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September 16, 2003

A Record: 29 Minutes in Flight

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Clip: Joe explains flight order
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Led by Operation Migration pilot Brooke Pennypacker, today's training flight--with all 16 cranes--lasted a record 29 minutes! (Yesterday's flight was 24 minutes.) With their endurance building up so well, will it be possible to leave on migration earlier in October?

Speaking of records, here's another one: During one training session, two wild Sandhill cranes, along with subadult Whoopers 102 and 101 (ultralight "graduates")-- joined the formation. That added up to twenty birds following the ultralight! This is a record number of cranes ever led by one aircraft. But there's more. Subadult crane #102 moved up in the formation until she took over the lead position directly behind the ultralight's wing. THEN, several chicks began to attack her, eventually forcing her out of the formation entirely. That's "pecking order" in action!

We'll learn more about flight order in the weeks ahead.The photo above shows 16 birds in order behind the ultralight. Pilot and project leader Joe Duff says this about flight order in the video (link under photo): "When they all take off there's a bit of a challenge. The one that's the strongest can pull out to the front and take over and the birds will all follow that bird and there's an order to the flight all the way through. When that bird gets tired and can no longer be lead, another bird moves up and challenges. You will always see a specific order. Now, it changes; the lead may be 3 or 4 different birds that fight for the lead, and there will be 3 or 4 middle birds and 3 or 4 end birds. But you'll never see the last bird in the lead position unless something weird has happened. But given time, as the flight stabilizes, they're back to the same order again."


Try This! Journaling Question

  • With weather delays, the 2001 ultralight migration began October 17; the 2002 migration began October 13. What's your prediction for departure this fall?

  • Do you think flight order is based on competition or on cooperation? (Joe has more to say on this; stay tuned, and then you can compare your answer with his.)


Journey North is pleased to feature this educational adventure made possible by the

Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP).

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