Horicon Birds home page

Contact HoriconBirds.com

Are you a lost birdie?
Horicon Marsh information

Bird watchers report it!
Passenger pigeon sightings

Where can I find some of these prints locally?:


The classic vegan cookbook
by Pam Rotella!

The Guided Whooping Crane Migration Begins
by Pam Rotella
2 October 2013, last updated 3 October 2013

ST. MARIE, WISCONSIN - An annual milestone in the birding and scientific communities began this morning at White River Marsh, Wisconsin, as Operation Migration started its 2013 guided whooping crane migration. Birdwatchers, photographers, neighbors, and the organization's staff gathered along a road near the marsh to watch eight young whooping cranes depart on their first migration to Florida.

Richard van Heuvelen leads with four cranes, 2 October 2013, photo by Pam Rotella
Ultra-light Pilot Richard van Heuvelen departs White River Marsh with four young whooping cranes who would continue to their first migration stop, photo by Pam Rotella

Four cranes followed the lead pilot, Richard van Heuvelen, to their first migration stop a few miles away. The remaining birds were initially willing to follow the next pilot, Brooke Pennypacker, but then returned to their pen.

After several additional attempts to guide the birds, including leading only one crane willing to fly with him, and then giving the cranes a rest before their final attempt, Pennypacker was heard on a radio call noting "open-mouthed breathing" by the birds, a sign of exhaustion. A decision was made to crate the four remaining cranes and drive them to the first location stop, according to Operation Migration's In the Field blog.

Brooke Pennypacker follows with cranes who would refuse to follow, photo by Pam Rotella
Ultra-light Pilot Brooke Pennypacker follows with young cranes who would later break off and refuse to follow, 2 October 2013, photo by Pam Rotella

Whooping cranes remain among the most endangered species in the world, the latest count finding only 575, including those in captivity.

Operation Migration is a part of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, a group of organizations who have reestablished an eastern whooping crane flyway that had disappeared when the species nearly went extinct. Although a flock of whooping cranes now migrate between Wisconsin and Florida, the flock is not yet considered to be self-sustaining, or large enough to maintain its numbers without human intervention.

Crane watchers gather to watch the event, 2 October 2013, photo by Pam Rotella
People lined the street to see the cranes depart, photo by Pam Rotella

Roadside craniacs, photo by Pam Rotella

All original content including photographs © 2013 by Pam Rotella.