A Visit With the Whooping Cranes

Guest Author: Linda Boyd

There was a newbie in the pen this week. No, not a new crane. All our cranes are veterans of the pen by now. I’m not talking about a bird. I’m talking about a Boyd. That would be me, Linda Boyd. David, my husband, and I have been volunteers on the migration for five years.

My husband has earned his crane costume, but I have always been involved in non-crane migration activities involving people, vehicles, and just about anything else that doesn’t directly involve the cranes. It seemed that after all this time, I should find out what all the migration fuss was about–you know, the reason we are doing this. So when Brooke invited me to go to the pen with him, I jumped at the chance and into my boots. Right here you should note that the protocol for visiting the cranes is strict — not even all the members of the migration team can visit them!

The morning of my visit dawned cold which is pretty much the story of this migration where fresh, gray, and black water tanks in our RVs have frozen on a regular basis–but I digress. Back to the pristine, cold dawn. As Brooke and I went down the hill, around the bend, and over the covered bridge, (really, I’m not making up the covered bridge part), a broad flat valley flanked by steep walls came into view—all of it pure white. Not snow, but last night’s heavy frost had turned Tennessee into a winter wonderland. Everything was white, including Brooke and me. It seemed an appropriate setting for a journey to visit these birds who are rapidly losing their brown coloring and taking on the pure white plumage of adult Whoopers.

As we rounded the bend, the pen came into view. Against the white floor and walls of the valley, the pen looked like it was floating—a space ship in a white void or a jellyfish in a colorless sea. It looked beautiful with it’s delicate round shape and thin membrane of fencing. But enough of this waxing eloquent. My goals for this visit were three–do not talk, do not touch the electric fence, and do not step on a crane foot. Sounds easy, but one of the realities of the crane suit is that you fog up your mylar viewing panel pretty quickly. My attempts at slow shallow breathing were failing to relieve this situation. However, with Brooke’s help, I did manage to clear the electric fence just fine. He disengaged the second one and we were into the pen.

On this cold morning, the birds were wide awake and up for anything. I quickly became the “anything,” I discovered that if I looked through the breathing mesh under the mylar panel, I could see pretty well and what I saw were two startling eyes staring at mine with a serious eight or nine inch beak in between us. I snapped the mylar screen down over my eyes just before that beak delivered the first of several blows. Hello #4, glad to meet you.

By this time #5 was getting in his welcome pokes too. Meanwhile a gentler hello was being delivered by a crane who was playing woodpecker, bent on discovering insect nests in my boot toes. Others also came over to greet me by tugging at my costume, poking at my costume, and exploring the possibilities of taking me out from behind. Brooke, in the meantime, was in caretaker mode, checking out the birds, especially #3–the bad boy dropout of the flight here, checking on the food supplies in the dishes, and breaking up the ice in the water bowls. For all of you readers who are worried about these young birds being warm enough out here in the cold weather, let me just say this… the first thing they did after Brooke broke up the ice in their water bowls was stand in them! Those that couldn’t get into the bowls dove for pieces of floating ice tossing them in the air, sloshing them in the water with their beaks, breaking them up, and eating them. The ice was the new toy in the pen, replacing the former new toy—me.

All this time these big birds, (they are, after all, tall enough to look at me eyeball to eyeball), are chattering away with their tiny peeping voices which seem more appropriate for baby chickens. Soon their food and water had been replenished, all birds had been checked out, and it was time to leave. We exited the pen, reengaged the electric fence, stepped over the outer electric fence, and walked silently away. I glanced back to see them all looking at us, and then when I glanced back again, they were going about their business, They didn’t miss us. They knew we’d be back. We walked away in silence and my thoughts went from the particulars of what I had just experienced in the pen with these lively birds to the wider thought of how priceless these young birds are. Now I knew what all the fuss was about. We are doing vital work here. This endeavor along with all the other Whooping Crane restoration endeavors is terribly, terribly important. I have always been proud to be a part of Operation Migration and I have always known that it may be one of the most significant things I do on this earth, but now I know it even more deeply.



  1. Mary W-D December 4, 2013 4:08 pm

    Ooooh! Aaaaah! and YAY!! Thank you so much Linda for your wonderfully well written sharing of the pen visit. You gave us all a treat by this. THANK YOU.

  2. Peppersky December 3, 2013 12:54 pm

    What a wonderful entry! I almost felt that I was there experiencing what is a treasured, rare event. thank you for sharing!!!!


  3. Shepherd December 3, 2013 7:55 am

    I watched the video of you and Brooke walking to the pen, walking in. I watched that greedy grape grabber #8 insist on more, MORE! I had to try find that video, glad I did!
    Are you going to go back in there? LOL

  4. Veronica December 3, 2013 12:31 am

    All I can say is WOW….how awesome….Lucky you Linda…What a treasure of a memory for you.

