Operation Migration Puts Crane Call Recordings to Work
was such a project necessary? Migration is a behavior most
birds learn from other members of their flocks. With no
Cranes in the East, experts hoped Ooperation Migration's tiny
airplanes and costumed pilots could do what Whooper parents
the 2000 "trial run" were collected as eggs from the
wild; they had no one but humans (with crane puppets) to
route. If all went well with the Sandhill migration experiment,
the next year (2001) Operation Migration's team would
begin teaching Whooping Crane
raised by humans)
a migration route between their ancient nesting grounds and a
wintering ground 1,200 miles away.
Vocal Calls Send Meanings
Dr. Wessling had collected six crane sounds for Operation Migration. The sounds are the calls that cranes use to communicate vocally. An adult uses the contact call or brood call, for example, to say to a chick: "It's okay. Follow me!" Each sound is a code, much like the code we understand when someone says "Shhhhh." The six vocal codes collected by Dr. Wessling mean these things to cranes:
Those six calls would be played through hand-held players concealed on people who fed the cranes, and from the crane puppets to "talk" to the cranes. They
Dr. Wessling's research was valuable. "Hearing the recorded sounds made the cranes better understand the training strategy and do what the trainers wanted them to do. We can ask the cranes to follow either the airplane, or caretaker #1 or #2, or whomever is calling them," said Dr. Wessling.
The Power of Acoustic Communication
Once some cranes were lured away during training by a pair of wild Sandhill Cranes. What now? The trainers played the recordings and the cranes came back! Another time, it was impossible to land the plane on the island where the pilots wanted to move the cranes to adapt them to the wild. How could they get the cranes to the island where the plane couldn't easily land? Members of the ground crew hid behind a blind on the island with a megaphone and a CD so they could play the calls. The plane flew into sight with the Sandhills behind, made several turns over the island, and stopped playing crane calls. That's when the people on the island immediately began playing calls with their megaphone and CD. The cranes got a little confused, but they heard the "mother" call from the island so they went down and landed. The experts were thrilled to see what the recorded calls could do. That's putting crane calls to work!
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