This fall, our class tracked the migration of 18 whooping cranes from Wisconsin to their winter home in Florida. We learned about the unique personalities of the chicks, how they imprinted on a crane-puppet (robo-crane), and how they trained with the ultralights to learn the migration route. Each week, we followed their progress - the successful days of flying and the many stop-overs. After 76 days and 1,976 miles, we were elated to learn that the "crane-kids" had reached Marion County, Florida after the longest migration ever! Tragically, severe storms that swept across central Florida on February 1st and 2nd claimed the lives of all but one of the cranes.
From Journey North:
"This tragic storm is a powerful reminder of the conservation challenges whooping cranes face. The new Eastern Flock dropped from 81 to 64 cranes as the result of this single storm."
And Operation Migration:
"Our hearts are aching for the young birds that were lost. These chicks were like our children; the start of a new generation of life for the species. We also lament the loss of a year's work by the many dedicated people who helped to raise them from eggs, and of the funds so generously given by so many."
Operation Migration has established a "Remembering the Class of 2006" memorial fund so the work with these endangered birds can continue with a new group of chicks in 2007. One member of Operation Migration has suggested that donors consider
contributing $18 - one dollar for each of the lost chicks,
and $1 in celebration of #615's survival.
My students had a connection to the cranes and hopefully this terrible tragedy will now hold more meaning for them, as will the importance of conservation and environmental stewardship.
Photo by Damien Ossi, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center