Bird Migration “Tools”

In recent news Cornell Lab of Ornithology and University of Oxford have teamed up to create a near real-time map to follow large-scale migrations, including the ability to predict 3 days ahead.

To learn more: maps/

How to use the map: to-use- the-new- migration-forecast-

CLICK to learn more

Share Button

Wrong Way Whooper

Parent-reared Whooping crane #72-17 was released in early October in Winnebago County, Wisconsin. For a few weeks, he was monitored by Jo-Anne Bellemer as he moved about the area with a small group of Sandhill cranes. 

This fella gets high marks for traveling the farthest last fall. Four days after leaving Wisconsin, he appeared in Okeechobee County, FL, some 1300 miles to the south.

He began heading north on April 2nd and everything was going great until 4 days later when he appeared to make a right turn over northern Kentucky, instead of staying on his trajectory.

Thereafter, #72-17 encountered the south shore of Lake Erie before doubling back and then veering north into Michigan. oops!

Share Button

If You Build It, They Will Come – Or Not!

Not far from Operation Migration headquarters, 11 miles to the south, used to be a 1,500 acre thoroughbred horse breeding farm called Windfields Farm.

It’s most famously known as the birthplace of Norther Dancer – winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.

I have driven past this beautiful parcel of land countless time as I drove my kids into the ‘big city of Oshawa’; approximate population of 160,000. I always took a quick glance off the road to see the fields of horses and imagined what it would be like to grow up there. 

The passing of E.P. Taylor in 1989 and then his son, Charles, in 1997 led to a downsizing and the eventual closure of the farm. Large parcels of land were sold to University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) and Durham College with much of the remaining land sold for residential development. Just to the north, the 407 toll highway was expanded further east. 

As I drive past this area now, I still look hoping to see the majestic horses in those fields but instead what I do see, besides the development, is nesting structures, referred to as kiosks.

Four large Barn swallow kiosks, back-dropped by new, large human homes. Photo: H. Ray

Due to a large drop, 66% from 1970 – 2012, in barn swallow populations the Ontario government mandated in 2013 that anyone who modifies or destroys a barn must provide a replacement within a kilometer and near foraging habitat.  Ontario Ministry of Transportation alone, installed 148 barn swallow kiosks at a cost of $3,500 ea. 

The problem is – the barn swallows aren’t really flocking to them.  Bird Studies Canada has found that only ½ of the 20 erected structures are being occupied.  Many farmers are saying though, that there are far fewer barn swallows nesting in their barns as well.  So what exactly is the problem?  It seems, it may very well be a combination of factors.

Read more from ON nature

Share Button

Meanwhile, at the Marsh…

Brooke made a quick stop at our camp near White River Marsh yesterday to drop off the tracking van. Before leaving it behind to head back to Florida to retrieve the RV, he and Bev Paulan did a circuit around the marsh listening for transmitter beeps.

In all, they located 7 Whooping cranes, including: 3-14 and 4-12 (the Royal Couple), 5-12 and 30-16, 4-14 & 67-15 (Peanut and a potential girlfriend!?), and 28-17 (Joe’s elusive male Parent-reared crane from last year).

Female Whooping crane 67-15. This is her first visit to the White River Marsh area. Photo: B. Pennypacker

Male Whooping crane #4-14. Photo: B. Pennypacker

2 yr. old male Whooping crane #30-16 (aka Johnny). Photo: B. Pennypacker

6 yr. old male Whooping crane #5-12 (aka Henry). Photo: B. Pennypacker

Share Button

2 Year Long Investigation in Whooping Crane Shooting

RAYNE, La. – Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Enforcement agents cited a Louisiana man and a juvenile on April 3 in Acadia Parish for allegedly shooting two endangered whooping cranes.

After an almost two-year investigation, agents cited Kaenon A. Constantin, 25, and a juvenile from Rayne, for violating the Endangered Species Act, hunting from a public road and obstruction of justice.

The cranes were found just south of Rayne off of Hwy. 35 and Hains Hwy on the afternoon of May 20, 2016. The cranes were recovered and sent in for a necropsy, which revealed they were both shot.

