Whooping Crane Whooping Crane
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April 20, 2006

Dear Journey North,
North winds delayed migration over much of the week. In the southeastern portion of Saskatchewan several centimeters of snow and rain fell, keeping birds on the ground. In the past week, only one new report of migrating whoopers came in. This was of a pair of birds near the town of Leask, Saskatchewan. These birds are within a 2-3 day flight of the breeding grounds. The early migrants from a week ago should be just arriving on the breeding grounds this week.

What makes a good day for migrating?

Today the sky is clear, with a light southeast wind, a perfect day to be migrating north. On a day like today, the whoopers will leave the wetland that they roosted on overnight and move into a grain field to feed for a couple of hours. At that time they may make a short trip back to the wetland for a drink before migrating or just leave straight from the field . If cranes are going to migrate on a particular day, they will usually leave before 10 am. The main thing that the cranes are looking for are thermals of warm air rising from the ground. The cranes will flap fly upwards until they find a thermal; once in the thermal they will use a spiraling flight, circling upwards with the rising air column.

Cranes will pick up the thermals around 600 meters off the ground and ride them up to an altitude of 1200 meters or more. Once at the top of the thermal, they will enter a gliding flight until they reach the next thermal, and so on. Glide speeds average 58 km/hr while spiraling speeds are as slow as 20 km/hr. With a tail wind, the cranes can fly as fast as 100 km/hr. In spring the flight distances and duration are generally longer than during fall migration. On a good day for migrating,n the cranes can stay aloft for up 8 or 9 hours and cover distances of over 600 km.

As the cranes pass through the Canadian Prairies they will be performing their courtship dance. In this photo, the male is jumping in the air to display for the female. She seems indifferent to his gestures.

Brian Johns
Wildlife Biologist
Canadian Wildlife Service
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada


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