Clues to Crane Navigation:
What Can We Learn from Crane 309?

“Crane #309 seems to think it’s her personal mission to visit all of these states as an ambassador for the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership,” jokes Joe Duff. (Joe, who is ultralight pilot and Project Leader for Operation Migration, has led every group of new crane chicks on their first journey south since the experimental project began in 2001.)

Just what does Joe mean by that? Here's #309's story:

  • Number 309 has never returned to Wisconsin since the day she left the state following the ultralight back in 2003.
  • On her first return migration, she and eight flockmates were flushed from their roost by curious people. They took off into the darkness. That, plus a strong west wind, pushed them to the east side of Lake Michigan.
  • After a summer in Michigan, she wintered in North Carolina. (First she made a brief visit to South Carolina.)
  • In spring 2005, she dropped in on Ohio and New York before crossing the border into Ontario. Next she was seen in central Vermont.
  • On Dec. 9, 2005 she was found on a farm in Beaufort County, North Carolina. Luckily, she stayed long enough to be captured on Dec. 16, 2005.
The Capture Tale!
December 16, 2005
Crane #309 coaxed, captured, and moved to Florida!
The wary bird eventually got close enough to Sara and her corn so Sara could grab her and push her into a crate. They replaced her non-working radio transmitter. Next, they released her in a cattle pasture in Madison County, Florida along with yearling females #419 and #420.

Photo: Richard Urbanek, USFWS.)

Click and print out a large map. Trace #309's travels!

This is Richard van Heuvelen (OM), Sara Zimorski (ICF), and Crane #309.

Try This!
Scientists have evidence that the WCEP ultralight-led cranes seldom wander much farther north than the area where they learned to fly: at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin. Or DO they . . .?

1. Click on the above map and print it out.
2. Locate and mark Necedah Wildlife Refuge.
3. Mark the states and provinces where we said #309 traveled in her 2004 and 2005 journeys north.
4. Compare your map with this labeled map of the northern journeys of #309 and her buddy. Then answer these questions.

  • Why do you think #309 may have wandered so much?
  • Do you think she has some knowledge of her latitude? Explain your response.
  • After looking at #309’s wanderings, what questions or ideas do you have about cranes' ability to navigate?