Meet the Whooping Crane Class of 2015
Hatch-year 2015 of the Eastern Flock
Back to Meet the Cranes 2015

Whooping Crane Chick #8-15
Operation Migration

Crane # 8-15
Date Hatched May 10
Gender Female

Temporary legband: Light Blue

Left Leg Right Leg


Personality and Training:

Chick #8 hatched at Maryland's Patuxent WRC from an egg removed from the first nest of #3-04 and #9-03 in Wisconsin. She is a calm bird, good follower and very cute. She is happy and joyful on walks. She skips along with her wings spread—although she can slow the group down and be a forager (along with #2). Here she's enjoying a moment of calm.

Female #8-15 has a full sibling: W18-15 hatched from the second nest of the same parents that laid the egg with #8-15.

#8 in the pen
Calm and happy.
Operation Migration

July 2 was arrival day in Wisconsin for the six young cinnamon- colored Whooping cranes. None of the birds showed any signs of stress from their airplane trip-in-a-box from Maryland where they hatched. They happily explored their new surroundings for "Flight School."

Here's Crane #8 on July 6, showing off the developing feathers that will soon make her a good flier!

#8 shows off her wings
Flight feathers!
Operation Migration

By the end of July, the colts are strong enough to fly close to the surface but not yet able to climb. "So our daily exercising consists of a high speed taxi down the length of the runway while the birds fly beside us," explains pilot Joe Duff.

"We also have early morning visitors," tells Joe. "As soon as they hear the engine approaching. Sub-adult Whooping cranes #4-12 and #3-14 fly in to see what is going on."


flying near the ground by the end of July
Flying near the gound
Tom Schultz

By mid August all six young Whooping Cranes were airborne! By the third week in August they were flying for over 20 minutes at a time, doing really well as a group. To keep them busy during their non-flying hours in the large pen, the team put chunks of watermelon in the pen for the young birds to peck at and play with. They loved it!


Young cranes like watermelon!
We Love Watermelon!
Doug Pellerin
Ready! By September, Operation Migration pilots reported that all six birds are doing incredibly well—a big contrast to last year’s cohort at this time. They said, "No doubt about it, this cohort is ready to migrate!" The target departure date was set for September 20th.

The expected departure didn't happen Sep. 20th because crops still covered the fields where the first stopover sites would be! The cranes continued to train on good-weather days, performing well— as usual.

Crane #8 is on the left.
Sep. 20: #8 on the left
Doug Pellerin

Delays: The departure didn't happen on September 20th because crops still covered the fields where the first stopover sites would be! The cranes continued to train on good-weather days, performing well—as usual. They were fogged in on the new target date of September 26th and again Sep. 27.

In the meantime, the team works hard to think of fun things to keep the cranes from being too bored. They have fun attacking a sunflower for the seeds to eat!

Young cranes pass some time getting sunflower seeds from the flower.
Sunflower Seeds: Yum!
Operation Migration

Sep. 30: Migration Begins! Pilots call these birds the Super Six because they are such great followers—not a rebel or maverick among them this year. They easily flew the five miles to the first stopover and landed right next to the trike. They all stood at attention, heads up, eyes wide and moved closer to the aircraft as the only thing familiar in a strange new environment. The plane taxied close to the travel pen and the birds stopped chasing grasshoppers to obediently go inside. Crane #11 was first in, crossing the threshold as if it were everyday stuff. Crane #2 was next and then they all came in. The Journey South is underway!

The Super Six flying with the aircraft
Sep. 30: Migration Begins!
Operation Migration
Oct. 14: On the second leg of the migration, cranes #8-15 and #11-15 got discouraged in a layer of turbulent air and the pilots couldn't keep them with the aircraft. They were crated and driven to Stop #2 after two attempts.
Cranes #8 and #11 before they dropped out on Oct. 14
Oct 14: Before Giving Up
Doug Pellerin

Nov. 2: Exercise day on November 2 was a welcome relief after days of being penned due to un-flyable weather.

Nov. 7: The next possible day to fly didn't come until November 7, Day 39. None of the birds except #2 would cooperate with the pilots. Crane #8 and the four others who wouldn't stay with the plane were boxed and driven the 57 miles to LaSalle County, Illinois as #2-15 completed the flight alone.

Nov. 8: Today #8 and four of the others (#1 was boxed) flew the 55 miles to Livingston County, Illinois.

