I’d like to take a brief break from my 365 project to post something that is very near to my heart. Over the past year, I have gotten interested – then involved – in a fascinating organization – Operation Migration – whose purpose is to lead orphaned juvenile whooping cranes on their first migration. Whooping cranes are seriously endangered with only about 500 of them left in the wild. They are shy, but magnificent birds – standing about 5 feet tall. I try to imagine standing face to face with one, and it boggles the mind!

How they became so few in numbers is a direct result of habitat encroachment, as well as over zealous hunting. Humans caused this decline – so now – in my opinion – it is our responsibility to rectify this mistake. Organizations like Operation Migration are doing just that, and I’m proud to be supporting such a dedicated group of people. These people are working to save a species from what would most probably be extinction if left on it’s own. It’s my opinion that we “lose” when even one species is gone, and especially when it has been our doing that caused the demise in the first place.

Operation Migration is teaching them to migrate via ultralight aircraft, which originated in the movie, Fly Away Home, which is based upon a true story.

This video shows the evolution from the movie “Fly Away Home” to Operation Migration. They started with Canada geese, then sandhill cranes, then whooping cranes.

Whooping Cranes will not migrate unless first taught the route from their parents, so the ultralights have become – in essence — parental imprinting, and referred to, sometimes, as “yellow mama”! Once “the way” has been imprinted on them, they will return on their own, and be able to live in the wild as whooping cranes were meant to do. This “miracle” of imprinting is amazing and it has to be awe inspiring for members of Operation Migration, who have become a part of this phenomenon. Operation Migration is trying to reintroduce an eastern migratory route (Wisconsin to Florida) – one that ended many years ago. Should there be a catastrophe (such as disease or drought) in the more westerly migration (Canada to Texas), which is still in place, there will be a back up easterly migration flock of cranes.

Operation Migration does lots more than simply flying them south. Whooping cranes see no human face so their imprinting will not include humans. All who work with them – including interns, medical personnel, and pilots alike – are dressed in “costume” which are all white, shapeless “gown” – with a “helmet” like thing to cover the face, and a beak which is in one arm so that the crane chicklet will interact with that – thinking it’s mama crane. The handlers also wear black pants and boots to look like “crane legs” and to help them as they often must be wandering around in the muck along with the cranes! During the summer, prior to migration, all staff and interns takes part in the care and feeding of the growing chicklets as they take the role of their surrogate parents.

“Flight training” begins when the chick is still inside the egg, as they play recordings of the ultralight motor and their “brood call” for the unborn chicks. This allows the sound to be familiar and something they are drawn to hearing – and following! Then, as they grow over the summer, prior to migration, they are let out of the pen to follow the aircraft, first on foot, and then in the air as their wings strengthen. then in early October, they are ready to begin migration – following these ultralight aircraft south to their winter home.

This video shows – in short – a bit about Operation Migration, maybe better than all my words combined!

For more information about Operation Migration, go to their website:  www.operationmigration.org

In my next entry I’ll be talking about a crisis which Operation Migration has just now averted!