Whooping Crane Whooping Crane

September 18, 2002

Seventeen Together-- Except for One

Photo Operation Migration

"Now that we are back in the birds' good graces, it is time to integrate the groups into one," announced OM team leader Joe Duff." Get set for flying feathers. Putting all the birds together means leadership struggles as they work out their new pecking order. There will be leaders and there will be followers. The team has an idea that can help cut down the stress: they will house all the birds at the east site. This pen/training area will be new ground for all the birds and eliminate any "home court advantage."

Richard flew the lead plane and Joe backed him up in the chase plane, following behind to coax along any birds that might drop out. They began by flying the six loyal birds from the group of ten on the 2-mile flight to the east site. This is the middle group of birds in age rank, and they flew a personal best of 6.5 minutes. Next, Richard and Joe led the four cranes by air to the east site. Less experienced, these younger birds swooped in and out and switched from one wing to the other wing of Richard's trike, but they all landed at the east site after five minutes.

Finally, it was the oldest group's turn to fly with Richard to their new home. Their site is only one mile to the east site where the whole group will live. It should have been an easy flight. Here's what happened, in Joe Duff's words:

"The wind was blowing out of the south, making take-off difficult. Despite their enthusiasm, we had to encourage them to stay on the ground with us until we could taxi to the north end and turn around. The wind in their face was too exciting and they took off to the south and circled the pen. We expected them all to land with Richard, allowing him to begin the exercise again but four of the seven dropped down beside my aircraft next to the pen.

"We both took off with our respective groups and planned to join them in the air but in the confusion Crane #3 turned back, taking Crane #5 with her. The rest made the flight in short order and while I helped Brooke and Kelly move them into their new home, Richard went back to find the dropouts. He intercepted #5, who was willing to follow as long as he had the to wing to himself. Rather than land, Richard flew slowly, circling overhead, and his lone bird dropped out, landing next to the handlers (crane caretakers) on the runway. Things began to resemble "Richard's bird delivery service"; first 6, then 4, and then 1 as he again returned to the west site to retrieve the errant crane number 3. He made three attempts to convince the lone crane to join him in flight, but each time the bird turned back, confused by the absence of its flockmates and reluctant to leave familiar ground. I joined Richard for two more attempts; but despite the advantage of two aircraft, we could not convince her to leave. Finally Mark Nipper and Brian Clauss returned her to the pen.

"After 24 hours of abandonment conditioning, she may be more attentive so we will try again in the morning. For many of these birds, it is the first time they have landed at a site other than home and their anxiety is heightened by the presence of the other birds. We will slowly introduce the two groups and allow them time to become familiar. If we have planned it well and luck is on our side, a single cohesive flock will emerge in time to start the migration."

Try This! Journaling Question
  • How do Joe's comments show that he understands and cares how these birds think?
  • Think of a time when you were learning a new skill. Did you have an understanding coach or teacher? In what ways was that helpful?

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

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