Training Update

As Geoff mentioned on Monday, chicks 8-14 & 10-14 have been reluctant to exit the pen each morning. The past couple of days, however, I’ve seen an improvement. This morning six of the young cranes came pouring out, while number 10 held back. She eventually sashayed up to the feed station and decided now would be a good time for a quick bite of breakfast. Between nibbles, you could see her craning her neck (ha!) to see the trike waiting outside but no way would she head out on her own.

Brooke began taxiing to the north end of the grass strip with the six cranes trailing behind in a flurry of wings and legs. It would seem most are now flying in what we call ‘ground effect’ flight. Once at the far end he left the engine running while he climbed out and began passing out the grapes – a reward for a job well done.

Shortly after, we noticed number 10-14 sauntering toward him and her flockmates. Seems Geoff and Tom had managed to convince her that it was more fun outside the pen.

About halfway to the trike I think she spied the grapes and flap-ran the rest of the way to get her share of the treats. Maybe she just likes being fashionably late?

Training proceeded with a couple of forays into the tall grass by a couple of the crane-kids but they always came back to the runway once the aircraft began heading the other way. All in all a definite improvement.

Here are some images that Tom Schultz captured from inside the enclosure to share with you.

whooping cranes follow ultralight aircraft

Seems the cranes are all wings now as they head off in pursuit of the aircraft. Tom managed to capture all seven crane chicks flapping behind Brooke.

whooping cranes with ultralight aircraft

More grapes are handed out to reward the birds for a great training session.


MileMakers NEEDED!


It’s been 3 weeks since the Whooping cranes in the Class of 2014 arrived at their summer training site on White River Marsh in Green Lake County, Wisconsin. Training is going great – for the majority of the cohort. Crane chicks 8-14 & 10-14 are doing their best to keep the pilots on their toes.

In just 8 weeks (yikes!) we anticipate they’ll be ready for their first-ever southward migration – following our small aircraft for more than 1200 miles and crossing 7 states. While they may be ready – we’re not. We still need to ensure we have the funding in place to cover their journey.

Each year we launch the MileMaker fundraising campaign – This very important campaign raises the funds necessary to carry out the 1200-mile aircraft-guided Whooping crane migration from Wisconsin to Florida each fall.

The way it works is quite simple — We have determined that each mile of the 1200-mile southward migration has a cost of $200 associated with it. This covers insurance, fuel and maintenance costs for the ground vehicles and aircraft, food for the cranes and the crew, any repairs or maintenance required for the crane enclosures, etc.

Right now we have TWO MileMaker challenges available to take advantage of! Babs has offered to DOUBLE THE NEXT 5 MILES THAT COME IN, and Sue has agreed to MATCH 3 MILES! That’s a total of 8 miles that will be DOUBLED – making it 16 miles!

By far, the MileMaker Campaign funds the largest portion of our annual budget and is critical to the success of our annual Whooping crane migration.

Currently, only 261 miles of the 1200 mile trek are sponsored, which is enough to get them to Illinois – so we have a long way to go. Please consider becoming a MileMaker sponsor and help us help the Class of 2014.

You have the choice of sponsoring a full mile ($200), a half mile ($100) or even a quarter mile ($50). In addition to helping these young Whooping cranes, your name will be entered into a draw for an incredible thank you gift, which will be held at the end of the campaign on December 31st or when all 1200 miles are sponsored. If your name is drawn you will receive a two-week stay at a private home in beautiful Costa Rica!

Sponsor a full mile and you get four entries into the Costa Rica trip – sponsor a half mile and you get two – and quarter mile sponsors receive one entry into the draw.

We’ll also list your support on the MileMaker recognition page so everyone will see that YOU CARE about a future with Whooping cranes.

As an added bonus, all MileMaker supporters will receive a secret link to a selection of monthly E-calendar images for your PC desktop. Download all of the images at once, or return each month for your new photo! Here are a couple of the monthly calendar images:

Aug14_th Sept14_th February 2015

 Will you help?


Training Strip Makeover

Occasionally the grass training strip adjacent the crane enclosure at White River Marsh must be mowed… because, well, grass. grows. How fast it grows changes from year-to-year just as the weather does. During the 2013 season we mowed it once at the beginning of the season and as it was a very dry year, once more on August 13th.

This year Caleb mowed it during the last week of June and here we are a month later and yesterday was mowing day. It’s been a wet year.

Mowing the runway sounds easy enough but when you’re raising cranes and trying to keep them from all things human, it gets a bit more complicated. The cranes must be led away from ‘home’ on a short field trip, which actually leads them to a secluded pond out of sight and earshot of the noisy mower.

Brooke and Geoff opened the gates and all seven youngsters readily followed them to the north end of the site before they disappeared behind some trees and over a small rise. They got the fun task.

