YOUR Support is Critical

Monthly contributions can be processed more efficiently than single or one-time gifts, resulting in a higher percentage of your gift being directed to our work – and you are in control! At any time, you can increase, decrease, pause or stop your support, all at your convenience.

Your monthly gift will help ensure that we are able to continue our work to safeguard Whooping cranes and continue our education and outreach efforts.

When you become a NEW monthly donor, OR increase your current monthly donation amount, you will receive a special hand-folded origami crane made by Mako Pellerin.

Mako has very graciously offered to create a limited number of beaded hanging origami cranes made from the paper used to create last year’s GIANT origami crane, which greeted Whooping Crane Festival attendees in Wisconsin.Students from the Princeton School – along with Mako, very carefully folded the origami crane pictured above, and which boasted a wingspan of more than 30 feet and stood close to 10 feet tall!

Mako saved some of the paper from that special crane to create these smaller origami “off-spring” cranes for you!

In Japanese culture, the crane is a mystical creature and is believed to live for a thousand years. Cranes represent good fortune and longevity and are referred to as the “bird of happiness.”

We hope this very special origami crane will bring you all of these qualities… In addition to your special origami crane, we’ll also send you an instruction sheet for folding more origami cranes!

When you become a monthly supporter you help to provide OM with a reliable, low-cost stream of revenue that sustains our ongoing work and allows us to better forecast for budgeting purposes.

It’s super easy to join and you can contribute any amount you like on a monthly basis: $
10, $15, $25, $50 – Visit this link to learn more or to enroll today!

If you’re already a monthly supporter (thank you!) and would like to increase or change your gift, don’t forget you can login to your personal account at any time to do so using this link: LOGIN 

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Who doesn’t love a good sale?  Check out OM’s “Marketplace”

We’ve reduced a number of items due to low inventory so don’t wait… the “early bird gets the worm.” 

Proudly show your love of Whooping cranes with the Wild for WHOOPERS sweatshirt. Very comfortable and warm, featuring an adult Whooping crane with magnificent outstretched wings.

Celebrate 15 years of flying with Whooping cranes, 17,457 miles over 8 states, with this short sleeved, unisex T-shirt.  Fantastic artwork depicting our history with the Whoopers!


People still like receiving cards in the mail. How about sending a note to friend letting them know you are thinking about them. The Springett Blank Notecards would be perfect! 8 cards featuring 4 images (2 of ea.) of the original Whooping crane oil paintings by artist and friend of cranes, Jimmie Springett. 

OM’s black wristband is also on sale. Very limited quantities on this item.  Order now!

Finally, the very, unique Whooping crane socks. Have you noticed how popular character socks are these days? Seems like all the stores are carrying them – but nobody has Whoopers on their socks except for OM. Pick up a pair for yourself or loved one today before they are all gone!

Early Spring?

It seems that a few whooping cranes in the eastern flock have begun heading north already!

Number 6-15 spent the winter at Wheeler NWR in north Alabama and her remote device hits indicate she moved north to Greene County, Indiana over the weekend. Same for number 14-15.

Northward migration thus far for whooping cranes 6-15 and 14-15.

Elsewhere, number 2-15 appears to have made a brief trip to St. Marks NWR in the Florida panhandle last Friday morning before heading north. Her last hit placed her in Lee Co., AL on Sunday.

71-16, one of the Parent Reared cranes from last years releases spent the winter in Jackson Co., IN and has just moved north to Jasper Co., IN yesterday.

Parent Reared whooping crane 71-16 traveled south with Sandhill cranes from Wisconsin to spend the winter in Jackson County, IN. Here’s what her northern flight looks like thus far.

If you happen to spot a whooping crane please take the time to fill out an observation sheet. Your information helps us to keep track of the cranes in the EMP. 


As anyone who has ever done the right thing knows, it has its own special rewards. So does doing the wrong thing. And like others in our Field Journal audience, I have watched the reward increase for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killer of female whooper #4-11. The reward is an expression of our collective outrage at such wanton taking of not just our precious bird, but for the unacceptable disrespect for all that she represented. Sadly, it seems to be part of the cost of doing business in “Whooper World.” Very sadly.

