Listen and Look: How Can You Tell a Bird is Getting Tired in the Air?

Listen! What 4 behaviors let pilots know a Whooping Cranes is getting tired in the air? Hear this audio clip of Pilot Joe Duff's words to find the answers (or read Joe's words below).

Text for Joe's Audio Clip:

Pilot Joe Duff: During the migration we can tell if the birds are getting tired because they do a number of things:

1. First of all there’ll be a lot of changing of the flight order. They’re looking for an easier place to fly as they get a little tired and start to panic, I guess, a little bit. . .
2. And then you’ll notice that a couple of birds will open their mouths and start to pant. You’ll see them panting.
3. Then they’ll also drop their legs and splay their toes so that they help cool their body because it’s starting to get overheated.
4. And then you’ll see them start to drop down lower. They’re still trying desperately to keep up but they’re just having a tough time. And what we can do at that point is — a second aircraft can come in and pick those birds up. Now because there are fewer birds in the line (you’ve divided the flock in half), each aircraft can “carry” an appropriate number of birds so each bird gets a better ride. The closer they get to the wing, the easier it is for them. They can fly on that "wake" [of air current]— so if we have two aircraft, that really helps.

Look! In the video clip below, you'll see and hear the ultralight coming at you over the trees, with its vocalizer playing the contact call. You'll see 3 birds. Then one tires and drops away, and rejoins later. Do you see the three birds switch positions at the end of the clip?

<font size="2" face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif">Sorry, your browser doesn't support the embedding of multimedia.</font>

Technical Notes:

  • Click on screen to activate. Then press start button. (Large file. Wait for download.)
  • If you do not see a video, your browser does not support "embedded" multimedia. You can download this video file directly instead. For additional help see these technical tips.

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