October 6, 2006—Ultralight planes and 18 whooping cranes
took flight yesterday from Wisconsin, ushering in new milestones for the
conservation nonprofit Operation Migration. (Read full new story).
The program's pilots dress as birds and serve as "surrogate parents" to whoopers, which are listed on the U.S. endangered species list. Each year the birds learn from the pilots how to do what ought to come naturally: migrate south for the winter, in this case, to Floridaa roughly 60-day, 1,228-mile (1,976-kilometer) journey.
2006 marks the first year that chicks that hatched in the wild are being included in the ultralight journeyand the first year that all the birds reached the first scheduled stopping point.
Down from a historical high of more than 10,000 birds, whooping crane numbers plummeted to 21 in the 1940s due to hunting, egg poaching, and habitat destruction. Operation Migration is one of several programs that have helped the tallest native U.S. bird species reach its current population of a few hundred birds.