way, they would not be comfortable with humans and would learn to follow only their own.

Operation Migration, a nonprofit group with volunteer pilots certified by the Federation Aviation Authority, stepped in to help with the radical and innovative program to teach birds to fly south in the winter and north in the summer. Now there are two migrating flocks and a flock that stays in Florida all year. Biologists don’t want us to disturb the fragile birds, but sometimes you can get in the right place to see them fly overhead. You can also follow their trip here.

Photo Credit: Tim Ross

by Katherine Bouma

Ms. Bouma has been the publicity chair for the Birmingham Audubon Society for three years. Before that, she covered the environment around the South at the Birmingham News, the Orlando Sentinel and Montgomery-Advertiser Journal and the Nashville Banner.

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