Thursday, November 21, 2013

Operation Migration

We love watching the sand hill cranes here in the park.  When we told our daughter about how they were used in Operation Migration she was fascinated and thought it would be a good blog post to share the story with others.

Due to the dwindling populations of the Whooping Cranes, a migration experiment took place in the fall of 2000.  Since the Sandhill crane population was in abundance, a select group of eggs were selected to be raised and taught to migrate with the hopes they would then lead the Whooping cranes south in the future.  This was the beginning of Operational Migration.

This group of Sandhill Cranes were trained to follow their "parent crane" on a migration from the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin to Florida.  This trip took 40 days with average flights of 30 mph....following an ultralight aircraft.

The pilots and handlers always wore costumes when working with the cranes.  The costume was designed to mask the human form.  This consisted of baggy gray fabric that extended below the knees to make sure the "legs" could not be distinguished.  Can you imagine wearing this during the hot humid summers in Wisconsin, much less flying an ultralight dressed like this?

The experiment was a huge success when the cranes not only followed the aircraft all the way to Florida but returned on their own to Wisconsin the following year.  Yup...just more Wisconsin snowbirds..

The trainers also had to be careful not to talk, sneeze or cough or anything that would be considered "human".  The only voices these cranes have ever heard are those of other Sandhill cranes via a hand-held CD player or loudspeakers mounted on the ultralights.

For the best experience, watch one of the many videos on You Tube showing this project.  I've attached one for you here.

Long Live the Queen of the Cranes


  1. What a wonderful story. These cranes are beautiful birds, and it is good to know that people are out there helping them to survive and populate. This was a great post. Thank you. You have a wonderful day. Hugs, Edna B.

  2. This is one of my favorite stories ... I have followed them for years and have even been up there for their annual (fund raising festival) to witness the flying of the Whoopers behind the Ultra lites ... I have posted pictures, if you recall. They are also connected with the International Crane Foundation that is in Baraboo, Wisconsin as you know. We took our Great Migration trip with them last year. These people have dedicated thier lives to saving the cranes, both the Whooping Cranes and all Cranes world wide. We should have more poeple willing to make such a committment to conservation ... our world is a better place because of them. Wonderful post Queen of All Good Things ...

    Andrea @ From The Sol

  3. I love this post. I have seen documentaries on this group and their missions and contributions. I watch them as they come through our area each year. I have a long standing love of them, my favourite bird. I wrote an essay on their plight of habitat loss. Thank you for this. This is a post very near and dear to my heart. Well done. Hugs.