Operation Migration is a non-profit organization devoted to the reintroduction of endangered Whooping Cranes throughout North America.


Make a Reservation in the Viewing Blind!

We would like to invite everyone to come out to the viewing blind at the White River Marsh training site. Plan your visit to the Operation Migration Whooping Crane Blind to witness flight training of the young Whooping Cranes, to hear the sounds and to see them fly with the aircraft.

It’s an awesome experience to see them grow from these young colts to beautiful young Whooping cranes. To arrange to participate in a blind tour, please contact Doug Pellerin at pelican0711(AT)gmail.com or call 920-923-0016.

Craniac Sherry Wynn visited the blind last week and sent us the following photos to share with you. Thanks Sherry!

(Click each image to enlarge)

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What it Takes to be Successful at Whooping Crane Reintroduction

Guest Author: Jeb Barzen, International Crane FoundationWhooping Crane Eastern Partnership

For many of us, the whooping crane defines endangered species management. This magnificent bird’s plight embodied many of the conservation issues of the 20th Century.  We are now writing its 21st Century story with a dedicated team of scientists, pilots, volunteers, and philanthropists. For a host of reasons, it is important that our grandchildren, years from now, can experience whooping cranes in Wisconsin as evidence that we patiently worked through many challenges and got it right with this iconic species.

The reintroduction of breeding whooping cranes to Wisconsin is a key step in the conservation strategy to safeguard this species.  The threat that loomed from a recent oil spill near Aransas National Wildlife Refuge this past winter should remind us why having a viable second population is crucial to the whooping crane’s recovery.

So why is re-establishing the Eastern Migratory Population of whooping cranes taking so long?  We are attempting to re-establish a species that has been lost from our landscape for over 120 years. Much has changed.  Wetlands of the tall grass prairies in the Midwest, the historical stronghold of whooping cranes, have been substantially altered.  It will take time for these birds to adapt their behaviors and breeding strategies to this landscape and its challenges, and our reintroduction team is learning right along with them.

Since the first whooping cranes were released in Wisconsin in 2001, the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership  (WCEP) has accomplished much: good adult survival, good migration routes, good pairing, good egg fertility, good nest establishment and a solid understanding of what is causing nest failure - parasitism by an avian-specific species of black fly.  No other crane reintroduction project has accomplished so much.  Yet our population is not yet sustainable.

Our next gambit is to establish whooping cranes outside of areas that the bird-specific black flies frequent and in areas that might also protect chicks from high predation rates and other, as yet unknown risks. Fortunately, we began to establish whooping cranes in new, experimental areas, as early as 2011.  These birds are just now reaching maturity and we already had one nest this year. More nesting success will likely come next year.

When you endeavor to re-establish, from scratch, an endangered species that is long-lived, our conservation efforts must match that lifespan. Our 13 year old whooping crane population and reintroduction effort, we know now, is still relatively young.  And while we are fully aware of the challenges these birds face, all partners are working deliberately and doggedly to help whooping cranes thrive in Wisconsin.

Volunteers Needed

Every year Operation Migration relies heavily on volunteers. Apart from the three pilots and outreach staff, many of the bird handlers and tracking people are volunteers. We all live in tight quarters and never know if our mornings will start with gusty winds and disappointment or an early call to take to the air with no idea when or where our day will end.  There are long stretches with little to do, punctuated by busy days with too much work and too few breaks.

As you can imagine, it is difficult to find people willing to dedicate three or more months of their lives to help us make the slow trip to Florida each fall. Many are willing to assist but with the weather dictating our progress and the open ended schedule, it is difficult to plan around family and work obligations.

Again this year we are appealing to our volunteer base, only this season our request is a little different. Rather than asking you to give up an indefinite amount of your fall and early winter, we are asking you to give us two weeks.  I hope to develop a schedule of volunteers who can take over the position for a fixed period of time.  Knowing a specific end date should make it simpler for people to plan ahead and I hope this will help us generate more interest in joining our migration team.

Of course, if you are willing to donate two weeks in say, November, we will have no idea of where we might be by then or whether your time with us will be spent twiddling your thumbs in persistent winds or running at high speed as we cross a state or two. Details, such as where and when can be worked out as we go but we can promise you some good company, delicious meals (when we have time to eat), a real sense of accomplishment and our endless gratitude.

We need a ground crew member who is willing to drive one of our motorhomes or truck and trailer combos. That is not difficult but the trucks are diesel and the trailers are 30 feet or better. Some experience is required, especially since backing up is unavoidable. You may also be recruited to help with other duties like tracking, setting up pens or helping to check on birds. Apart from the truck and trailer experience, none of these duties requires special skills and we do have on the job training - such as it is.

I should point out though that it takes a special person to share a motorhome with no guarantee of a daily shower or a regularly scheduled meal time. We have an eclectic team with diverse personalities and getting along can be challenging, considering the random menu of stress and boredom.

