Aren’t Whooping Cranes Extinct?
Young Whooping Cranes, Migrating from Wisconsin to Florida in 2009, Led by an Ultralight Aircraft. Organized by Operation Migration
Whooping cranes almost went extinct in our lifetimes.
After overhunting and the loss of their habitat, the Whooping crane population was whittled down to 21 wild and 2 captive birds in 1941.
Then, something happened.
People decided to try to keep them from disappearing altogether.
In 1967, the Whooping crane was declared endangered.
In 1975, the U.S. and Canadian Wildlife Services tried to establish a second flock of whooping cranes by letting Sandhilll cranes foster them and teach them to migrate.
But, after growing up fostered by the Sandhill cranes, the young Whooping cranes would not mate with each other and the Sandhill cranes would not mate with them.
In 1993, a non-migratory flock of Whooping cranes was established in Florida. This flock is up to about 53 birds.
Who Came Up with the Idea of Teaching Whooping Cranes How to Migrate to New Wintering Grounds?
Inventor Bill Lishman taught Canada Geese how to migrate from Ontario, Canada to Virginia and South Carolina for the winter for the first time in 1993.
At the request of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to try the same thing with Whooping cranes, he and Joe Duff founded Operation Migration in 1999.
They teach Whooping cranes in Wisconsin to follow ultralight aircraft. Ultralights are like hang-gliders powered by the equivalent of a go-cart engine.
The pilots are dressed in costume as Whooping cranes and carry Whooping crane puppets.
The pilots in ultralights lead the Whooping cranes from a wildlife refuge in Wisconsin to a wildlife refuge in Florida for the winter.
The project is an effort to establish a new Eastern flyway to complement the flyway from Wisconsin to Corpus Christi, Texas.
How Many Whooping Cranes Are There Now?
In 2007, there were 52 Whooping cranes in the Eastern Migratory Population, using the Wisconsin to Florida route.
In 2011, there were 437 Whooping cranes altogether in the wild and 165 or more in captivity.
How Did Whooping Cranes End Up in Alabama?
The reason I was curious about Whooping cranes, however, is because of the ultralights.
Although I’m not current, I have a private pilot’s license. Ultralights fascinate me.
The FAA downed the 2011 flight of ultralights with Whooping cranes behind them on the way from Wisconsin to Florida.
They said the pilots were paid, not volunteers, and thus had to meet more stringent requirements than volunteer pilots of ultralight, or sport aircraft do.
I wondered what happened to the cranes.
The FAA eventually granted a waiver to allow the pilots and cranes to continue on to Florida, but by then the cranes, downed in Alabama, had had enough and decided to finish their winter stay in Alabama.
Click here if you would like to read the Operation Migration blog for up-to-date news on migrations. When they fly in the fall and winter, you can watch a live CraneCam.
The next winter migration is scheduled to leave from Wisconsin on October 8, 2012.
Who knew you could teach a bird, well, not to fly, exactly, but to fly where it’s safe and there is plenty of food.
Click here to order a movie loosely based on Bill Lishman’s story, “Fly Away Home.”
Click here to order a book by Bill Lishman about his journey with the Canada Geese.
Click here for more frequently asked questions about the Whooping crane migration, including why Wisconsin and Florida were picked as their summer and winter homes.
Click here for a Whooping crane glossary about Operation Migration.
Do you feel like ultralight aircraft look a lot like Icarus, who fastened wings on his back to try to fly?
Did you know we could teach birds where to fly?
Have you ever seen a Whooping crane?
To you and sharing the wonders of nature with your grandchildren.
Carol Covin, Granny-Guru
- Migration Ends as Whooping Cranes Decide to Stop Flying (youngeagles.org)
- Pilots Can’t Teach Birds to Migrate Until FAA Rules (baynews9.com)
- Whooping Crane Migration Aided by Airplane (parislanding.com)
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Aren’t Whooping Cranes Extinct?