  5. Sheryl Erickson December 2, 2013 11:08 pm

    Linda – you and your husband are such a blessing to OM and these incredible whoopers! So glad you had your first “face to beak” encounter today – ’bout time you were in the pen after your rmany years of service. What an honor! Thanks for your terrific description of a first time pen visit for those of us who meet these precious birds “face to beak” through you!

  6. Ruth Mitchell December 2, 2013 10:03 pm

    Linda, first of all, thank you so much for the wonderful things you and your husband have done for OM and for our wonderful Chicks …and then thank you SO very much for such a wonderful story of your first visit to the pen and meeting them all up close and personal!!! I could FEEL your excitement and awe!!! Thank you!!

  7. Jayne Gulbrand December 2, 2013 8:40 pm

    What a wonderful story! So glad you got to enjoy that. It is a dream of mine!


  8. Richard P. Chase December 2, 2013 7:35 pm

    Linda – You brought back fond memories of the first time that Colleen told me about going into the pen. I could tell from your words that you were just a excited and awed by the colts as I remember Colleen’s face being lit up and her eyes were sparkling. If you are anything like her you will remember that trip as one of the “highest of the high” spots of your life.

  9. Kathie December 2, 2013 7:21 pm

    Thank you Linda for sharing your wonderful experience. And thank you and your husband for all you do for OM and whooping cranes.

  10. Lori (loriearn) December 2, 2013 6:35 pm

    I think some of the best reports are done by first time visits, face to face, with these beautiful birds. Not only would I like to thank you and your husband for all you’ve done these many years, but have to say your an excellent writer! I could feel your excitement through your words, and thank you so much for that! <3

  11. Sue Merchant December 2, 2013 6:28 pm

    Wonderful. Thank you, Linda.

  12. Libby December 2, 2013 6:00 pm

    Wonderful first-hand report, Linda! Very entertaining and informative! And you are so right….

  13. Warrenwesternpa December 2, 2013 5:38 pm

    2 December, 2013 A Visit with the Whooping Cranes Linda Boyd

    So funny reading about the newbie Boyd in the pen. We were in Tennessee last week and it was cold …19 Thursday morning.There are so many wonderful writings from the OM team. I forward many of them to my friends. Many thanks to you and hubby for being there for us!

  14. Patricia Ewing December 2, 2013 2:18 pm

    Thanks you Linda for a ‘visit’ with these beautful birds.

  15. JeanneAH December 2, 2013 2:13 pm

    Linda, thank you for all you do behind the scenes, and also for giving me a peek into the pen!

  16. Lu Duncan Frank December 2, 2013 1:08 pm

    Linda, you must have been thrilled to be in the pen with these magnificent birds! What a great story this is, it’s as if we were there with you! Keep us posted on your work and we will enjoy through your eyes!

  17. Carol Phillips December 2, 2013 1:00 pm

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this.

  18. Mary Jane DeLauder December 2, 2013 12:46 pm

    This OM blog is just such fun!! I really look forward to reading it every day! Thank you ALL for everything you do for these beautiful birds!

  19. LindiLovesBirds December 2, 2013 11:51 am

    Thanks for sharing, I enjoyed reading about your experience.

  20. Judy December 2, 2013 11:16 am

    I can imagine your thrilling encounter with these precious charges. I also want to thank you for your gracious welcoming some strangers Saturday. We all were so glad to say we’ve met the dedicated folks now and can put faces and voices in our minds. Enjoy the rest of your journey and maybe one day we will meet again.

  21. Pat Kinser December 2, 2013 11:15 am

    Thank you, Linda, for this interesting and informative description of your pen visit. How special for you to experience this part of migration. Thanks to you and your husband for volunteering for all of us. Trust tomorrow you can move into AL. Can’t imagine being that close to a busy crane. Pat Kinser

  22. Nancy Froio December 2, 2013 11:04 am

    Lucky you, Linda! I so enjoyed reading about your adventure with our beauties! You’re a lucky lady to be so involved with OM and I’m happy for you that you got to meet them “up close and personal”! Thanks for all you do!

  23. dana December 2, 2013 11:00 am

    Words cannot express how much I appreciate what you and others are doing! I especially appreciate your narrative. Your story is so compelling I feel almost as tho I was with you and Brooke. I am so sorry I did not check the cam this AM as I may have seen your venture. This reminds me to slow down and smell the roses – see the cranes and their loving caretakers. Thanks and more thanks. Dana C.

  24. Jenny Gibbs December 2, 2013 10:57 am

    Linda, that was really wonderful. Thank you for sharing your experience, brought tears to my eyes.

  25. eugenia December 2, 2013 10:55 am

    Beautiful, just beautiful, Linda. Thanks for writing this report, and thanks for the labors of you and your husband. How special it must be to help out on the ‘front lines’.

  26. Patti December 2, 2013 10:54 am

    What a beautiful insight into these whooping crane’s world, right now-their pen!!! How fortunate you were to be able to experience their magic first hand :) Thank you for all that you do and have dione! Without wonderful folks like you and your husband giving of their time to help OM, none of this would be! Thanks also for sharing what must have been a magical and wonderful visit to their pen!!!