New Gate Makes "Chass" Pen Safer
Contributed by Sara Zimorski

A new automatic float gate was built into the top-netted pen at the "Chass" release pen site in 2008. The wood gate on the left opens from the top-netted pen into the large open pen. The small gate on the right is the entry gate used by the birds and costumed caretakers to come in from outside. Click photo for a closer view.
Photos Sara Zimorski

If a storm hits the chick's Florida pen area without warning, the birds can be in danger if they're in the pen and can't get out. This led to tragedy for the Class of 2006. The Chass pen is 5 miles offshore, and the usual way to get there is by airboat. But during stormy weather, conditions may be too dangerous for helpers to travel by airboat to release the birds and help may not arrive.

Pilot and inventor Richard van Heuvelen designed a new release gate. When water in the top-netted pen reaches a certain level, heavy tanks rise in the water, lifting an "arm" that unlatches the gate. The gate falls away and the birds can escape. Birds have a better chance to find safety if they can fly free.

Click Sara's photo for larger view. Find the parts of the float and latch mechanism that will open the gate if the water level rises too high. (Because the birds are not in the top-netted pen in this photo, the automatic float gate is locked so it can't open and accidentally fall on a bird that was standing outside the pen.)

Try This! Journal Question

  • Tell about a time when you had a problem and thought of a way to solve it by making something.
  • Why do you think the young cranes are safer if they can fly free?