It's Not Like Riding a Bike; Whooping Cranes Relearn Migration

Allison Loudermilk

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.

Read more about migration and aviation at How Animal Migration Works How Human Migration Works Top 10 Bungled Attempts at One-person Flight How Hibernation Works