Frequently Asked Questions
Students' Questions and Experts' Answers
Contributed by Whooping Crane expert Laura Erickson
Ways to use in the Classroom

Laura goes for an ultralight ride with Joe Duff


Special thanks to ornithologist Laura Erickson for providing her time and expertise in responding to your questions below.

From: Pennsylvania
Loyalsock Township High School

Q: On average how long does it take them to migrate north?

A: The journey north is much quicker than the journey south for the cranes that had followed the Ultralight on their first migration south. Although that journey takes a couple of months, it takes only about 8 days to return from Florida to Wisconsin. (This is a rough estimate—some birds take much longer because they stop here or there along the way.)

The cranes flying from Texas to northern Alberta take roughly a month to make that journey.

Q: How long does it take them to teach them to fly?

A: When cranes hatch, their wings aren’t capable of flight. During their first few weeks, their wings are much too little to be useful, but as the birds grow, they flap them a lot. The flapping builds up the muscles and the bird gets comfortable using those muscles. As the feathers grow longer, making the wings large enough to support their bodies, the cranes start getting off the ground a bit as they flap. They can actually take off in short flights when they’re about 60 days old. Flying is natural, and no one "teaches" them to fly.

Q: How do we catch cranes to band them?

A: When the cranes are still young, before and during their first migration (the age when wild youngsters would still be with their parents), they are easy to “herd” into a trap for safe capture. If one of the Ultralight-led cranes is injured, loses its transmitter signal, or shows signs of sickness when it’s older and independent, it can sometimes still be lured with corn near a large cage trap, and herded into the trap by experts wearing crane costumes. The cranes of the Western population are almost impossible to safely capture if they’re healthy enough to fly away.

From: Ontario

Q: Why is all the attention given to the eastern migration and no attention at all is paid to the mid-continent band of birds?

A: Journey North follows the eastern flock every day during fall migration (Journey South) because the birds are easy to follow. They are with the Operation Migration team who can communicate their location. Birds in the new eastern flock are also banded, making them easy to track individually on all their subsequent migrations. But researchers and Journey North also pay a lot of attention to the wild, natural flock that migrates from Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas to Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta. These birds are NOT* banded. They are left undisturbed so we cannot easily monitor how many chicks are produced or which pairs have been successful raising chicks except by flying over them doing aerial surveys—a job jobs of the biologists who oversee the cranes.

Despite the difficulties in tracking them from day to day, there are many places on the Journey North website where you can learn about the natural (Western) flock. You can also read news about this flock in every spring report of the Journey North season, when we track BOTH migratory flocks: the natural flock in the west/central US, and the new flock in the east. In spring, click "Maps" on the navigation bar and you will see two distinct migratory paths on the map, one for each of the two flocks.

*In winter 2009-2010 a new program of banding a limited number of birds in the natural (Western flock) began. Read more about the new banding program here.

From: Michigan

Q: I would like to know what their call sounds like and how it differs from the Sandhill Crane.

A: See this page for a discussion of how whoopers and sandhills differ. You can also hear some Whooping Crane calls here and hear Sandhill Cranes here.

From: Wisconsin
MHLT Elementary

Q: How far would a Western Whooping Crane leave its young to find food?

A: While the chicks are small and cannot fly, the parents don’t leave them. When chicks are older, they follow their parents even in flight, until they approach their nesting grounds in spring, when the now-adult chicks are on their own.

From: New Jersey

Q: I wonder if you can give me information on visiting the Crane sanctuary in Homossasa, Fl., and /or on volunteering there in the future.

A: You might be able to get information about this from the Friends of Chassahowitzka

From: Kentucky
Harmony Baptist Homeschool

Q: Do their migration routes vary very much?

A: Yes, depending on wind and weather patterns and food supply. But the birds are excellent at finding their destination however long and whatever route they take after they’ve followed their parents (or the Operation Migration team) during their first migration.

From: Iowa

Q: I live in Marengo, IA—West of Iowa city, along the Iowa River). Could I have seen Whopping Cranes migrating? Wednesday morning 3-24-10 around 8am Central time I observed three large birds traveling in a northwest pattern. First there was one alone and trailing behind were 2 more together. They were white with black tips on the underneath of wing ends. They did very little wing flapping but mostly gliding and were high in the sky.

A: It’s possible. But remember that American White Pelicans and Snow Geese are also white with black wing tips. Pelicans spend a lot of time gliding high in the sky.

From: Texas

Q: I am waiting for the Whooping Cranes to pass over my house. They do it both ways spring and fall. What makes the follow such a close path? I live in Cleburne, Texas

A: The closer they are to Aransas, the more likely the cranes are to be on a narrow path. Winds, weather patterns, and food can make their route vary as they get farther and farther away from the average route.
These are also the reasons why their routes are never exactly the same from year to year.

From: Ohio

Q: Do any of the Eastern flock ever find their way into the Ohio region? I live close to the Ohio River in Southern Ohio, Portsmouth actually!

A: Some of these birds do pass through Ohio on the way north. What a fun and lucky thing if you see them near you!

From: Utah

Q: I am very interested in birds and I would love to know how to get involved with helping raise Whooping Cranes to boost the population. I read something about it on the website and I was wondering how I would go about this?

A: You may have read the biography notes on the WCEP team members. The experts who work with Whooping Cranes have gone to college and studied such specialties as veterinary medicine, wildlife management, ornithology, or other disciplines. Your first step is to get this training. This is an endangered species, so many government regulations protect them.

Laura Erickson
For the love, understanding and protection of birds.