Why Not Truck
the Birds on No-fly Days?
By Joe Duff
weather delays add up, do you wonder why the team doesn't just
put the birds in crates and truck them to the
next stop? See what Operation
Migration pilot Joe
Cranes Must Be Taught Their Migration Route
species the idea of trucking them to the next stop would work perfectly.
Pigeons have a homing instinct that is almost infallible, and other
birds seem to know their migration route through some sort of genetic
instinct. But it is apparent that at least geese, swans and cranes
learn it by following their parents. As surrogates [substitute
parents], we pilots assume that responsibility.
It is my belief, based strictly on my own observations, that
our birds need to experience the migration first hand. We
earlier work that landmarks do not play a critical role in their
ability to navigate,
but the method they use is still a mystery. Likely it is a combination
of factors with no one guidance system that reliably gets them
back. Unlike humans they are not subjected to artificial
stimulants that remove
our environment. They don’t ride in cars or live in buildings. Once
they are transported [before they can fly] to Necedah NWR, they
spend their entire lives outdoors. They see the sun rise every
day from the same direction and they
only move under their own steam. It seems to me this would give
them a better sense
of direction than ours.
the Chain of Knowledge
Maybe it’' as simple as that; they know where they are because
they got there themselves and that chain of knowledge is broken when
they are put in crates and transported somewhere unfamiliar. If we trucked
them to the far side of the ridge they would have no awareness of the
mountains and maybe they could be pushed off course when they encounter
that obstacle on the way back.
occasion we have been forced to transport birds in crates to the next
stopover. Fatigue may cause them to drop out, or some unexplained reluctance
keeps them from leaving the pen with the rest of the birds. In fact
that happened at the beginning of the 2006 migration. But we have
never been in a situation where all the birds missed a complete section
of the migration. On each migration some of the birds make the
entire trip and the others have only missed a leg or a few sections.
During the return journey they fly as a group, and maybe their combined
knowledge is what gets them home.
Works, What Doesn't
All of this is speculation. But we do know that while taking them south in crates does not work, leading them
there does. How far we can transport them remains to be seen, but after
investing this much money and effort
to get them this far we are not prepared to risk their ability
to migrate, simply because we have been stuck for a week.
This is not about us —it's about the birds.