They’re FREE! The Class of 2015 Cranes Has Been RELEASED!

“Pssst… ladies.  Today’s the day! I think they’re going to let us out today.”

“You’re always so full of it, #11. You guys are all alike. All you ever think about is getting your freedom.”

“No, really.  I mean… think about it.  Today’s Saturday, right? It was last Tuesday when they laid that “Quantanimo Bay” trip on us with that banding and all. Then they came out here three times a day  for the following three days with all those treats…  like it was Christmas or something… grapes, meal worms, bait fish… and those crickets… all just to bribe us into liking them again after all that grabbing and handing.  And that hood!  Yuk! I couldn’t see a thing! Then they insulted our intelligence when that idiot Pennypacker and his friend Tidmus went “Pssssssss” and “Thidddddddddd” in our ears to calm us down.  All that did was calm THEM down! Jerks! Anyway, we played it cool… like those older whoopers said we should. It’s like that oldest one, 5-12, whispered to me the other day through the plastic mesh, “If you want to blow this place, forget the hacksaw blades. Make ‘em think you’re their friends again… and that you really like them.  Don’t let them think you’re holding a grudge because they know that once you’re released from this top-netted pen and can fly around, the only control they have over you to get you back into the pen at night and away from predators is the food in those hanging feeders and most importantly, your connection with their costumes. It’s all about CONNECTION brother.”

“You had better zip it for now, #11,” warned #6. “They’re coming!”

Bev, Colleen, Eran and I slogged our way out to the pen as the sun popped firmly up over the horizon with such harsh brilliance that it immediately gave shadow to all that rose before it. And it was with way more than the usual morning anticipation that we pulled open the gate doors and headed for the top netted pen.  Today was the day, the next milestone in their young lives… when we would release them from the top-netted pen and into a world that would be forever theirs. Freedom Day! Adding to our excitement was the knowledge that it was to be the last time this annual event would ever be.

The heavy worry questions rolled through our minds:  Would the chicks rush out, take to the skies and fly away?  Would the older birds fly in and beat them up? How would they adapt to their new home… the world? And did all the months of collective effort by so many of us give them the knowledge and skills they will need to thrive in it?

I stared into the pen and marveled at their collective innocence… all my years of crane experience and incredible expertise assuring me without question that they possessed not the slightest idea of what was about to happen and how their little lives were about to change. Then, to their complete surprise, we pulled open the doors and out they came, emerging into that world called freedom.

The gates to the top-netted section are opened!

The gates to the top-netted section are opened!

Would that we could think their thoughts and feel their feelings at this moment… experience for ourselves the full power of this experience. Yet, for right now, dealing with our own emotions was job enough.


#6-15 came out first. Then #1-15, followed by all but #2-15 who took a little coaxing to make the trip.  She was probably busy planning how she was going to turn back to the pen and bring the others with her after a few minutes of flight! They headed right to the pond and were immediately mesmerized by the magic of pond life. Then exuberant leaps into the air followed and mock jump raking bouts after that as the wind freshened and provided bursts of encouraging lift.  After all, freedom is nothing if not the most powerful of drugs.

Then, we all went on the tour…which is what you do when friends come to visit your city for the first time. First, round to the far feed shed where two hanging feeders awaited, making gentle, welcoming arcs in the breeze. The chicks approached somewhat fearfully since the feeders were familiar but floor and roof of the feeding shed were not.

The young Whooping cranes check out one of the two supplemental feed shelters.

The young Whooping cranes check out one of the two supplemental feed shelters.

Soon, Colleen and Eran had the floor hopping with crickets and rolling grapes, which overcame the crane fears and had the chicks pecking timidly at the feeders.

Then it was on to the oyster bar, the causeway of oyster shells that lay just under the surface of and about halfway across the pond. At its end stood the familiar whooper decoy, which although made of plastic and inanimate, it casts its spell of familiarity and security that will hopefully magnet in the chicks to roost in its presence come evening.  We walked out to it, followed by the chicks, beckoned by the flotsam and jetsam of mealworms and crickets.

The plastic crane decoy (aka Dummy Mummy) is placed to roost on the oyster bar in one of the two ponds inside the open-topped soft release pen.

The plastic crane decoy (aka Dummy Mummy) is placed to roost on the oyster bar in one of the two ponds inside the open-topped soft release pen.

Then further around the pond to the bubbler and delights of clean, fresh water. Since there was already one in the top-netted pen, introductions were not necessary. Only location. And finally the second feed shelter, carbon copy of the first, yet still requiring some treats to place it firmly on their daily itinerary of daily places to visit.

The cranes follow the costumed caretakers on a tour around the large release pen.

The cranes follow the costumed caretakers on a tour around the large release pen.

