On the Brink of Extinction
Since the time of dinosaurs, Whooping cranes have migrated between their wintering grounds on the Texas Gulf Coast and their breeding grounds in northern Canada. On the brink of extinction, only 15 wild migratory Whooping cranes remained in the early 1940s.
Bringing Back the Cranes
Since 2001, with ultralight aircraft leading the way, a new wild migratory flock is being reintroduced to the eastern U.S. The goal is 25 breeding pairs from 125 birds by 2020. To start this new flock, scientists took eggs laid by Whooping cranes in captivity. The first chicks were hatched in 2001 and raised by humans dressed in special costumes. With no wild parents to teach the way, they learned their fall migration route by following pilots flying ultralight aircraft. These pilots, from an organization called Operation Migration, led the young cranes to wintering grounds in Florida. Each autumn since 2001, Operation Migration pilots have led a new group of captive-bred chicks on the same "eastern" migration route between Wisconsin and Florida.
Each year, new crane chicks are raised in captivity, trained to migrate with the ultralight aircrafts, and added to the new eastern flock. From a low of just 15 birds in 1941, this flock's population rose to a record 281 birds in 2011. The long-term recovery goal is a self-sustaining population of at least 1,000 Whooping cranes in North America by 2035.
Following the Cranes and Celebrating Survival
This fall, Operation Migration will lead six chicks from Wisconsin to Florida beginning October, 2012. Species recovery is a long-term challenge. Journey North celebrates the stories of survival as we follow the annual cycle of this endangered species. Every year is an exciting new chapter in the Whooping cranes' return from the brink of extinction!