Whooping Crane Whooping Crane

July 20, 2002

A Memorable Sight


Photo OM and WCEP

The oldest group, cohort one, is penned at site 2 and these are the birds hampered by the return of two Whooping cranes from last year's flock. This morning the yearlings were nowhere to be seen when we arrived to train the younger birds. But that changed. Just after Joe got airborne with the cohort of 7 chicks flying behind him, Sara Zimorski radioed some news: the interlopers were back! Joe glanced over his shoulder and saw a magnificent sight:

"As we circled around the backside of the pen, the two yearlings moved in to sail off my right wing while the seven fledglings followed slightly behind. The episode lasted only a few seconds but left a lasting visual memory -- no more than 20 feet away, two magnificent birds in full adult plumage, black wingtips over stark white bodies maneuvered with gentle grace. Behind them flew seven chicks, white patches just beginning to show through fledgling feathers the colour of caramel corn. As I turned to land at the north end of the field the two older birds dropped into the marsh behind the pen and the youngsters landed with me on the training strip." WOW!!

While Sara coaxed the chicks, Joe chased off the other two as best he could, slipping in the muck that the cranes easily danced over, staying just out of reach. Then, back on the training strip, two of the younger birds began to challenge one of the older birds. Surprisingly, the larger bird backed off. Joe chased him away from the pen. Both yearlings finally took off north. They did not show up again for the rest of the day--but tomorrow it may all change again.

Are you wondering why the pilots don't want the yearling birds to mingle with the chicks? Joe explains: "We are worried they may form an attachment. We know from earlier studies that second-year birds will sometimes let us fly with them but we no longer control the flight. If we let the two age groups mix, the younger birds may prefer to follow the more experienced we could lose our chance to teach them the migration."

Try This! Journaling Question
  • If you were Joe Duff flying the ultralight this day, how would you feel as you looked over your shoulder to see two full grown yearlings you had trained the year before, and seven chicks just learning to follow you?

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

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