A Plane and a Plan
What's going on here? What is this funny-looking airplane? These birds are endangered young Whooping cranes. They are following the plane on their first migration! The pilot has taught the young birds to follow this tiny ultralight plane. The plane is leading the chicks to their winter home. If all goes well, the birds will remember the route and return—all on their own—in the spring.
Bringing Back the Cranes
The planes and cranes are part of an experiment that began in 2001. Scientists wanted to bring the whoopers back to a part of North America where they vanished over a century ago. The plan will help save this endangered species by starting a whole new flock of migrating, wild Whooping cranes, back in their former range.
The Plan is Working!
The new flock is called the Eastern flock. How many whoopers are in the new flock today?
The Migration Route
This map shows the Eastern flock's route from their summer home to their winter home. The migration route is shown in red on the map. Each dot is a stopover site where the cranes can rest and wait for good weather.
Cranes Follow Parents
Young cranes must learn where to migrate by following their parents. But with no adult Whooping cranes left in the East, humans had to do the job. Why do you think scientists must get the chicks to think the ultralight plane is their "parent?"
Kids Follow Cranes
Each October, the young cranes are finally ready to take off on migration. Ultralights lead them, and kids can follow right along on the Web! How long will the risky, 1200-mile journey take? Will the birds all make it safely? Come along to find out!
Did You Know?
• At five feet tall, Whooping cranes are the tallest birds in North America.
• Whoopers are the rarest and most endangered of the world's 15 crane species.
• In 1945-46, all but 15 Whooping cranes had died. Since then, this flock has slowly grown to over 200 birds. Today these birds are the Western flock. They migrate between Texas and northern Canada.
• Biologists worry when all the world's whoopers are in only one place. A storm, disease or oil spill could wipe them out. The species has a better chance of survival with more than one flock…so welcome to the whoopers of the tiny new Eastern flock. They migrate between Wisconsin and Florida.
Whooping cranes are making a comeback. Join their adventures!