The Journey South
On their journey southward, the young whooping cranes and the ultralight aircrafts fly everyday that they can (when the weather is good) and then land to spend the night. A team of biologists on the ground follow the plane and birds. They set up a netted area where the cranes will spend the night and have it ready before the cranes land. Sometimes they spend the night in public places like parks and nature reserves, and sometimes they spend the night in people s own backyards, if they have the right habitat.
When the young cranes make their first migration to Florida following the ultralights, the journey takes anywhere from 2 to 4 months. It can be a long journey for the biologists on the road and in the air. In the spring, when the whoopers make the return trip home on their own, it only takes a few days or weeks. Without the ultralights, the cranes are able to fly more efficiently by riding thermals and soaring, rather than expending energy flapping their wings to keep up with the airplanes.
On their own, whooping cranes migrate south in pairs, family groups, or as small groups of 3 to 5 birds. The cranes in the eastern migratory population leave Wisconsin for Florida, Tennessee and other southeastern states between late October and early December. After a long day of flying, they stop at any wetland that is available and usually continue flying the next morning, unless the weather is poor. In the spring, they leave their wintering grounds to return north between late February and mid-April.
For some great photos of the young whoopers following the ultralight aircrafts south and notes from the field biologists, check out the Operation Migration Field Journal page. (Leaves EEK!)
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