Through the course of the investigation, agents determined that Constantin and the juvenile shot the two whooping cranes with .22 caliber rifles from an ATV on a public road.

Agents seized two .22 caliber rifles and an ATV in connection with the violations.

Violating the Endangered Species Act brings up to a $50,000 fine and a year in jail.  Hunting from a public road carries up to a $15,000 fine and six months in jail.  Obstruction of justice brings up to 10 years in jail.

Wildlife and Fisheries has released 125 whooping cranes since 2011 and are currently tracking 66 whooping cranes. The cranes, in this case, were released in December of 2015.


Share Button

Gearing UP for the Season

So far, the Eastern Migratory Population (EMP) has been the most successful attempt to reintroduce Whooping cranes. They have learned to migrate along the eastern flyway, and have taught their offspring that same behavior. Their survival rates are comparable to the only naturally occurring flock.

With very few exceptions, they select appropriate habitat and avoid humans – just as wild cranes should. They mate with the correct species, defend their nesting territories, produce viable eggs and hatch healthy chicks in sufficient numbers to become self-sustaining. The last challenge is to get those chicks to survive the eighty days it takes them to learn to fly.

Whooping cranes and Sandhill cranes are similar species that use comparable habitat, and exhibit similar nesting and rearing behaviors. Knowing how one is surviving in a specific environment should indicate whether the other at least has a chance. Based on that, Operation Migration’s Field Researcher, Jeff Fox, assisted the Fish & Wildlife Service last year in conducting chick mortality research of both species.

Although one year is a small sample size and nothing on which to base management decisions, indications from last year’s data suggest that the Whooping cranes in the study area are doing just as well as their Sandhill counterparts at keeping their chicks alive until they fledge.

This year, while the Fish and Wildlife Service continue their research, OM will conduct a similar study at White River Marsh in Green Lake County. It is critical research and, looking back, it should have been done earlier.

With fingers crossed, we have two potential pairs that could breed in or around the White River Marsh this year. Craniacs know one of the pairs as “The Royal Couple” and they are already back at White River Marsh. We hope to deploy our 24-hour camera once again and, with luck, we will capture the first live broadcast of a successful Whooping crane nesting. This, of course, depends on where the pair chooses to build their nest.

You may recall their first attempt at nesting took place last spring but ended abruptly when a third Whooper (#4-14/aka Peanut) landed nearby. Both nesting adults chased the interloper away, which allowed a coyote to move in to the nest.

The Royal Couple (above) returned to White River Marsh last week. We are hopeful they learned from their nesting experience last year, and are more vigilant this season. Photo: Doug Pellerin

In the recovery of Whooping cranes, the naturally occurring flock that migrates from Canada to Texas is, by far, the most important asset. It is now up to 430 individuals and growing at the rate of four percent per year. The second most valuable resource is the Eastern Migratory Population with 103 individuals and 22 breeding pairs. It has taken eighteen years, lots of hard work and millions of dollars to create this flock and it is one step – albeit a big one – away from success.

We owe our continued effort and our undying dedication to those cranes and the people who helped put them there. Please support us in conducting the research that will help the flock clear that last hurdle.

To help us carry out this important work, please click here.

Alternatively, we have created a “wish list” on, which lists most of the items needed to conduct the Sandhill crane mortality study. Have a look at the list and select the item(s) you would like to purchase for our work this year! 

Share Button

Two More Cranes Head North

Yesterday evening I received an email from Mary Yandell with details of a sighting made by Cyndi and Steve Rutledge.

Mary and Cyndi are co-editors of the Eastern Crane Bulletin, a fine newsletter produced by KY Coalition for Sandhill Cranes.

It seems Cyndi and Steve were birding in Christian County, Kentucky when two Whooping cranes dropped in to roost for the night.

Mary was able to relay legbands to me, which determined the two are parent-reared Whooping cranes, #’s 19-17 & 25-17.

These two young males followed female cranes 2-15 & 28-05 south last fall and spent the entire winter in northeast Alabama.

They were among the first cranes to leave Wisconsin last fall and this spring, they’re among the last to return.