Unfortunately, this is all very familiar territory which I first entered a couple of decades ago working on Trumpeter Swan Migration Projects at Airlie. One season, we had three of our swans shot on an Upstate New York refuge despite the fact hunting swans was illegal.  The dead birds were found neatly piled up, one atop the other. In the slew next to them was a beaver swimming around in frantic circles. It had been shot in the face and blinded. Two more of our swans were shot in subsequent weeks. In one case, the shooter cut off the swan’s head to remove the neck band transmitter which was thrown out into the marsh and later recovered by one of our volunteers. But to add perspective, six hunters were also shot that season. After that, the manager of the neighboring federal refuge, presumably concerned about the adverse publicity, told us that if we didn’t capture and remove our swans from HIS refuge, HE was going to go out and shoot them himself.  Really? We complied.

When such shootings occur, hunters are often the focus of blame. But a gun in the hands of a responsible hunter is NOT a hammer looking for a nail. Hunters are often the greatest champions of responsible conservation and preservation of wildlife. They actually “pay the freight” with their license fees and taxes. To put it biological terms, they don’t just “talk the talk.” They “walk the walk.” Local hunting clubs got together and offered a reward for information leading to the arrest of the shooter or shooters.  It was never claimed. But is it even possible to build an invisible, protective geo-fence of awareness and appreciation around our birds? The next year, we went on the offensive and gave slide show presentations at hunting club meetings as well as hunter education programs and youth hunts. No more swans were shot.

Another year, one week after we completed our ultralight-led swan migration to Chesapeake Bay, our lead bird, Grace, was shot. It was agonizingly sad to have captured her as a signet in Alaska, raised and ultralight trained her in Virginia and upstate New York and migrated her to Maryland – only to have her shot a week after our arrival. We spent the remainder of the winter and spring camped on the floor of a nearby nature center classroom and spent our days in a truck or a kayak patrolling against another possible assault. We posted signs up on the small pier near where the bird was shot which said, “Let Wild Birds Be Wild. Please Don’t Feed the Swans.” Many mornings we would arrive to find piles of beer cans in front of our signs. They were shot full of bullet holes.

One year, we had another swan shot on a nest while incubating. The shooter was actually caught. He was 19 or 20 years old as I remember, just out of high school and definitely not what his parents had in mind when they coupled. The judge fined him and sentenced him to what some might say was a draconian and completely inhumane stint of community service… working with me on our swan project.

Perversely, his sentence was to become mine. In the days that followed, I was to learn the true meaning of futility while the chorus of the fate’s raucous laughter roared in my ears. It soon became clear that the only hope this guy had of ever really contributing to society was as an organ donor. In retrospect, the greatest service the judge could have done to both this idiot and society would have been to permanently secure a cow bell around his neck so that everyone and everything on Planet Earth would be forever warned of his presence and exact location.

When OUR sentence was served, he climbed into his beat up old pickup smoke-mobile, lit a cigarette and cranked the radio up so loud that all birds were abruptly shed from nearby trees. Then he leaned out the window and asked me if I wouldn’t mind reporting to the judge that he was, in fact, rehabilitated, a hard worker, and that I didn’t, in my heart of hearts, believe he would ever again shoot another swan. As if in afterthought, he confided that he had the weekend off before beginning yet another stretch of Community Service. Seems that on a recent occasion, while driving by his local alma mater, he was unable to resist that universal urge, so familiar to all such Cretans, to chain the giant high school sign to his truck bumper, tear it out of the ground and drag it off down the road and into the night. Very liberating. He was, after all, simply trying to express his creativity. It was all I could do to resist the urge to shake my head… for fear I would never be able to stop.