We hope to start the migration on or around September 21st. When it will end is anyone’s guess but for now, let’s be optimistic and say December 18th. That’s about 13 weeks or six and a half volunteer periods. Of course we would be very happy if you had more than two weeks to donate.

I suspect that many people would love to run away with this circus but I should caution you. We need able-bodied people who can lift pen panels and drive a large pickup truck pulling a long trailer. We need someone willing to live in a motorhome with a few others and get along with their roommates.

If nothing else, the Operation Migration team is dedicated, but dedication comes at a cost. It is not rocket science but it is not always easy.

I have tried to be realistic but hope I have not frightened you off and you are still interested in helping, please contact Joe by email at: joe(AT)operationmigration.org

Update on Whooping Crane #1-01

Fred Beall, General Curator tells us that Whooping crane 1-01 is doing well since his transfer to Zoo New England in Boston. Fred says "As you can see from the following photo he is adjusting well. It also took a bit of time to adjust to his new surrounding and his diet. He was slow to adapt to zoo’s diet and had lost some weight. Once he began eating again he gained the weight back to his arrival weight. To add to all of this he went into his annual molt (flight feathers). All in all a bit stressful for him but he came through just fine. It is now one week post his introduction to his exhibit and is well received by zoo visitors."
Whooping crane 1-01 in his new exhibit at Zoo New England.

Whooping crane 1-01 in his new exhibit at Zoo New England.

Unfortunately, male whooping crane no. 1-01 was removed from the population on 28 May because of repeated inadequate and uncorrectable behaviors at the Volk Field National Guard Base. He was transferred to Zoo New England in Boston, Massachusetts, on 29 May and will spend the remainder of his life in captivity. He was the oldest Whooping crane in the Eastern Migratory Population.

Replacing an Aircraft is Not Like Buying a New Car…

You can’t just walk into a dealership, pick from a hundred models and choose your favorite color. It becomes even more complex if your needs are as specific as flying with birds. Over the last decade or so, weight shift aircraft like ours have become more efficient, which generally equates to faster. You can now buy a trike that will cruise at 80mph. Bigger engines are common, along with much more instrumentation, back seats, ballistic parachutes, navigation light, brakes, beefier suspension and even heaters, all of which adds to the weight. Our primary need is slow speed. Birds fly at 38mph or thereabouts. When they are climbing just after take-off, the birds fly slower than that and often, we get ahead of them. That means we need to slow to 30 MPH or less. There are times when we would like to slow to 25 but a wing needs airflow over its surface in order to generate lift and we can’t expect miracles. On the other hand, there are times when we need to catch them and 50 or so miles per hour is the minimum we need at the top end. When the Wright brothers first took to the air, they flew at 45 mph and it has been getting faster ever since. Because everyone seems to be in a hurry, there isn’t much call for slow speed aircraft so there are not many from which to choose. Nor are there many manufacturers to choose from - especially within the United States but we needed to be able to see the trikes and work directly with the designers. That meant travelling and flying out of the continent was cost prohibitive so we picked North Wing Aviation. They are based in Washington State which is about as far away from us as you can get but they have been very cooperative. We have been using their wings for 5 or 6 years now so we have a history with them. We have been using Experimental Light Sport Aircraft or ELSA’s, which are designed strictly for recreational flying and can be maintained by the owners or the pilots. The FAA required that we get Special Light Sport Aircraft, SLSA, which are designed for the only commercial use in this category which is to be paid to provide training. To provide an extra degree of safety, these aircraft must be maintained by a licensed aircraft mechanic. Because of the havoc a student pilot can cause on an aircraft, like bad landings and general misuse, these trikes are designed with heavy suspension and lots of back seat controls so the instructor can override his student’s mistake and hopefully, save their lives. All of that extra protection adds weight. So Kamron Blevins from North Wing had to reverse engineer one of his SLSA designs to make it lighter. Richard van Heuvelen had to redesign our prop guard and all of that custom work had to be approved by the FAA.
Kamron Blevins, Designer and owner of NorthWing Aviation alongside Joe Duff

Kamron Blevins, Designer and owner of NorthWing Aviation alongside Joe Duff

Just like the buying experience between aircraft and cars is different, so too is the flying. You don’t just hop from one to the next with the ease of a valet parking attendant. Each one has its own characteristics and those differences have consequences. The pilots need some hours of flying to become so familiar with these aircraft that it becomes second nature. That allows them to concentrate on flying with the birds as well as flying the aircraft. After two trips to Washington State, the fitting of all of modifications, several meetings with the FAA and a number of inspections, our new trikes are ready to fly. Now begins the process of getting the birds familiar with them and the pilots comfortable.  I do wish the Ford Dealer down the street sold airplanes.
A test flight in Washington

A test flight in Washington

First Day with the NEW TRIKE!