#8 on exercise day, Nov. 2
Nov. 2: Exercise Day
Operation Migration
Nov. 9, 20, 22: Nov. 9 was the third fly-day in a row! All six took off together and flew to Piatt County, Illinois. They were grounded there by wind or weather delays until flying again Nov. 20. They also flew Nov. 22, reaching the final stop (Wayne County) in the long state of Illinois.
Class of 2015 flying to Cumberland County, Illinois
Nov. 22: Last Stop in Illinois
Peter Weber
Persistent south winds delayed the migration many days. They took only four flights in December. The team took a week off for the holiday break and returned Dec. 28 but weather kept them gounded until January 3rd in the new year.
January, 2016: Migration continued, slowed by weather delays and crane behavior challenges. They flew on January 3, 11, 13, 14, 24 and 30 (when they crossed the border into Florida). The longest ultralight-led migration is finally near an end.
Class of 2015
Still Migrating in January
Operation Migration

February 6, 2016: The migration came to a strange ending on Feb. 6, 2016. Instead of being guided the final 24 miles to their new winter home by aircraft, the Class of 2015 arrived in crates. With no decent weather ahead and not wanting to delay the migration any longer, the team felt it was the best decision. This photo journey lets you go along on the final day. They will be supervised from a distance by pilot Brooke Pennypacker until they take off on their first unaided migration north this spring.

Project leader Joe Duff assures us that being trucked this short distance will not hamper their ability to navigate back to Wisconsin in the spring. The Class of 2015 is the final cohort to be taught their migration route by costumed pilots in tiny yellow airplanes.

Releasing cranes from crates on arrival day at St. Marks NWR in Florida
Feb. 6: The Finish
Operation Migration

Crane #8 was banded with her lifetime colors and tracking transmitter on Feb. 9. She is one of three cranes wearing the new GSM tracking units.

February 14 was FREEDOM DAY, when their costumed caretakers pulled open the gates to the top-netted pen and released the birds to freedom.

The birds can now come and go from the enclosure, learning to forage for their own food as they become wild and free.

Crane #8 on banding day
Feb. 9: Banding
Operation Migration
Spring 2016: First Unaided Migration North
The remaining five juvenile Whooping cranes (1-15, 6-15, 8-15, 10-15 and 11-15) departed St. Marks NWR at 10:05 a.m. March 30 for their first journey north! (Their flock mate #2-15 left March 22 with four older whoopers from St. Marks leading the way.) They covered just over 200 miles on the first day, roosting in Elmore County, Alabama. This site is within 30 miles of the Lowndes County, AL location where they stopped on their fall migration south. Thunderstorms in the area them there on April 1 but in the next two days they covered close to 400 miles, reaching Henderson County, Kentucky on April 3. They continued northward April 4 and made it to Gibson County, Indiana. On April 6 they reached Putnam County, Illinois, and by April 10 they were in Bureau County, Illinois. Rain and northwinds are keeping them in the area. On April 15 a satellite hit for #10-15 placed her in Green Lake County, Wisconsin! t appears that she (and very likely the other four traveling companions—including #8-15) roosted approximately 5 miles from their former pen site that night!

northward migration progress map as of April 7 a.m.
Progress Map
Once home, they soon began the spring wanderings normal for juveniles. Cranes 6-15, 8-15, 10-15 and 11-15 were in Marquette County, WI before flying off. (See Google Earth map of this group's May travels.) They went up to the Upper Peninsula of Michigam and back to Wisconsin, where the foursome split up. On July 1, female #8-15 was in Calumet County, WI and stayed there all summer.
#6, #8, #10 and #11-15 in June 2016
Summer Wandering
Doug Pellerin
Fall 2016: Female #8-15 relocated from Wisconsin's Calumet County to Winnebago County in mid September, where she was seen with several Sandhill cranes. She left on migration on Dec. 8. By Dec. 12 she was in Brown Co, IN and by Dec. 20 in Sumter Co, AL, where she remained.


8-15 with Sandhill cranes in fall 201610
Fall 2016 with Sandhills
Doug Pellerin

Spring 2017: Female #8-15 spent all of March in Sumter Co, AL. It appears she began migrating north on April 2nd. She returned to Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin, alone.

Crane #8-15 in Wisconsin
Spring 2017
Doug Pellerin
Last Updated: 6/28/2017