And now, all these years later, #4-11 is shot. Her last summer was a tough one. She and her mate, 12-02 had a chick. Later, Bev found the remains of 12-02 from the air, presumably lost to predation. Crane number 4-11 defied the odds and raised her chick alone until it fledged… a rare accomplishment in the WCEP population. Sadly, her chick disappeared shortly thereafter.

Whooping crane 4-11 and her chick W7-16. Photo: B. Pennypacker

I visited her and her chick last summer to assess capture options since her transmitter required replacement and the chick required banding.  The last time I had seen her was in 2012 when she, along with her 2011 cohort, took off from Wheeler Refuge in Alabama one beautiful morning and headed off on their first migration back to Wisconsin. What a blessing it was not to be able to see into the future and know that she would eventually join the other roughly 20% of the WCEP whooping crane population to be shot.

And so it is difficult for us to process the senseless loss of our precious 4-11… tough to digest and understand how such chaos can be birthed from such promise and hope. And searching for meaning in such tragedy can feel like a helter skelter “Fool’s Errand.” Widening the focus reveals even more questions… like why is it that more than 3500 people were shot in Chicago last year and more than 750 were murdered. And is it any less of a crime to destroy the habitat of a species for reasons of convenience or financial gain than it is to shoot a single bird? We ponder such questions while our carbon footprints grow ever larger.  Is it as Shakespeare wrote “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves”?  Perhaps we should post a reward for the answer.

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Small (crane) World

Those that have been following our work since the very early year will likely recall Sandy and Jerry Ulrikson, former volunteers. I’ve kept in touch with both of them over the years and Sandy recently reached out with a request.

Read in Sandy’s own words how this story played out…

As volunteer rescuers, today we received a call from the Wildlife Center of Venice to rescue an injured Sandhill Crane, from a golf course in Sarasota. We were able to rescue the crane and immediately noticed that it was wearing “leg jewelry”.

Having volunteered with Operation Migration on the Whooping Crane reintroduction program for several years, we recognized the “leg jewelry” as something significant. We contacted Heather Ray of Operation Migration for assistance in identifying the bands. 

We took the bird to the Wildlife Center of Venice for assessment and treatment because both of its legs were tangled in fishing line. The line had become so tight over a period of time that the circulation had been cut off to the right foot and the foot was “dead” and could not be saved. The right leg had less damaged but overall the prognosis for young crane was not great and sadly it died soon after being admitted for treatment.

As we researched the bands, we found out that the bird was banded by graduate student Jeff Fox at the University of Illinois on July 29, 2012 as part of his master’s degree research program. To prove what a small world it is, Jeff now works with Operation Migration on the Whooping Crane reintroduction program in Wisconsin ~small world.

Another fun day of “retired living” in sunny Florida… Please dispose of used fishing line responsibly to prevent this from happening again.

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In an effort to apprehend those responsible for the killing of a Whooping Crane, several conservation organizations have come together to offer a sizable reward.

Indiana Conservation Officers have partnered with Indiana Turn in a Poacher, Friends of Goose Pond, the International Crane Foundation, Operation Migration the Center for Biological Diversity and Sassafras Audubon to offer a substantial reward of $16000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible for killing female Whooping Crane number 4-11 in Greene County, Indiana in early January.

On January 3, 2017 an International Crane Foundation volunteer found the crane near Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area. Her remains have been sent to the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, Oregon for further testing.

This almost 6 year old female Whooping crane 4-11 initially learned a migration route by following the ultralight aircraft of Operation Migration.

“Reintroducing an endangered species takes money, hard work, luck and expertise. I was privileged to fly alongside #4-11 and to help teach her to migrate. She survived on her own and made five trips south in the fall and back north in the spring. She found a mate and even produced a chick. Then to have someone waste all that time, effort and such a beautiful bird for nothing more that the pleasure of the kill is a selfish, wasteful tragedy”, said Operation Migration CEO, Joe Duff.

Female Whooping crane number 4-11. Photographed in early 2016 by Bob Herndon.