Tom Schultz drew the short straw and after texting me to see if the coast was clear, he hopped on the mower, which was hidden behind the viewing blind and proceeded to do laps around the grass strip until 80 minutes later when he mowed the last blade of grass.

Once he was finished he hid inside the blind and texted Geoff that all was clear and they could begin the long walk back to the pen. As Brooke and Geoff led them home, Tom captured a few photos for us.

Math Question: (because I hated these types of math questions as a kid and here’s my chance to get some revenge)

Tommy started mowing at 7:25 and finished at 8:45. He completed 11 laps and each lap is 550 yards. How many miles per hour, was Tommy’s mower mowing? (leave your answer in the comments below this post)

Whoopers 7-28-14

Whoopers 7-28-14 Whoopers 7-28-14

Whoopers 7-28-14



Programs Tomorrow at Ripon Library

If you’re in the Ripon area why not attend one of tomorrow’s programs about the Whooping crane?

The Ripon Public Library is located at 120 Jefferson Street in Ripon, Wisconsin. Bob and Mary Vethe will be presenting a program geared toward the little ones at 3:30pm and then Joe Duff will be giving a presentation for teens and adults beginning at 6pm.

We hope you can make it!


Where Are My Pants?

Howdy folks!  It’s been a while since I’ve checked in with you all.  My last recollection of my previous update was back in Patuxent.  Seeing as we’re in White River Marsh, dealing with young Whooping cranes that are so close to flying they can taste it, that might as well be a million years ago.  So where are we now?

Our birds are nice and comfy here and White River Marsh. Our pen’s still in tip-top shape. Our wetpen is still nice and wet. I haven’t had to fire up the pump to maintain the water level once this season.  I imagine that day will come soon.  But not today, and probably not next week.  Runway could use a little mowing.  But we’ll get to that.

But how are the birds holding up? To be honest, I could wish they were a little more enthusiastic about training. The birds are pretty slow coming out of the pen, and we’ve got two birds, 8-14 and 10-14 that won’t come out even if you give them a million dollars. That isn’t to say they haven’t been out for training since they’ve arrived. But RIchard has to lead them out, first. Add to that, it’s not uncommon to see them wander off the runway away from the trike. Last Thursday when we trained, they were halfway down the path leading to the pond where we’re going to take the birds when we mow the runway. Richard and I agree, we’ve never seen birds this uninterested in the trike. At least not since 2011.

The funny thing is, they come to the costume just fine. When I come into the pen every evening at roost checks, all I have to do is stand at the gate, and all the birds will start heading towards me, including our two delinquents. We’ve tried lots of tricks to get them interested in the trike. We’ve had all the costumes sit by the trike once the doors were opened and just wait for all the birds to come out.  it worked for the first few training sessions. But after the third or fourth day, that’s when they started losing interest. We’ve tried leading them out of the pen during training, locking them in the dry pen before training, standing in the doorway and just wait for the birds to come to us, like we were doing roost checks. The last one was particularly enlightening, as 8-14 and 10-14 were right in the dry pen, ready to say hi to us. But as soon as we opened the door and they saw the trike, they stopped dead in their tracks.

Now, those two have seen the trike just as much as any other bird back in Patuxent. But the X variable in all of this is that this is the new trike we’re using, which they weren’t exposed to back in Patuxent. But to be fair, they do eventually start following the trike after the first five or ten minutes they’re out the gate and then they follow okay, at least. But still, every morning it’s like they’ve seen the trike for the first time.

However, I’m sure this is just a phase. New trike or no, we always have birds that don’t like to come out for training for the first few weeks. They don’t always take this long to come around, nor or they this uninterested but as soon as they start flying, they’ll have a new outlook on life. Just ask 2-14 and 3-14. They’re already flying in ground effect after the trike, at least for a few seconds the last few training sessions. It won’t be long before 4-14,  7-14 and 9-14 start catching on, as well. And I think we can expect the same thing from 8-14 and 10-14. As long as we can keep getting them out, they’ll figure it out, eventually. It’s the moment they never knew they were looking forward to and it’s the moment we all wait for. The moment when these birds start flying with the trike. Because that’s when the game starts to change and it’s coming sooner rather than later.

Now, there’s been a lot of buzz about me going to see the birds with no pants on. Shoot, I’ve been leaving my pants on the runway right in front of our loyal CraneCam audience. For a while, I didn’t think that got on camera since I was expecting my phone to be buzzing with texts. But to answer everyone’s question about that, both times that happened, I needed to get into the wetpen to stand up a few t-posts that fell over but the wetpen is still fairly deep and I didn’t want to get my pants wet. Both times, I had plans to go jogging, and I didn’t want to do it in wet pants. Especially since I’ve been jogging right after I get done with roost checks.