Volunteer crane handler, Tom Schultz sent along the following images captured yesterday while he was in the crane enclosure peeking out.

Unlike Saturday when the young Whooping cranes dutifully followed along, yesterday they seemed rather aloof. Three followed, albeit from a distance, and the other four went in the opposite direction. It took me awhile to realize what the issue was - Richard had flown into the training site with one of our new aircraft!

Whoopers 2014 7-14 runway1_1 Whoopers 2014 7-14 runway4_1
Richard’s patience (and a hefty supply of mealworms) won them over and in the end all of the youngsters seemed quite comfortable with the new and improved aircraft.

Wisconsin Public Radio Today at 3:36pm CDT

Tune in to Central Time on Wisconsin Public Radio this afternoon at 3:36 pm (CDT) to listen to Dr. Barry Hartup, Director of Veterinary Science  with the International Crane Foundation, discuss the status of Whooping Cranes in the wild.

First Day with the New Wing!

Weather conditions allowed Richard to fly to the training site today to introduce the young Whooping crane chicks to the large wing attached to the aircraft.

Until now, they’ve only seen a small, dummy wing on our ground training trike at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.

As Tom Schultz and Geoff Tarbox opened the gates to the enclosure, most came out readily but number 8-14 hung back in the wetpen until Richard coaxed her out onto the training strip to join her flockmates.

Lots of treats were handed out under the new (to the chicks) wing of the trike to convince them that the big bad shadow wasn’t as scary as it first appeared and in no time at all they were following behind as Richard slowly pulled it toward the north end of the strip. More treats for following before heading back.

It’s a process that must be taken slowly. Baby steps.

Tom Schultz sent along the following images for your enjoyment!

Whoopers 2014 7-11 runway1 Whoopers 2014 7-11 runway2 Whoopers 2014 7-11 runway5 Whoopers 2014 7-11 runway6 Whoopers 2014 7-11 runway8 Whoopers 2014 7-11 runway9 Whoopers 2014 7-11 runway10 Whoopers 2014 7-11 runway11

CHIP IN - For Cranes of Course!

Here’s a FUN way to support whooping cranes! 

Purchase a 2014 Whooping crane Chip from our Marketplace for $20. Each Chip is individually numbered and contains an alpha/numeric code. As soon as you receive your Chip in the mail, visit www.coinlogin.org to register your name and email, along with your Chip number and code. Over the next few months, we’ll be holding random draws for some fun items so keep an eye on your inbox. Once all the Chips are gone, we’ll hold FOUR additional draws:
  • Two for CITGO gas cards, valued at $100 each.
  • $500 CASH
  • A flight back seat with our CEO, Joe Duff as pilot, while he flies in the chase position with the Class of 2014 Whooping cranes!

There are only 1000 Chips available, so be sure to order yours soon so you don’t miss out!


Get YOUR Chip Now!

They Have Arrived!

At 2:45pm yesterday and after a flight aboard a private jet, which took off at 9:30am from Baltimore, Maryland, the seven young Whooping cranes that comprise the Class of 2014 were released from their individual crates in the enclosure at the White River Marsh training facility. First out was number 10-14. When Richard van Heuvelen opened the crate door, she at first stayed inside, looking out at her new surroundings. While she was getting her bearings, Richard has the second and third crate opened. One-by-one they all tentatively stepped out into the bright sunlight, looking great after their long trip to Wisconsin. As always our sincerest gratitude goes out to Windway Capital and their wonderful pilot Mike Frakes and his friend Jose Figueroa and to Dr. Jennifer Hausmann, University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, Zoo Medicine Resident and Ashley Krisp, ICF Veterinary Student Research Intern. Also on hand for the move was Doug Pellerin and Tom Schultz who always lend an experienced helping hand when we need them. Thank you boys… Here are some photos captured yesterday.
Doug Pellerin and Richard van Heuvelen off-load each crate onto Wisconsin soil Photo: Tom Schultz

Doug Pellerin and Richard van Heuvelen off-load each crate onto Wisconsin soil. (Photo: Tom Schultz)

Our youngest, number 10-14 was the first out of her crate inside the enclosure at White River Marsh in Green Lake County, WI.

Our youngest, number 10-14 was the first out of her crate inside the enclosure at White River Marsh in Green Lake County, WI.

Very quickly the young Whooping cranes began exploring their new surroundings. Pictured are foreground: #10-14, right: #3-14 and back left: #9-14 (Photo: Tom Schultz)

Very quickly the young Whooping cranes began exploring their new surroundings. Pictured are foreground: #10-14, right: #3-14 and back left: #9-14 (Photo: Tom Schultz)

Doug entices #4-14 to check out the water basin. (Photo: Tom Schultz)

Doug entices #4-14 to check out the water basin. (Photo: Tom Schultz)