This breeding female Whooping Crane killed in Greene County was part of an effort by the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership to establish an eastern migratory flock which travels between Wisconsin and the southeast U.S. This migration path crosses through Indiana, with a number of Whooping Cranes often stopping at Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area.

Indiana Conservation Officers are collaborating with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to investigate this crime.

If you have information about this case please contact the Indiana Conservation Officer Dispatch at 812-837-9536.

We ask that you please share this link via your social media networks using the sharing links below:

Shopping at Amazon?

Did you know that with each purchase you make, whooping cranes could also benefit?

We just received our first contribution for 2017 from Amazon Smile but last year Operation Migration received over $800 from this program!

If you haven’t already, just register OM as your charity when you shop or click this image, which is always on the left side of this blog.


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But for Whooping Cranes…

Many of you know that I’m a native New Englander, having lived in Rhode Island most of my life. We have no cranes this far east except for an occasional Sandhill that must have been blown off course by a storm. Wouldn’t you think that I’d get involved in a wildlife conservation project closer to home instead of one that takes place mostly in the mid-west? 

Take sea turtles, for example. I live in a coastal state not all that far from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Every fall, hundreds of “cold-stunned” Kemp’s-Ridley sea turtles wash up on the beaches there. Did you know that? Neither did I until two years ago when my friends, Michele Gomes and Jenny Ting of Interchange Media Art Productions, began making a documentary about this phenomenon that’s been happening year after year “forever.” How did I not know about this?!?! 

One of the many dedicated volunteers retrieves a cold-stunned Kemp’s ridley turtle.

Michele is also a native RI-er and, like me, admits she had never heard about sea turtles washing up on the beaches until she and Jenny visited the Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. There, they stumbled onto a story that they felt had to be told. They spent the next two years making a full length documentary film titled “Saving Sea Turtles: Preventing Extinction.” 

On January 14th their film premiered before a sell-out crowd at a beautiful old theater in Dennis, MA (or, as we would say, “down the Cape”). It tells the story of how Kemp’s-Ridley turtles are swept out of the Gulf of Mexico, follow the Gulf Stream northward, and end up in the Gulf of Maine. When the water starts to turn cold, they head south, but the arm of Cape Cod traps them. Colder and colder water finally cold-stuns them and will ultimately kill them if they are not rescued and rehabilitated. 

Of course, that’s what the real story is about – the incredible dedication of the many people who, despite windy, freezing weather, walk the Cape Cod beaches every high tide, day and night, to find and rescue nearly lifeless turtles; the volunteers and staff at the Audubon receiving and checking the turtles; the volunteers who transport them to the New England Aquarium; the vets and rehabilitators at the Aquarium, NOAA, and other facilities; volunteers who transport rehabbed turtles ready for release, and on and on.

Just like Whooping Crane conservation, the story is not “just” about the animals – it’s about the people! I can certainly relate to the sea turtle rescuers’ passion and dedication to their conservation cause, and, but for Whooping Cranes, I’d be out there every year freezing my a** off with them!

Michele and Jenny’s film will be available online soon. In the meantime, check out the trailer: Saving Sea Turtles: Preventing Extinction.  

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Happy Valentine’s Day

Whooping crane pair 3-14 & 4-12 wish you all a day filled with kindness and love…

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Moppets! Get Your Moppet!

Get your very own ENCORE! Whooping Crane Moppet!

What’s with the ENCORE! you ask? Well, with last year’s FWS decision to halt costume rearing of Whooping Cranes for the Eastern Migration Population (EMP), we had quite a few costumes left with no purpose. Not wanting to be wasteful and, with those ever-important three R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle in mind, we approached the very talented Mary O’Brien with the idea of using the costumes to make Whooping Crane keepsakes! 

So, the costumes are making a return (ENCORE!) appearance. I’m sure you’ll agree that the finished product is absolutely adorable (thanks to Mary’s creative talent)!

