Progress Update On Operation Migration

Photo Courtesy,

By Betsy Thorpe

Operation Migration’s Class of 2008 arrived in Savannah Tennessee on December 5th 2008. Rain and wrong way winds grounded the migration for a week. On the morning of December 12th the cranes and their guides departed Savannah, embarking on a fifty seven mile flight to Franklin County Alabama. The birds and crew currently remain in Franklin County waiting for a break in the weather.

Operation Migration Chief Operating Officer,Liz Condie recently took time to explain why the flock will be separated after arriving at St.Marks National Wildlife Refuge in Florida.

“In February of 2007, a storm that took 20 lives hit Florida. 17 of the 18 birds in the Class of 2006 that was wintering at the Chassahowitzka NWR were lost. Once we deliver the Class of the year to Florida they are turned over to biologists and handlers from US Fish and Wildlife and the International Crane Foundation. They monitor the birds at the pensite twice a day – morning and evening – but because there was no warning of the severity of the storm, the birds were not released from the top covered pen in which they were holding them. There was a lightening strike near their pensite which we believe stunned them and knocked them down. The storm brought unusually high tides as well and the cause of death (from necropsies performed later) was in most instances drowning. One bird escaped (we don’t know how) but was later predated. As a result we lost an entire generation, a year’s work, and the hard won funding that supported that effort. We were devastated as you can imagine.”

“After that time the Project Direction team of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership re-examined all protocols to try to establish and build in new safeguards that could mitigate a similar act of nature. One of the outcomes was the decision to split the flock and have them winter at two different locations. In this way we will not have ‘all our cranes in one basket’. This year we will lead half the birds to the St. Marks NWR on the coast of the Florida Panhandle and then lead the rest to Chassahowitzka. This will be effected at a staging area just north of St. Marks where we will set up both of our mobile travel pens and divide the birds using genetics, gender, socialization and dominance traits etc to determine which birds will be in which group.”

Below is an article first posted to this site on December 6, 2008

By Betsy Thorpe

On Friday December 5th, the Operation Migration Class of ’08 comprised of fourteen young Whooping Cranes guided by four ultralight aircraft and one top cover Cessna airplane landed at Horse Creek Wildlife Sanctuary and Animal Refuge in Savannah Tennessee one hundred miles west of Nashville.

Operation Migration has played a leading role in the reintroduction of endangered Whooping Cranes into eastern North America since 2001. In the 1940s the species was reduced to just 15 birds. The fourteen cranes in the class of ’08 were hatched in captivity and fostered by human surrogate parents. In nature Whooping Cranes and other waterfowl learn their migration route from their parents. Birds who are raised in captivity will not migrate. This is a particular concern for endangered species. The techniques developed by Operation Migration are thought by many to be the only hope for re-establishing migratory flocks of several endangered species, including eastern North American Whooping Cranes.

The stopover in Savannah Tennessee marked the halfway point in the thirteen hundred mile guided migration from Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin to St. Marks Wildlife Refuge near Tallahassee Florida. Half of the birds will stay at St.Marks for the winter,the others will be lead to the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Reserve on central Florida’s gulf coast. Both flocks will remain in Florida until this coming spring when they will return north, unaided to the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin.

For more information on Operation Migration or to follow the Whooping Cranes guided migratory progress visit


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