Watch the birdies

Crowd turns out to see whooping cranes fly by


An Operation Migration pilot flies an ultralight as he leads 10 Whooping Cranes over Dunnelloin Airport in Dunnell, Fla. on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2010.

Bruce Ackerman/Star-Bannerr
Published: Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 19, 2010 at 11:23 p.m.

DUNNELLON - Printed on the side of a white Operation Migration truck are these words: "Fewer than 500 Whooping Cranes remain between survival and ... extinction."

Ten of those birds - all chicks making their first migration - flew over the Dunnellon/Marion County Airport on Tuesday morning.

More than 700 people waited to get a glimpse of the birds as they winged their way behind ultralight aircraft flown by men dressed in whooping crane costumes. The flyover was one of the final legs of a 1,250-mile journey that began in Necedah, Wis.

"It was kind of mesmerizing," said Waleed Khan, a seventh grader from Tampa Preparatory School, who woke up at 4 a.m. to attend the flyover with classmates as part of their science project to follow the path of the endangered species.

His classmate Hannah Campo said the students are fortunate.

"The seventh grade class gets to do this every year," she said. "There's a bird. There's a plane. There's a whooping crane."

Because of Tuesday's heavy morning fog, the birds did not fly over the airport until about 10:30 a.m.

The chicks are part of a special project of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, a consortium of government and private agencies from Canada and the U.S. that works to ensure survival of the endangered species.

This is the ninth year Operation Migration is teaching whooper chicks to migrate.

While still in the eggs, the sound of ultralight aircraft is played. After they are born, the chicks are fed and cared for by people wearing whooping crane costumes and carrying crane puppets. No one speaks near the birds, to prevent them from attaching to humans.

The hope is the birds will imprint on the aircraft and costumed pilots so they follow the aircraft and learn to migrate. The goal is to create a second migratory flock of whoopers in the event the only existing wild migrating flock, which flies from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast, should become diseased or die off.

After Tuesday's flyover, the birds were taken for a brief stop at Halpata Tastanaki Preserve before resuming flight to their final destination, Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Crystal River, where they will spend the winter.

In the spring, the birds will migrate north on their own.

Contact Susan Latham Carr 352-867-4156 or susan.carr@starbanner.com.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

Comments are currently unavailable on this article

▲ Return to Top