Cyndi captured this image using her mobile phone and her spotting scope. (Thanks Cyndi!)

Share Button

The Boys Are Back in Town!

On his regular Thursday tracking around White River Marsh and surrounding area yesterday, Doug Pellerin was thrilled when the two male Whooping cranes 5-12 & 30-16 flew right over his head. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get his camera out fast enough but radio signals confirmed their identity as the two birds who left St. Marks NWR on March 23rd.

Doug resumed his tracking and determined the two cranes had landed in Henry’s Pond – a small wet area, which was quite popular last year with the costume-reared cohort and others.

Later in the afternoon the signal for 30-16 indicated he was in another favorite spot along the Fox River, while Henry (5-12) was back at his favorite field along Mile Rd.

Welcome back boys! And thanks for the photos Doug!

Whooping crane 5-12 camouflages quite well with the fresh snow. Photo: Doug Pellerin

Henry alarm calling with some Sandhill cousins. Photo: Doug Pellerin

Get your own #5-12 Whooping crane moppet!

Share Button

Cry4 – Bird’s Eye View

European robin

Two recently published studies may have found what allows birds to navigate accurately. It’s a newly discovered eye protein known as Cry4.

This protein is light sensitive and increases during periods of migration, which may allow birds to see the earth’s magnetic field.

The two studies involved Zebra finches and European robins.

Read more…

Share Button

The Platte River

Many of our “craniacs” will have no doubt heard of the Platte River in Nebraska and perhaps have even visited the area. It is a powerful and important resource area for the Sandhill cranes, Whoopers and other birds to stop, rest, eat and put on weight before tackling the last of their journey to their breeding grounds in Northern Canada, Alaska and Siberia. It’s one of the last great migrations that can still be viewed in the wild.

Human activity is encroaching on this area like so many others in the world. Dams and water diversions have created a completely different landscape than what was once there, putting much stress on the area to continue to be a safe haven for these migrating birds.

Special care must be taken to ensure the remaining land is preserved.

Read more…

and even more…

Share Button

Panda Bears

So you might be wondering, “Why is she talking about panda bears on a Whooping crane website?”

There are a couple of reasons…

First, Operation Migration started out in Canada and eventually expanded to the US as well.

Recently the Toronto Zoo had the honour of hosting two panda bears on loan from China. While in the zoo’s care, a set of panda cubs twins were born. What can be any cuter than a roly-poly, chubby bear cub? As of Friday, March 23rd the family of four travelled to Calgary Zoo, where they will be on display for the remaining five years. It is hoped they will have more cubs while at their facility, as Calgary Zoo is part of a global conservation breeding program.

Which brings me to the connection to Whooping cranes – they are also the only Canadian breeding facility for Whooping cranes at the Devonian Wildlife Conservation Centre which is part of the Calgary Zoo. Many of those eggs have been supplied to WCEP for the eastern migratory population.

Before I began working for Operation Migration the first and maybe only endangered species that would come to mind was the panda, probably due in no small part to the World Wildlife Fund logo. Imagine my disbelief when I learned there were more pandas in the wild than was Whooping cranes. I clearly remember asking Heather, “Why don’t more people know about this?” 2014 figures estimate them around 1,800. When I started here in 2001 we had a sticker on our vehicles that stated “Fewer than 500 Whooping cranes”.

So, if you are looking for a trip to take, why not consider going to the Calgary Zoo where you can see panda bears and Whooping cranes…

See more…

Share Button

Monthly Update

Eastern Migratory Population, Whooping Crane Update – April 2, 2018 

Below is the most recent update for the Eastern Migratory Population of Whooping Cranes. In the last month most Whooping Cranes have completed migration! A huge thank-you to the staff of Operation Migration, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Natural Resources, the International Crane Foundation, and all of the volunteers who help us keep track of the cranes throughout the year. We appreciate your contribution to the recovery of the whooping crane eastern migratory population.

