Opportunity to Observe Whooping Crane Training

A rare opportunity is available to you at the White River Marsh SWA, just north of Princeton – the chance to observe Whooping Cranes being trained to follow an ultralight aircraft.  This is the only location in the world where this training takes place with this endangered bird, so the opportunity is truly special.

Early each morning, if the weather is suitable, the young birds are released from their pen onto an adjacent grass runway, and they are trained to follow the white-costumed pilot of an ultralight – at first on the ground, but later in flight.  He often uses “enticements” such as grapes or mealworms to keep the birds interested or moved into the proper position for takeoffs.  In order to allow visitors to witness these daily training sessions, a viewing blind was constructed in a secluded location not far from the runway.

The goal is to develop their flying skills over the summer months, so that sometime in October the cranes will be “migrated” south to their winter quarters in Florida, being led by one of more of these Operation Migration ultralight aircrafts.

Up until the time of departure, interested individuals may sign up for early morning blind tours for a good look at these majestic birds.  Whooping Cranes are somewhat larger than the common Sandhill Cranes that we often see or hear in our area, standing nearly five feet tall.  These birds are brightly plumaged, being mostly white, but they have black feathers in their outer wings – so they are quite striking in flight.

To register for a Whooping Crane blind tour, please contact Doug Pellerin at (920) 923-0016, or send email to pelican0711@gmail.com.  These tours will run daily, generally from about 6:15 to 8:00 AM, although the presence of ground fog will sometimes delay or prevent flight training. The weather must be suitable for flying the ultralight for training to take place, but sometimes the determination cannot be made until that particular morning.  There is no charge to participate in these blind visits, although financial contributions to Operation Migration are always welcomed.

Even under circumstances when the conditions are not good for training, the blind tour participants will still be able to meet one or more of the crane attendants and have the opportunity to ask questions – and perhaps reschedule for another morning to view the training.

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  1. Carlotta Abbott July 21, 2014 10:29 pm

    What kind/size lens is needed for getting awesome shots from the blind? Thanks….Carlotta

    • Heather Ray July 22, 2014 4:40 am

      with the zoom capabilities of most cameras these days, I’m not sure I can answer this. The blind is located approximately 100 yards from the training strip.

  2. Lynn & Jim Derck July 9, 2014 12:41 pm

    Hi, We’ve followed your coming into St Marks, FL with the new class for several years, but have a question(s). Don’t the new “kids” just follow the generations that have come before? Where do the experienced “snow birds” go? Do they have an entourage that follows them south? Thanks…

    • Heather Ray July 9, 2014 1:43 pm

      Within the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership there are three reintroduction methods: The aircraft-guided method, the Direct Autumn Release method and since last year, the Parent-Reared method. Both the DAR and the PR methods work on the principal that released youngsters will follow older, experienced cranes south.