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2011 Ultralight-led Whooping Crane Migration Begins

Crane migration

The 11th whooping crane migration led by weight-shift trikes began on October 9 with a typical balky start by the juvenile birds. Some of them liked their pen too much and didn’t want to begin the 1,285-mile flight from central Wisconsin to their winter home in Florida. Six of the birds in the class of 2011 had to be trucked to the first stopover to get them away from the White River Marsh site before hunting season opened.

Joe Duff, leader of the Operation Migration team, wrote about the problems in their Field Journal. At the White River Marsh site the surrounding land is wet and nearly impossible to walk through in order to retrieve any downed birds, so the flight training regimen involved leading the birds in wider and wider circles as their strength and confidence grew. Unfortunately it also taught them to turn back and return to their comfortable pen and wading pool. He is confident the birds will soon catch on and adapt to the rigors of migration. The first leg is deliberately short (only 5 miles) to make it easy for the birds. But this time they had a 15-mph headwind with turbulence, so they had to fly at treetop level. Go to OperationMigration.org and find the links for the live Crane-Cam and the “MileMaker 2011” sponsorship program. You can sponsor one mile of the trip for a donation of $182. Operation Migration also has a Facebook page.

Operation Migration is a partner in a larger effort to recover a migrating population of whooping cranes in eastern North America called the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership or WCEP, which was established in 1999. The partnership includes the International Crane Foundation whose biologists hatch and raise young cranes at their headquarters in Baraboo, Wisconsin, for release into the wild and for the aircraft-led migration effort. Their website provides a wealth of information and explains how you can "Adopt a Crane" for a donation of $100.

Beginning in 2005 the ultralight-led migration was supplemented with a second reintroduction technique called Direct Autumn Release. Young cranes are released in small groups with wild whooping cranes, with the intent that they will learn the migration route from these older, more experienced birds. After learning the migration route by following the ultralight aircraft or older cranes to the wintering areas, the young cranes make the return flight to their summering grounds in the north on their own the following spring.

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