Population Estimate

The current estimated population size is 103 (48 F, 52 M, 3 U). As of 2 April, at least 35 Whooping Cranes are in Wisconsin, 2 in Michigan, 16 in Illinois, 19 in Indiana, 8 in Kentucky, 3 in Tennessee, 3 in Alabama, and 2 in Florida. Some of these birds have begun migration and have not been reported further north, so these are the last known locations. The remaining birds’ locations have not been confirmed in the last month. See maps below.

2017 Wild-hatched chicks

W3-17 (U) is migrated back to Wisconsin with its parents (24-09 and 42-09) and was last seen in Adams Co, WI with 31-16, 29-16, and 39-16. 39-16 has moved to Monroe Co, but we’re not sure if W3-17 and others went with him.

W7-17 (F) is left Morgan Co, AL with her parents (14-08 and 24-08, and was last reported in Edwards Co, IL.

Parent-Reared 2017 Cohort

19-17 (M) and 25-17 (M) are still in Jackson Co, AL likely with adult 37-07 (M).

28-17 (M) left Okeechobee Co, FL, and is in Jackson Co, IN with Sandhill Cranes.

24-17 (M) is still in Randolph Co, IL, however 63-15 has returned to Wisconsin.

72-17 (M) is still in Hendry Co, FL. (Note: as of 4/3/2018, she is in Lake County, FL.)

30-17 (F) left Plaquemines Parish, LA, and is currently in Hickman Co, KY.

38-17 (F) is still in Dodge Co, WI with Sandhill Cranes.

39-17 (F) is in LaPorte Co, IN with Sandhill Cranes.

36-17 (F) left Madison Co, FL and is currently in Gallatin Co, IL.

Costume-Reared 2017 Cohort

3-17 (M) and 7-17 (F) left Morgan Co, AL at Wheeler NWR, and are currently in Webster Co, KY with 69-16.

4-17 (M) and 6-17 (F) left Fulton Co, KY and are currently in Clinton Co, IL.

1-17 (M), 2-17 (F), and 8-17 (F) left Talladega Co, AL and are currently in Lawrence Co, TN.

Parent-Reared 2016 Cohort

29-16 (M) and 39-16 (M) left Dyer Co, TN and were in Adams Co, WI, with 31-16 and W3-17. 39-16 is currently in Monroe Co, WI, but we’re not sure if the other birds moved with him.

30-16 (M) and 5-12 (M) left St. Mark’s NWR in Wakulla Co, FL, and are currently in Saline Co, IL. (Note: it is believed these two resumed migration between 3/29 – 4/1)

31-16 (M) left Weakley Co, TN, and was last seen in Adams Co, WI, with 29-16, W3-17, and 39-16. 39-16 has moved to Monroe Co, but we’re not sure if 31-16 and others went with him.

33-16 (F)’s satellite transmitter is still firing off along the Mississippi River in Clinton Co, IA, however she has not been seen. We suspect she may be dead, but we have not yet removed her from the totals until we can confirm.

69-16 (F) left Wheeler NWR in Morgan Co, AL and is currently in Webster Co, KY with 3-17 and 7-17.

71-16 (F) left Jackson Co, IN, and is currently in Winnebago Co, WI.

Confirmed Whooping Crane locations as of 2 April 2018.

Share Button

Nesting Waterbirds

While the following video and article pertain to the Texas coast, its message holds true for any coastal area. 

Shorebirds are nesting and human activity can have a negative effect on them. Whether you’re out for a stroll on the beach to enjoy the scenery or to walk your dog, please be respectful of any nesting birds. 


Read more…

Share Button

15 Fun Facts About Bird Migration

Typically we think of bird migration taking place in the spring and the fall but did you know there are actually birds migrating 365 days a year? 

Check out these other interesting migration factoids!

North American migration flyways. Source:


Share Button

The “Royal Couple” Hath Returned!

Craniac Rich Smith sent along the following photo yesterday, confirming the presence of Whooping crane pair dubbed the Royal Couple near White River Marsh in Green Lake County, Wisconsin on Friday afternoon.

Cranes 4-12 (M) and 3-14 (F) spent the winter in south Georgia but apparently left in mid-March to begin heading north. 

Welcome home!

The Royal Couple consists of female 3-14 (left) and male 4-12. Photo: Rich Smith

Share Button