Wednesday, May 07, 2008


Photo courtesy of

Blog contributer, Karen Anne Kolling had some questions about what is happening with Operation Migration and wondered if John Blakeman might have some thoughts on the matter.

Hi, John,

I know this isn't up your alley, but...I have been watching the Operation Migration web site about trying to reintroduce migrating whooping cranes by training them to follow ultralights on their first migration.

As I understand it, whoopers have to be at least five years old to really have a chance of raising young. The program is about seven years old, and there was one successful fledging in the wild, two years ago.

This year last three remaining nests were just abandoned So, it is hard to tell if there just hasn't been enough time yet for the birds to get up to speed, or what...Any ideas?


Photo courtesy of


I, too, am intrigued by this entire project. I think it is absolutely brilliant, and hope that it succeeds.

But it will take time, perhaps decades, to get a replicating population going in non-traditional sites and migration paths. On paper, theoretically, it should work. But as with all wild avian reproduction projects, it will take time and repetition and adjustment. I'm sure the folks working on this will adapt things and make them work.

This is a parallel to the work done by Dr. Tom Cade and his cohorts at Cornell in the restoration of peregrine falcon breeding sites in all of North America. I recall following this closely, back in the early 70s. At the time, it was even questionable if hawks could be bred in captivity, let alone released to the wild in new, self-sustaining populations. All of us involved in raptor research were trying new things. I was conducting my small breeding project with Red-tails, while Dr. Cade began to perfect the captive breeding of peregrines.

After he was able to mass produce cage-reared peregrines, (as with the captive-reared whoopers), the next step was to somehow get these birds to exist in the wild and cause them to breed there, restoring populations that DDT had wiped out.

The story is too long to go into here, but obviously, the Peregrine Fund succeeded. I'm hoping the whooping crane people will, in time, be able to establish new, alternate populations of migrating whoopers. It may take a half century to do this, but in the end, it will be worthwhile.

John A. Blakeman

One of the reasons birds are so endlessly fascinating is their myriad differences but just those differences require the implementation of acute specificity when attempting to manipulate their behavior so that we may save them. The horrid irony, of course, is that it is almost always we that have put them in the position of needing to be saved.

Happily the male Indigo Bunting has returned but unhappily he refused to come out from underneath the picnic table.

The best of mates, Friend does sentinel duty while Doorstep eats.

Donegal Browne


Anonymous said...

The picture at the top of the page is of a sandhill crane with chicks, not a whooping crane. Adult whooping cranes are white, and the red on their heads is placed differently.

Donegal Browne said...

Yes, Anon, you are absolutely right!

And I'll notate it as such.