But there you have it. Nothing kinky. Just a newfound sense of expediency. Enjoy it while you can, because once the water level goes down, I won’t have to strip down to get into the wetpen. But next time I go in there and see a t-post knocked over, I’m going to assume one of you did it.

This update is brought to you by your favorite sitcom and mine:  Where are My Pants?


Yearling Whoopers

On Thursday, we reported the Class of 2013 Whooping cranes had reunited in Dodge County, WI. It seems it was a brief reunion. Gary Masemore sent along this image he captured yesterday showing yearlings 3, 4, 5 & 9-13 again without classmates 7 & 8-13. They’re all still in the same area – just not together – at the moment.

whooping crane group of yearlings

Whooping cranes 2, 4, 5, & 9-13 foraging near Horicon NWR on July 25.


Training Recap

Following windy conditions on both Monday and Tuesday of this week, the cranes have trained for the past two days. Chick’s 8 & 10-14 both seem reluctant to come out of the wetpen to train but once they’re encourage to exit, number 8 does better than the younger number 10, who prefers to wander off into the field to the northwest of the training strip.

She pokes and prods and forages for whatever insecty treats she can find, until she realizes that the aircraft is leaving without her. Then she trots across the field back toward the training strip, seemingly panicked that she’ll be left alone.

Yesterday during the training session we could hear the two-year old Whooping crane calling occasionally. We knew he was nearby but didn’t see him until the session was over and we spotted him in the pond, calling triumphantly as the aircraft departed.

Doug Pellerin sent along the following images he captured while hiding inside the crane enclosure and while the chicks were outside training with the aircraft. It turns out number 5-12 – a former student, was standing behind the wetpen for most of the training session.

2 year old Whooping crane 5-12 stands behind the wetpen while training takes place with the Class of 2014

2 year old Whooping crane 5-12 stands behind the wetpen while training takes place with the Class of 2014

The crane chicks exit the pen ready to follow the aircraft.

The crane chicks exit the pen ready to follow the aircraft.

Richard spends some one-on-one time with chicks 8-14 & 10-14.

Richard spends some one-on-one time with chicks 8-14 & 10-14.


WHOOP! Here it is!

We have a great way for Craniacs to help raise funds AND friends for Whooping cranes!

If you’ve been following our work you’re no doubt familiar with our Give A WHOOP! campaign. Meant to be a quick and fun way to celebrate milestone events; whether they be milestones in the development of our new class of Whooping cranes chicks, such as eggs hatching, or first flight, or milestone events in our supporters lives (birthdays, anniversaries) worthy of celebrating – this campaign is a way for you to WHOOP! in celebration of something and to post a message with your gift.

Now YOU can create your own Give A WHOOP! page, which can very easily be shared via email or your social networking sites!

Random prize draws will be made throughout the year for both fundraisers and donors and include USB bracelets with the OM logo, embroidered Whooping crane patches, and a copy of a beautiful coffee table book: The Whooping Crane – Images From The Wild by Klauss Nigge.

Want to get started? Visit this link for easy to follow instructions to create your own Give A WHOOP! page.

Currently seven Craniacs have created their own Give A WHOOP! page and we’ve just tossed all the names into a bowl and we’re ready to announce the first winner of a USB bracelet featuring the Operation Migration logo. The winner is…. Lori Verhagan! Lori has raised over a thousand dollars for the Class of 2014 just by sharing her fundraising page on Facebook! Way to go Lori – keep an eye on your mailbox.

Lori Verhagen's Give A WHOOP! page.

Lori Verhagen’s Give A WHOOP! page.


Class Reunion!

Soon after returning to Wisconsin this past spring the Class of 2013 – now a year old – broke up into two groups. In one group was 7-13 & 8-13 and in the other was four cranes, 2-13, 4-13, 5-13 & 9-13.

The group of four spent an afternoon at the White River Marsh training site prior to the arrival of the Class of 2014 cranes much to the delight of the CraneCam viewers. Meanwhile, the duo moved east to Horicon National Wildlife Refuge in Dodge County, WI

Well now it seems they’ve found each other and the two groups are again one group of six. Doug Pellerin managed to capture the following images on Tuesday and is sharing them with us (and you). Many thanks Doug!

Whooping cranes and Sandhill cranes at Horicon

The six stark white Whooping cranes stick out among the large group of Sandhills cranes.



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) 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)

DSC0078_1 DSC0118_1 _DSC0141_1


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)


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 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!

When we launched this campaign last week, we mentioned we would hold random prize draws throughout the campaign, until all of the Chips are sold.

Last evening we selected a number from the 67 Chips, which have been registered thus far and the winning chip is number 931 – Registered to: Carrie Miller. Carrie will receive an OM prize pack in the mail shortly. The prize pack includes all of the items pictured below. Congratulations Carrie!




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.

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