Protocol for Operation Migration

    Photo USGS

    1. Conspecific ( means "of the same species") adults will be penned in the aviary and will have access to the sand runs that are perpendicular to the aviary runs used by the chicks. These adults will act as imprinting models. While the chicks are being exposed to the running aircraft, these adults will be locked inside and observed for tolerance to the disturbance.

    2. Costumes,designed to disguise the human form, will be supplied by OM and used in conjunction with hand held puppets of adult cranes and recordings of crane calls. Sleeve cuffs or gloves will cover the handler's hands when working with the cranes. When necessary, the medical staff may remove their gloves and work barehanded in order to properly treat or examine the chicks.

    3. Absolutely NO TALKING will be tolerated within earshot of the birds.

    4. No human avoidance conditioning (HAC) will be attempted prior to the release of these birds. The birds will be handled and examined in costume. If medical or other procedures require the removal of the facemask, the chicks will be hooded or protected from seeing the handlers.

    Photo WCEP
    5. Absolutely no feeding will be done from hand. All food used as an incentive will be dispensed by methods other than hand tossing. Mealworms or other treats will be pointed out using a puppet to encourage foraging.

    6. The colts will be shielded from observing caretaking activities such as pen cleaning and food/water changes as much as practical.

    7. As much as practical the birds will be visually shielded from humanmade structures and equipment. Efforts will be made to disguise the propagation building and surrounding areas in order to provide a more natural environment.

    8. The number of handlers will be kept to a minimum during conditioning to reduce the amount of human contact, improve handler safety and to minimize distractions.

    9. Recorded wetland sounds will be played inside the aviary to create a natural environment and mask outside human noise.

    Photo USGS

    10. The colts will be moved from the propagation building to the large pond pens known as the "White Series" when the caretaking staff agrees that weather conditions, socialization and ages are appropriate. Heat lamps and additional shelter may be provided as needed.

    11. The birds will be socialized in small cohorts based on age and compatibility.

    12. The duration and frequency of aircraft training will be based on the response of the chicks. Each training session will be evaluated for success and if the chicks are responding positively, additional training will be curtailed temporarily to limit unnecessary human contact.

    Watch a Whooping Crane chick follow its handler and learn how to follow the ultralight!
    Circle pen training clip courtesy Operation Migration

    13. To reinforce the "follow the aircraft" response, efforts will be made to minimize the number of times a chick is led by a walking handler. However, during early conditioning, it may be safer to lead chicks to the aircraft rather than to carry them.

    14. The aircraft used for this training are registered in Canada but are too large to be considered ultralights in the U.S. Through a cooperative agreement between Transport Canada and the Federal Aviation Administration; we are allowed to operate these aircraft within the U.S. providing we abide by Canadian regulations. With the wing removed to conduct this training they are not capable of flight but still must be operated properly and only by qualified persons.

    15. Dr. Bernhard Wessling has provided the project with digital crane call vocalizers. Each unit is capable of reproducing up to six adult crane calls that handlers can use to communicate with the colts. Only pilots and qualified handlers will use the vocalizers to broadcast any calls other than the brood/contact call.

    16. As a precaution, the primary handlers will familiarize the cranes to the sound of their human imitations of brood calls. This will be done sparingly to afford some control over the birds in the event of equipment failure in the field. Only the handlers that will accompany the birds after they leave Patuxent should conduct this exercise and it should be done from a distance so as to not attract the chick's attention to the handler's head.

  • Link to Journey North Discussion of Protocol.