Flock Takes Flight

The 2014 flock of young Whooping Cranes follow the Operation Migration ultralight. Photo by Operation Migration.

Seven whooping crane chicks took to the skies to begin their migration to Florida on the morning of October 10. After months of preparation and training, the chicks left White River Marsh State Wildlife Area near Berlin, Wis., and began their journey behind an ultralight plane. These efforts are led by Operation Migration, a Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) member.

Every summer whooping crane chicks are conditioned to follow an ultralight aircraft. These chicks are initially raised and trained by costumed humans with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center before being brought to Wisconsin where they continue training. This technique repeatedly proves effective because of the birds’ natural instinct to imprint on the first creature that nurtures it.

A second technique, the parent-reared release method, was also used again this year. These chicks are hatched and raised by their captive whooping crane parents at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland. In late September, four of these whooping crane chicks began their integration into the wild at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin.

Migration behind the ultralight planes can take anywhere from six to 16 weeks depending on weather conditions. Follow this year’s ultralight flock at