Through all this drama, Bev took pictures, capturing the event in visual digital bits and bytes. Eventually, we both headed back to the top-netted pen for the required clean up. Water buckets and foot baths were now relics of the artificial past. We can only hope the world won’t be as hard to clean and fill daily as they were.

The tour complete, it was time for the tour directors to say their goodbyes for now, return to the blind and leave the chicks to their new world of little wonders. We each carried out with us our little bag of emotion as we made our way out of the pen and back to our world.  Collen would leave for California, Eran return to his life at Disney and Bev and I would remain to observe and await the arrival of the “white birds” in more than anxious anticipation. And come they did. But that will be the subject of tomorrow’s update.

“Ya see! I told you!”  #11-15 announced. “Today WAS the day!”

“You’re always so full of it!” #6-15 replied. “Please forgive us if we don’t ask you directions to the feed shed… nothing personal.”

Then #1, 2, 6, 8 and 10 slowly crowded together, turned to #11 and yelled, “Happy Valentine’s Day.” “Women…” #11 muttered to himself, shaking his head as he headed for a consoling drink at the bubbler.

Female #6-15 investigates the tasty treats the pond has to offer.

Female #6-15 (Red/White left leg) investigates the tasty treats the pond has to offer.

Why not Give A WHOOP! to celebrate the release of the Class of 2015? Everyone that WHOOPS will receive a pretty cool wristband!

Proclaim your support for Whooping cranes with these fun wristbands!

Proclaim your support for Whooping cranes with these fun wristbands!

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  1. Lu Duncan Frank February 19, 2016 10:03 pm

    Thank you to all! Happy Freedom to the birds! Safe journey from predators and may we see you in the future!

  2. Catherine Wohlfeil February 16, 2016 9:09 pm

    Thank you Brooke for being their guardian, caretaker, spiritual guide, and teacher on their journey to this day when they graduate into their new life. May they bring this spirit with them, and let them grasp this freedom which you so freely give, with a parent’s love, worry, kindness, and caring, sending them on their way to grow, to live, to love, and, to fly one day back home…

    Bless you in your spirit, and OM, for being their guide on their journey home…

  3. Shepherd February 15, 2016 4:29 pm

    One of the concerns is colts lack of alerting to predators. the dummy doesnt alert. Perhaps its NOT a good idea once in Florida to keep DM around.

  4. Dorothyn February 15, 2016 4:24 pm

    Whoop-ee for the class of 2015! May you live long and prosper!!

  5. Mindy February 15, 2016 2:35 pm

    Thanks again Brooke for the wonderful sharing of freedom day in this field report and for everything you have done over the years to get the Eastern Population established and moving on this migration path. I have the utmost respect for all of you on the OM team. As this class begins its great adventure I will be praying for these wonderful creatures to be wise against all the dangers, to fly joyfully in the freedom they were born for and to find mates and bring chicks successfully into the population, like my prayers for all the classes before them. I will be asking God to go with each of you as you forge new paths and remember the sweetness of the old ones. Blessings to all of you. No one could have done it better, that’s for sure…..

  6. CrabtowneMd February 15, 2016 10:20 am

    Such a whimsical and beautiful play-by-play from the crane’s perspective on a momentous day ! Thank you Brooke for the colorful descriptions that help us understand all that has been done to help the whoopers survive. Congratulations to all of OM for everything you have accomplished. Let Freedom Ring with a resounding WHOOOOOP ! WHOOOOP! Fly high Class of 2015 !

  7. Donna Silva February 14, 2016 9:45 pm

    Thank you for keeping us up to date on your journey I have really enjoyed reading about everything and everyone and pictures

  8. Donna Silva February 14, 2016 9:40 pm

    Whoop whoop job well done

  9. Kat Williams February 14, 2016 8:50 pm

    As always Brooke describes everything in such wonderful and creative detail that it tugs on your heart strings and makes you feel as though you were somehow hidden close by witnessing it all. Thanks so much, Brooke!

  10. LuvMolly (Fran) February 14, 2016 8:07 pm

    I have so enjoyed watching for the last several years your devotion to help these Whooping Cranes.. I know you will be doing everything you can to help keep them safe and trying to multiple their numbers..
    God speed to you all <3


  11. LuvMolly (Fran) February 14, 2016 8:04 pm
  12. Maggie Turk February 14, 2016 6:34 pm

    It’s difficult to type with so many tears in my eyes after reading your entry Brooke as you tell the whole story so well and I just can not believe this wondrous journey is really winding down so quickly . I know life goes on but it is not gonna be easy without all the excitement of a new class of whoopers for 2016. Whoop whoop it is. Take care.May they all fly free and enjoy their freedom enough that they will keep the Eastern Migratory Whoopers multiplying into the future. God bless all.

  13. Peter Smith February 14, 2016 5:37 pm

    Graduation day is what it’s all about. Once again, Operation Migration has safely delivered its precious squadron to its winter base. Incredible job. Thank you, always, for your superb play by play of the action there, Brooke. You are a great man.

