Teaching Whooping Cranes To Migrate

This Way Survival: An ultralight plane piloted by an Operation Migration team member guiding whooping cranes from Wisconsin to their winter nesting grounds in Florida. [Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux/NYT]
This Way Survival: An ultralight plane piloted by an Operation Migration team member guiding whooping cranes from Wisconsin to their winter nesting grounds in Florida. [Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux/NYT]

Ever since childhood, Whooping cranes have animated for me a personal mythology of freedom and wildness endangered. Read my essay, Whooping Cranes, Family Values, and the First Amendment.  So I was thrilled to find this photo in today’s NYT Magazine. I knew immediately what it was about. Twenty years ago. I visited the International Crane Foundation in Wisconsin, where I saw whoopers for the first and only time and learned about the experimental process of imprinting used to teach captive-bred cranes how to migrate. This magazine story brings it vividly to life.

Rescue Flight – Taking to the Skies With the Endangered Whooping Crane – NYT 022209:

People started gathering at the Lighthouse Missionary Baptist Church in southwestern Kentucky before sunrise. First there were just a few, sealed in their cars with the heat blasting, but before long there were close to 100, standing in the parking lot in multiple coats. It was the first Friday in December, 23 degrees at dawn and nearly windless. Everyone was looking up.

Operation Migration’s four ultralight planes floated into view over some oak and maple trees, then passed over the small, white chapel. An ultralight is powered by a massive rear propeller. In the sky, it looks like a scaled-down Formula 1 car dangling under the wing of a hang glider. Because the little planes taxi on three wheels, pilots call them trikes. At 200 feet, the first pilot, Chris Gullikson, was perfectly visible in his trike’s open cockpit. He was wearing his whooping-crane costume, a white hooded helmet and white gown that looked like a cross between a beekeeping suit and a Ku Klux Klan get-up. Gullikson and the other trike pilots were going to pick up the 14 juvenile whooping cranes that they were, little by little, leading south for the winter. Traditionally, and for many millenniums, cranes learned to migrate by following other cranes. But traditions have changed. Outside the church, a plucky, silver-haired woman named Liz Condie was explaining to the spectators why, exactly, her team has had to dress up and step in. Read more | OperationMigration.org

Surveying the snow and ice that once again veneers my wood yard, maybe this afternoon should be devoted to staying warm while reading magazine articles. Two others that got my attention this week are Richard Florida on creative destruction vs. economic crisis and Robert Darnton on the future of books.

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