Cranes Moved to Wheeler NWR: HOME!
February 4, 2012

Whooping cranes are released from crates after being transported.

Image: Operation Migration

Home at Last
After flying 707 miles with ultralight-aircraft leaders on their first journey south, the nine cranes in the Class of 2011 were quietly crated at the travel pen in Winston County, Alabama. In trucks and vans, they became the first ultralight-led cranes to finish their migration by road instead of wing power. The team transported them to Alabama's Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, where they're finally "home" for winter. The Rearing and Release Team within the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) chose Wheeler because it is the closest option to the ultralight-led migration route that led the cranes south, and should be a guideline for their journey north.

The young cranes are in good company: seven older Whooping cranes and thousands of Sandhill cranes are wintering there too. The youngsters will be held in the top-netted travel pen until the WCEP team arrives with their permanent leg bands and attach them, with each birds' permanent color code, to each crane. They'll give the birds a day or two to recover from being handled and to adjust to their new bands. Pilot Brooke will release and then monitor them until they start heading north, probably in March or April.

New Lives
Team leader Joe Duff remind us that these birds, even though they're in a new winter home, are still part of the Eastern Migratory Population and will still migrate back north. "All that is left for us to do is to cross our fingers and hope they make it back to Wisconsin's White River State Wildlife Area." Everyone hopes White River Marsh, a new site where the Class of 2011 trained last summer, will encourage them to stay and breed in an area free of the black flies that seem to threaten the population at Necedah NWR. We are happy for the Class of 2011 to be in good winter habitat, and we look forward to tracking their first spring migration—flying without any human help! Well done, Operation Migration pilots and crew. Good luck cranes!

In the Classroom: Journal or Discussion

  • The team believes that being in Alabama rather than Florida won't matter to the young cranes. They should migrate north in the spring to Wisconsin's White River Marsh, where they learned to fly. Record your thoughts: What do you think will happen? Find out when Journey North's spring Whooping crane reports follow the rest of the story. Please join us!


Journey North is pleased to feature this educational adventure presented in cooperation with the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP).