If you ask my friends to describe me in a few words, ‘patient’ would not be one of them. However, when you work with birds, there aren’t many alternatives. Everything we do in the training must be done with calm and forethought so the young and impressionable birds do not get anxious or frightened of the aircraft, the pen or us.

That’s the reason we coax them into the pen instead of simply herding them. Their dominance structure is based in part on a buffer zone. Birds that get along will poke in the mud on the same stick or root with little concern for the presence of the other. But they don’t do that with the flock leaders or they may get poked themselves. Our exit gate is 6 feet wide but still, it is narrow when all the birds come charging out together. That will sometimes force a subservient bird too close to the bully they are trying to avoid and they will hold back. If we were to also herd them in, it could lead to gate shyness making them reluctant to come out for training. So we exercise patience and ensure that whenever they return to the pen, it is under their own steam and in their own sweet time. The class of 2015 all seem to get along and the gate has not been an issue – so far, but there are years when we can spend a lot of time cajoling a reluctant or independent crane back in.

So far the birds are not flying far. They have officially fledged and can fly circuits, but only abbreviated trips around the pen. That means we can fly on days that are too windy for normal flight training while we concentrate on ground work. That’s the kind of weather we have had for the last week or so. A few hundred feet up the winds are strong but for an hour after sunrise the surface is still calm.  Last Friday I covered the nine miles from the hangar to the pen in only a few minutes. I had to crab all the way to compensate for the 35 mile per hour wind from the west but it pushed me along at twice bird speed. On the way back however, I faced that wind and was often passing over the ground at 11 mph. In fact, it took me 46 minutes to cover those nine miles. Time to spare – go by air.

When you work with birds and airplanes, patience is something thrust upon you, whether you have time for it or not.

Share Button


  1. Mindy August 5, 2015 3:40 pm

    Just a question I wonder about when I watch the videos. It seems like 5 of the birds take off almost every time and there is one that’s not quite ready or stops at the end of the runway…..Is that typically the same bird or different ones?

    • Heather Ray August 5, 2015 3:46 pm

      We’re not sure as it’s difficult to see a legband color when you’re traveling at 35 mph, however, it’s not unusual. Keep in mind that there is a 9 day age gap in this cohort. While that may not seem like a long time, Whooping cranes and other precocial birds develop quickly, so 9 days makes for a lot of developmental differences.
      On each of the subsequent flights this morning all 6 cranes did indeed take-off and keep up for most of the flight.

      • Mindy August 6, 2015 1:06 pm

        Yes, the age gap…..I did watch the video from training and saw that the one who did not make the first flight, joined in later…..Thanks

  2. Mindy August 5, 2015 1:01 pm

    Good information…I knew that you did not want to herd them. This sheds more light on that…Thank you!

  3. Shepherd August 5, 2015 11:50 am

    ALWAYS good articles by Joe. So informative, so readable.
    I do take note watching the pilot with the birds, just how many decisions he must make – all at the same time.
    Good videos!

  4. Dorothy Nordness August 5, 2015 11:36 am

    Very descriptive tale of the struggle between doing everything right so the birds have the best chance and taking shortcuts that in the long run, or maybe even the short run) will slow everything further. Thank you and the staff and volunteers for your enforced patience that makes such a huge difference!!!

  5. Patricia Ewing August 5, 2015 9:49 am

    Your patience and the patience of other OM members is absolutely wonderful even during a trying situation. Thank you all for all that you do…. <3

  6. Mollie Cook August 5, 2015 9:23 am

    Joe, I can see by your body language on the training videos that you have never ending patience with these birds………Brooke as well.
    Both of you are amazing ………….THANK YOU for the endless hours & unprecedented circumstances you encounter along the way.
    All of it never ceases to AMAZE!!!