Flight Days: Everyone Has a Job
    By Jennifer Rabuck, 2001 WCEP Crew Member
    NOTE: This report was written before the team added a second pen.


Checking to make sure all systems are go

What is a usual flying day like for the flight team?

  • Pilots go to their aircraft and prepare for flight: checking instruments, untying the trikes and gathering their clothing layers.
  • Bird handlers gather their costumes, crane puppets, and vocalizers and head to the pen.
  • Out of the cranes' sight, Outreach Team folks greet any media people or visitors who have come to see the departure.
  • The rest of the crew packs up the camp and prepares to hit the road. A very busy day begins! Read more:

The handlers walk out to the pen as the planes taxi or fly to the pen doors. The contact call (a pre-recorded whooping crane call) from the ultralight's loudspeaker sounds across the landscape as the doors to the pen are thrown open. The cranes emerge in a flurry of white-and- black feathers, eagerly jumping and flapping their wings. The pilots rev up their planes and soon are airborne, followed by this special flock of whooping cranes. Here we go!

Relaxing after the flight

After we get word that the entourage is officially headed to the next stopover, ground crew members pack up the overnight pen. They disconnect our campers and begin the road trip (much longer than the air trip!) to the next stop.

If the birds arrive at the next site ahead of their pen, the still-costumed pilots walk the cranes to a secluded area. The birds can relax and forage and remain out of sight when the ground crew arrives.

Unbeknownst to the cranes, the ground crew scrambles to set things up and make everything look as wild and natural as possible. When things are in order, the ground crew retreats to a new base camp and begins to settle themselves in. The pilots are then free to walk the birds into their home pen that has miraculously appeared. Then the pilots join the human encampment.

Try This! Journal Questions 
  • Why is it important for the ground crew and their work to be out of the cranes' sight?
  • What things might delay the ground crew from arriving at the new site and getting the night pen set up?
  • What are some reasons why the ground crew's later arrival could cause the pilots to be uncomfortable? (Remember that the pilots fly at high altitudes where it may be very cold, so they wear extra clothing under their costumes.)
  • How could a second pen be of help during the migration?

Journey North is pleased to feature this educational adventure made possible by the
Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP).