Fall Migration 2016 Looking Back 2001-2015

Building Flight Skills
October 4, 2016 by Jane Duden

Cranes 31-16 and and 38-16 on first longer flight
Whooping Crane 31-16 in the lead followed by slightly younger 38-16.
Heather Ray, Operation Migration

October 4, 2016

For the past 15 years, this time of year meant counting down to migration departure of a specially trained groups of young cranes and their aircraft leaders. Not this year! The new plan is for birds to lead birds, and the suspense continues to mount.

The youngsters in the Class of 2016 never took flight until their release in Wisconsin in September. They finally get to discover what their powerful wings can do. Expert observers from the Operation Migration team and ICF monitor each of the chicks from their first wobbly flights upon release. They worry when some can't quite manage to fly off with prospective parents to roost overnight. They whoop with joy when there's progress, as when young 30-16 and buddy 38-16 took their first "long" flight of nearly a mile on October 2nd and didn't just circle and land. This is something to celebrate! Only a few more weeks remain for the young to practice flight, build strength, and bond with experienced cranes before it's time to migrate.

The experts also are watching and hoping for family groups to form soon so Whooping Crane alloparents (wildlife adoptive parents) can lead these youngsters on their first journey south. So far, some of the released chicks and the nearby wild adult whoopers have been interested in each other—but not all of them. In the past, many released chicks joined the more social Sandhill Cranes instead of the more aloof Whooping Cranes. Also, releasing chicks in the fall means that they spend only a short time at the Wisconsin reintroduction sites. They need to spend enough time here to solidify their interest in returning each spring to the place where they first learned to fly, and to recognize "summer home" from above. That's happening now. Is it time enough?

No one knows when the young cranes will depart, with whom they'll go, where they'll go, or even IF they'll go. We're glad you're here to wait and watch with us! Until then, see: