This Thing Called Courage

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Whooping Cranes Fly Away Home

Before we get into the Whooping Cranes (which I used to spell 'Whopping Cranes,' as a kid, because they were so big, I presumed) I want to say in response to a few requests (Hi Pam in Berlin! How are you? Haven't heard from you in a bit!) that I have no news about Tucker, the little dog that was lost last month in the bitter cold. The guy at the store knows nothing, and I have lost the phone number of ther owners-- but I'll keep digging and hopefully can find out something. I am still hoping for the best.

Anyway, on to the Whooping Cranes-- one of the most magnificent, if not most magnificent, and certainly most endangered, wild birds in North America-- now getting a second chance at life because of an organization called Operation Migration. Because the numbers of the birds were down to so few-- 15 or so-- there was no way to teach them how to migrate when they were bred in captivity-- which, basically, meant the end of the species. Then Operation Migration came along.

From their web site:

"For the Whooping crane there is no freedom but that of unbounded wilderness, no life except its own. Without meekness, without a sign of humility, it has refused to accept our idea of what the world should be like. If we succeed in preserving the wild remnant that still survives, it will be no credit to us; the glory will rest on this bird whose stubborn vigor has kept it alive in the face of increasing and seemingly hopeless odds."--Robert Porter Allen

"Operation Migration was founded in 1994 as a non- profit charitable organization by Bill Lishman and Joe Duff. That was five years after Bill became the first human to fly with birds, and one year after the two artists, turned biologists, used ultralight aircraft to lead a small flock of Canada geese from Ontario, Canada to Virginia, USA. The unassisted return migration of these geese the following spring garnered world-wide attention that led to the making of the hit movie Fly Away Home with Columbia Pictures.

"To perfect techniques, and ensure that once released, birds conditioned to follow their ultralights would remain wild, several migration studies were conducted with non-endangered Sandhill cranes in subsequent years. The results of these studies were evaluated by the Canada / United States Whooping Crane Recovery Team. Like many birds, Whooping cranes learn their migration route by following their parents. But this knowledge is lost when the species is reduced and there are no longer any wild birds using the flyway. Until Operation Migration was asked by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to spearhead a reintroduction of the world's most endangered cranes, there was no method of teaching migration to captive reared Whooping cranes released into the wild.

"In the first five years of the program, approximately 60 birds have been taught a migration route between Wisconsin and Florida. This is 4 times the number that existed in the early 1940's. Operation Migration Inc works in partnership with nine private and government agencies known collectively as the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership."

Every year, Operation Migration trains a new 'class' of Whooping Cranes how to migrate, from Florida to Wisconsin. The sad news is that the Class of 2006, 17 juvenile Whooping Cranes in all, were killed in those nasty killer thunder-tornado storms that swept through Florida last month. It was a devastating blow to the operation, but they are determined not to give up-- especially after one of the bords from the Class of 2006 was found hiding in the woods, scared and rumpled but very much alive. They have set up a donation site in memory of the Class of 2006. That and much more information about their wonderful, fascinating work can be found at

And, click here to hear the sound that wild Whooping Cranes make: can you just see a full moon rising over wild bayous and plains as these magnificant birds soar overhead, heading south, or heading north?


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