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June 21, 2003

Flight School Begins
A few days after the chicks arrived, the crew brought each group out of the pens and introduced them to their respective training strips. Dan was on the training strip with them, assuring them that the costumes had not changed, the trike (ultralight) was the same, and only the location was different. Since the young whoopers already were familiar with the trike and the costumes, they adapted quite well.
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The trike is still "wingless."
Photos WCEP.
Later the wing will be added. The chicks get used to each change gradually.
The chicks are getting their all-important primary feathers. Which chick is in front? (Click to enlarge, then read leg band.)

In their first days at the refuge, the cranes work with the wingless aircraft. They follow the taxiing trike for the length of the grassy training strip. As their flight feathers and wing muscles develop, the colts (young cranes) will eventually take flight and follow the airborne ultralight over central Wisconsin. Flight training will continue until the flock departs on fall migration to Florida. The crew is hoping for an early October departure.

Notice the black feathers on the cranes' wingtips? These are called the primary feathers. The young cranes' feathers are growing, and the primary wing feathers are big and strong enough to catch air now. A few of the older cranes have even been gliding a few feet already. The long, black outer feathers must do the hardest work in flying. The black pigments within the feathers make the feathers stronger, so they'll last during a long migration. When the wing flaps downward, each primary feather's strong, flat surface pushes against the air to hold the bird up. The large surface area of these feathers helps hold the birds up when thermal air currents or updrafts push against them.

Each day the team of pilots and trainers rise with the sun. They quietly travel to the first site to conduct the training session--if weather permits. Calm days are best. When the cranes at one site finish their training session, the crew travels to the other site. There they begin the process again with the other cohort. Soon there will be a third group of chicks arriving, and another training site to visit each day!

Later, as the cranes begin to follow the ultralight in flight, the trainers will merge them into larger groups based on the dominance structure until there's one unified flock just before migration.


Try This! Journaling Question
  • The pilots and trainers--Joe, Dan, Brooke, Richard and other crew members--are very dedicated. The birds must be looked after 7 days a week. The team stays at Necedah, living in RVs, away from their families for weeks at a time. Who do you know in your own life who is very dedicated to a goal? (It could be YOU!) What traits describe a person with dedication?


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

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