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What Makes a Good Stopover Site for an Ultralight-led Migration?

By Operation Migration leader and pilot Joe Duff

Our shopping list for a stopover site is short but demanding. On migration we need landing sites about every 50 miles. If we have headwinds, landing sites are needed at 30-mile intervals. If we could custom build them, stopover sites would be:

  • at least a mile from the sound of traffic.
  • out of sight of buildings or any other human equipage.
  • in open country with an upland feeding area and a lowland roosting spot,
  • all beside a grass runway as smooth as a bowling green, and…
  • with a hangar just over the hill.

Some biologists have questioned why we are not satisfied with areas that are frequented by wild sandhill cranes. But wild cranes have advantages that our birds do not. The birds we raised are neither tame nor wild. Like any creature, they have a natural fear of the unknown, but the rest is a learned response and our ability to teach them is severely limited.

Try This! Journal Questions
  • In the first three ultralight-led migrations, the pilots used the same stopover sites. They changed the location of the Cumberland County, TN stopover site in 2004. Why do you think they did this? After you think about it, click here for more.
  • How do you think the flight team found good stopover sites?
  • What do you think could happen if wild sandhill cranes were at the landing sites used on the young whoopers' very first journey south—when the pilots, like parents, are showing them where to go?

Journey North is pleased to feature this educational adventure made possible by the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP).