"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."
Our Whooping Crane Story
We are often asked why we dedicate our time and effort to save Whooping cranes. The answer is simple for us; As aviators, we have a love for the creatures that taught us the art of flying. Now that they need our help, how can we refuse?
The Whooping Crane
The Whooping Crane is the most famous endangered bird in
North America. In part because it is large, distinctive, and photogenic
and partly because, since 1967, Canadians and Americans have cooperated in
a successful recovery program to safeguard it from extinction.
Whooping cranes take their name from their distinctive whooping call.
During the early spring courtship, a pair of birds may perform a duet, or
unison call. A nesting whooper frequently bugles loud and clear during the
early morning hours. This sound carries over several kilometers, and it is
used by the adults to advertise their breeding territory to other Whooping
Cranes. Adult birds at the nest use a purring sound referred to as a contact
call to communicate with newly hatched chicks.
In flight, Whooping cranes can be distinguished from other
large white birds by the long neck extended forward and legs that trail
equally straight behind. Whooping cranes communicate vocally with each
other even while flying, using flight
calls. Birds often confused with the Whooping Crane are American
White Pelican, Tundra Swan, and Lesser Snow Goose. All three species are
mostly or entirely white but, in flight, none has long legs trailing
Each fall, the only naturally occurring Whooping cranes
migrate south from Canada's Wood Buffalo National Park to their
traditional wintering grounds in Texas at the Aransas National Wildlife
Refuge. The birds spend the winter feeding and resting. Wintering Whooping
cranes prefer blue crabs and several types of clams, but they also eat
crayfish, small fish, snakes, insects, acorns, and small wild
Breeding & Nesting
Whoopers usually build a nest in marshes or shallow ponds, in about 25 cm of water (the flightless chicks can swim to escape predators) and most often in relatively dense stands of bulrush.
A pair usually has two eggs. Both eggs generally hatch, but
if both eggs are left in the nest, usually only one chick survives. The
reason for this may be related to a food shortage, particularly when wet
areas begin to dry out and terrestrial predators, such as the gray wolf,
are able to penetrate the cranes' nesting marshes.
Family groups frequent the shallows of small ponds and
marshes, where the adults perhaps find larval forms of insects such as
dragonflies, damselflies, and mayflies, and also snails, small clams,
water beetles, leeches, frogs, and small fish to feed their young. When
the parent birds kill larger prey, such as snakes, mice, small birds,
ducklings, and even birds up to the size of half-grown bitterns, they
share the spoils of these hunts with their young.
It is believed that approximately 1,400 whooping cranes existed in 1860. Their population declined because of hunting and habitat loss until 1941 when the last migrating flock dwindled to an all-time low of 15 birds. The wild flock has slowly increased to over 180 in late 1999. This flock winters in and around Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Gulf coast of Texas. In spring, they migrate north, nesting in Wood Buffalo National Park, which straddles the border of Alberta and Northwest Territories in Canada. This flock of whooping cranes is the only naturally occurring wild population in the world. Scientists have long recognized the risk of having all of the wild whooping cranes using one wintering and breeding location. With all the wild birds concentrated in one small area, the population could be wiped out by disease, bad weather, or human impacts. Whooping crane survival depends on additional, separated populations.
International Whooping Crane Recovery Team
The Whooping Crane Recovery Team (WCRT) is the governing body charged with responsibility of the species. Consisting of ten members: five Americans and five Canadians the team of ornithologists and biologists provide policy recommendations to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Canadian Wildlife Service. Primarily, the team plans actions to protect the Aransas/Wood Buffalo natural flock and to establish two additional flocks in efforts to safeguard the whooping crane from possible extinction.
The team's efforts to establish a non-migratory Whooping crane flock began in Florida in 1993, using cranes hatched in captivity. In September, 1999, after searching for the best possible location to establish a second migratory flock, the team recommended that the flock be taught a migration route with central Wisconsin as the northern terminus and the west coast of Florida as the new wintering location. The WCRT sanctioned Operation Migration's ultralight-led migration technique as the main reintroduction method.
