When you're watching a herd of sleek caribou crunch across the Arctic landscape, animal migration seems preordained, predestined -- a massive, well-coordinated movement that occurs thanks to internal cues and clocks. And that's true, except for animals raised in captivity, like the whooping crane. (Am I the only one who can't help but think of Tom Robbins' book "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues" whenever these tall, leggy creatures are mentioned?)
How do you teach a whooper to migrate? Well, you borrow a lightweight aircraft, get it airborne and broadcast the bird's call on the craft's handy MP3 player, according to Catherine Schwanke's story at Popular Science. Here's a video of them departing:
The aviators and wildlife enthusiasts at Operation Migration first got the idea to teach birds migratory behavior and lead them on safer migration paths after watching geese follow a boat.
In 1988, the organization's co-founder Bill Lishman escorted 12 geese on local flights. After that, they were hooked (the humans, not the geese). Now the organization serves as a sort of avian airline for both sandhill cranes and endangered whooping cranes. It's all-inclusive, too. Tired birds get picked up by nearby pilots, some of whom may or may not be wearing bird suits.