Here is your chance to own a piece of history! Each of these ENCORE! Whooping Crane Moppets is made from a costume worn by either: Joe Duff, Brooke Pennypacker, Richard van Heuvelen, Colleen Chase, Jo-Anne Bellemer, Doug Pellerin, or Heather Ray during our past work with Whooping Cranes. (Don’t worry, Mary washed them really well before creating each ENCORE! Moppet.)

There are only a limited number available! 

Each Moppet bears the legbands with the exact color combinations of some of your favorite Whooping Cranes in the EMP – including some that are no longer with us 🙁

In addition to your ENCORE! Moppet, you’ll receive a one-page biography about your Whooping Crane/Moppet along with an embroidered Whooping Crane crest, suitable for stitching onto your favorite jacket or sweater, or even onto the Moppet if you like.

Each ENCORE! Moppet sells for $200, which will help to replace some of the income the MileMaker campaign used to generate.

Take a look at these adorable faces – then choose your favorite ENCORE! Moppet! 

CLICK to order your ENCORE! Moppet before they’re gone!

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Ahoy Matey!

Every year I am fortunate to attend the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Annual Stewardship Partners meeting. Many of the grantees who benefit from NFWF support, gather to report on what has been accomplished and to share ideas. I have attended a few of these conferences and have met some very impressive people who have dedicated their lives to conservation and habitat restoration.

One of those wildlife superstars is Margo Zdravkovic, Director of Conservian/Coastal Bird Conservation. Each year during breeding season, she hosts a volunteer vacation week in the Bahamas and she asked us to share this announcement with our audience of conservation-minded adventurers.

Here is a message from Margo and a link to their website: and their Facebook page. Conservian Coastal Bird Conservation

I wish I had the time and money to attend so if anyone of you is lucky enough to participate, please let me know how you enjoyed you week.

Margo Zdravkovic:

We need your help to protect beach-nesting birds, nests, and young. Conservian is seeking a weekly crew of 8-12 enthusiastic volunteers for our Bahamas shorebird habitat conservation project in May 2017 aboard our 75 ft. research schooner. Field crew will assist project directors with daily project activities. This is an excellent opportunity to gain field experience and shorebird ID skills. Trip cost for one week is $1,250 and includes your bunk, on board meals, water, and ground transportation associated with project. Participants will fly to the Bahamas to designated airports for shuttle transport to schooner. A valid passport is required. Airfare and insurance are not included. Focal species include Wilson’s Plovers, American Oystercatchers, Least Terns and other colonial nesting species. 

The Dead-Bird Detective

Whenever we have a suspected shooting of a whooping crane the remains are sent to the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, Oregon. 

I’ve often wondered about the people that work at this facility so when the “Dead-bird Detective” headline popped up on my news feed earlier this week I knew I had to share.

Meet Mr. Pepper Trail – the world’s leading criminal forensic ornithologist. CLICK to read his story.



One of the measures I use to judge the quality of my career is who I get to count as a mentor. People like Dr. George Archibald, co-founder of the International Crane Foundation and likely the world’s leading crane expert, or even Dr. Jane Goodall who needs no introduction, have helped me along the way. On that esteemed list, I include Walter Sturgeon who recently retired from our Board of Directors. Walter has a long list of retirements beginning when he left an impressive career as a nuclear engineer. He then became the Deputy Director of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. At the same time he was president of the International Wild Waterfowl Association for twenty three years, raised his own flock of cranes and was a thirty year trustee of the Whooping Crane Conservation Association. 

Beyond all of that, Walter was part of our migration team since 2005 and served on our Board of Directors since 2007. He has broken many speed limits while trying to stay under our aircraft so he could help track drop-out birds. He fed the crew hundreds of meals, taught many of us to appreciate good scotch and entertained us with a million stories. He helped us fight our battles, raise our funds and save our cranes. More than that, he has become a trusted friend and an inspiration to far more than just me. Walter is the first Director Emeritus of Operation Migration and his legacy can be seen migrating twice a year in the Eastern Flyway. 

Right: Joe Duff presents Walter Sturgeon (left) with a photograph in appreciation for the time he served on our Board before retiring.