  14. M-Mercedes Panqueva February 14, 2016 5:24 pm

    A huge WHOOOOP to each and all of you!
    Thank you for all you’ve given to this world of ours.

  15. Lara Leaf February 14, 2016 4:59 pm

    Whoops given through my leaky eyes. Thank you so much!

  16. Margie Tomlinson February 14, 2016 3:37 pm

    Will gladly give a “WHOOP” in celebration of our Class of 2015 colts being released today! “Let Freedom Ring, let the White (Cranes) fly”!
    And thank you for your report, Brooke. Thank you OM for all the pics, etc., etc. Love to you all on this Valentine’s Day 2016!

  17. Robin P February 14, 2016 3:36 pm

    Off Subject — Did you catch the Bobcat(s) that have been preying on the Whooping Cranes?

  18. Shirley Green February 14, 2016 3:31 pm

    “Free, free at last.” What adventures await these children. Keep the updates and photos coming please Brooke. Your reports are such a treat to read, even the sad ones. Thank you.

  19. Christine Myers February 14, 2016 3:14 pm

    Whoop whoop!

  20. Barb February 14, 2016 3:00 pm

    How long will someone continue to provide crickets, grapes, etc?

  21. Elsie Sealander February 14, 2016 2:59 pm

    “…..emerging into that world called freedom.” Yes, it’s a wonderful feeling and it brings tears to my eyes knowing that all your hard work has paid off so far. If, only this same word was true for all people in all parts of this world including our own country.

  22. vannie zychowicz February 14, 2016 2:34 pm

    How can I get one? I injoy the photos and the report of the glass 2015 I hope you keep us potone ? How they ate doing before they come back to white river Marsh thanks Brooke for taking care of the whopwhoper cranes


  23. Warrenwesternpa February 14, 2016 2:24 pm

    They Are Free! Brooke Pennypacker

    Whoop! It doesn’t seem the same but how could it be?

    No more anger toward FWS. They must be helping the Whooping Crane population. No more tears over a lost cause … It’s not really lost.

    Only a subdued feeling that will pass as we search and encourage others to revere our planet!

    Whooping Crane migration was a wonderful few years. I learned so much, but it is time to move on. My enormous respect to you all!

  24. Patricia February 14, 2016 2:08 pm

    Whoop! May St. Valentine be with you all, may St. Francis of Assisi fly beside you in your formation, may dreams of Brooke and Joe lead you to the right places at the right times. Whoop my dear little ones, God go with you gently into the big world.

  25. PattiLat February 14, 2016 2:08 pm

    Dearest Brooke, Thank you for “They’re Free”; so detailed I feel I’m right there working with you all. I so appreciate you and the entire team. Fly free, be safe, we are always by your side.

  26. David B February 14, 2016 1:59 pm


  27. Richard P. Chase February 14, 2016 1:50 pm

    I’ll just say “Thank you” to y’all.

  28. Marje lloyd February 14, 2016 1:36 pm

    what a bitter sweet day! so happy the burds are free, but what mixed feelings you must all have.
    Thank you so much everyone for all you have done, so looking forward to operation Migrations next chapter

  29. Juel February 14, 2016 1:33 pm

    Brooke, As a fellow Wisconsinite/Badger and long time Tallahassee follower and supporter of OM, I want to thank you for all your good deeds and dedication to these beautiful birds. As I read your report, I couldn’t help smiling when I read the word “bubbler” (for water fountain). I’ve read that only native Wisconsinites use the term. Was it a Kohler Plumbing word? I visit St. Mark’s Refuge often and always have an eye out for the whoopers. Here’s hoping for their continued success and yours as well. Whoop!

  30. Alisa Pelz February 14, 2016 1:14 pm

    Whoop! Whoop! Bittersweet moments I know. Sad to not have this to look forward to next year but you all have done a wonderful job with the cranes and helping the prosper. Thank you for all your dedication

  31. Grandma February 14, 2016 12:52 pm

    Thank you to all at OM for sharing this experience with us, it will never be forgotten! Hoping to see you in the skies again!

  32. Janelle Tait Kovner February 14, 2016 12:41 pm


  33. Cynthia Passmore February 14, 2016 12:22 pm

    Whoop Whoop!

  34. Marianna Sadowski February 14, 2016 12:16 pm

    God bless ’em!!!

  35. Carol Craig February 14, 2016 12:07 pm

    Awesome – Whoop! Whoop!

  36. Ruth Mitchell February 14, 2016 12:05 pm

    Happy Freedom Day!!! Another Bittersweet day for all concerned.

  37. Barb February 14, 2016 12:05 pm

    I agree, Whoop, Whoop, Whoop for all the Whooping Cranes in their glory! Onto living!!!

  38. April Vereb February 14, 2016 11:49 am