As regular CFZ-watchers will know, for some time Corinna has been doing a column for Animals & Men and a regular segment on On The Track... particularly about out-of-place birds and rare vagrants. There seem to be more and more bird stories from all over the world hitting the news these days so, to make room for them all - and to give them all equal and worthy coverage - she has set up this new blog to cover all things feathery and Fortean.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Rare Whooping Cranes follow ultralight over Alabama

Posted: Jan 13, 2016 8:56 PM GST
Updated: Jan 14, 2016 5:52 PM GST

If you glanced into the Alabama sky Wednesday and thought you saw an ultralight aircraft being followed by five huge birds, it wasn't a mirage. Those birds were Whooping Cranes, one of the nation's most endangered bird species, and they were following what they have been taught to think of as  "mama".

The entourage is part of Operation Migration, a project designed to reintroduce the endangered Whooping Crane to the wild by teaching it to migrate, a learned behavior.

The young birds are taught to recognize keepers and their ultralights as parental figures -- even to the point of being exposed to aircraft motor noises while still in the egg. To keep the birds from imprinting on humans, handlers and pilots wear featureless white suits while with the birds.

The group left the Hayneville area just after daybreak Wednesday morning and reached its next stop in Pike County by midday, covering 51 miles.

Five "whoopers" were following the lead aircraft Wednesday. Six birds are usually in the group, but one was uncooperative Wednesday morning and had to be crated and driven to the next stop. Another ultralight follows the group in case one of the birds grows tired and lands.

The birds leave the Wisconsin training site in late September heading for their ultimate destination -- the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. The trip takes so long because the high winds and poor weather ground the ultralight aircraft on many days.

Continued ...

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