The Founding Members of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership
Since it's founding in 1973, the International Crane Foundation (ICF), a non-profit organization, focuses attention on the conservation of the world's 15 species of cranes. Through its programs in education, research, field ecology, captive propagation, and reintroduction, ICF helps to ensure the survival of cranes and their habitats throughout the world.
ICF will have an active role in the reintroduction of an eastern migratory population of Whooping cranes. The new flock will be released in Wisconsin and taught to migrate to Florida. ICF will educate the public about the reintroduction effort through outreach programs and on-site tours.
The ICF Crane Conservation Department will provide expertise
in rearing chicks for release, and monitor the health of the new flock.
The ICF Development Team will participate in securing funding for this
Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin
The Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin is a non-profit organization that promotes the knowledge, enjoyment, and stewardship of Wisconsin?s natural resources by providing educational programs and financially empowering grassroots as well as professional environmental programs. We help a variety of DNR programs in need of private sector support, but actively fundraise for selected major projects, like the whooping crane recovery effort. We are committed to raise start-up funds for the project?s first three years to help construct facilities and purchase equipment critical to the project?s success.
United States Fish and Wildlife Service
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Canadian Wildlife Service are given the responsibility by law to recover endangered species. The service will facilitate a diverse partnership of federal, state, and private organizations whose common goal is to establish a second migratory flock of Whooping cranes in the eastern states.
Additionally, the service has a primary responsibility for operations at the Wisconsin release site (Necedah National Wildlife Refuge) and the Florida wintering site (Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge).
As part of the overall team, the service is also responsible for flyway states coordination, budget development, and project outreach and communications.
USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
The Patuxent Wildlife Research Center of the U. S. Geological Survey provides research support to client bureaus in the Dept. of Interior, including the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U. S. Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and other clients in the United States. Patuxent is located in Laurel, MD on 12,800 acres of land managed for a diversity of mid-Atlantic habitats.
Patuxent raises about two-thirds of all Whooping cranes for release to the wild, and will supply a substantial number of cranes for the Wisconsin-to-Florida release project.
Patuxent will also provide research and logistical support for the Wisconsin release. This support will include rearing Sandhill and Whooping crane chicks conditioned to follow ultralight aircraft. Patuxent will ship these chicks to the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin for continued ultralight training.
USGS National Wildlife Health Center
The USGS National Wildlife Health Center (NWHC) is a
Federal diagnostic and research laboratory under the Department of
Interior. The Center's focus is on prevention, detection and management of
wildlife disease for the benefit of free-living wildlife. Efforts are
concentrated on animals under Federal stewardship such as migratory birds
and mammals, endangered species and animals on Federal lands. NWHC was
established in 1975 and is based in Madison, Wisconsin. Center staff
provide diagnostic and research services nationwide and internationally.
The Center has provided veterinary consultation, diagnostic services,
collaboration on health risk assessments and disease research in support
of the crane project.
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Wisconsin was the first State to officially partner with the Whooping Crane Recovery Team (WCRT) and the US Fish & Wildlife Service in the effort to establish an eastern-migrating population of Whooping cranes. The WCRT chose Wisconsin as the summer nesting site.
The state maintains and manages a portion of the wetland complex that will support the Whooping crane flock, and has supplied much of the environmental data used to assess the suitability of the Wisconsin site where the cranes will be released. The DNR is also funding the project coordinator's position and is providing many staff and department resources to the project.
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation is a private, non-profit organization established by Congress in 1984 to benefit the conservation of fish, wildlife, and plants, and the habitat on which they depend. Its goals are conservation education, habitat protection and restoration, and natural resource management. The Foundation meets these goals by creating partnerships between the public and private sectors, and strategically investing in conservation projects.
The Foundation awards challenge grants in which awarded seed funds must be matched with additional funding. The Foundation's challenge grants not only increase dollars directed to conservation, but also increase organizations dedicated to conservation. The Foundation facilitates cooperation and buy-in from diverse stakeholders by creating partnerships among federal, state, and local governments; corporations; private foundations; individuals; and non-profit organizations.
Operation Migration is proud to be a founding member of