Bird Migration Flight

By Cynthia Kirk

This is Bill White with the VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT.

Recently, scientists successfully led a group of birds on a one-month flight from the American state of Wisconsin to the state of Florida. The experiment was designed to help save another bird called the whooping crane.

Whooping cranes are the largest birds in North America. They are close to disappearing. There are only about two-hundred of the large black and white birds left in the world.

There is only one population of whooping cranes left in North America. They lay their eggs in Canada and fly south to the American state of Texas for the winter. The experiment was part of an effort to establish a second population of whooping cranes. That would help guarantee the bird's survival.

Sandhill cranes were used in the experiment because whooping cranes are so rare. Sandhill cranes lay their eggs in the northern state of Wisconsin. They fly to the southern state of Florida to spend the winters.

The goal of the experiment was to see if a group of sandhill cranes could be trained to migrate south. If so, the scientists believe that whooping cranes could be taught the same migratory path.

The sandhills were raised at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin. The scientists made special efforts to keep them wild. The scientists dressed up to look like the birds. They made sounds that only the birds understood. The scientists taught the young birds to run behind a small plane just as they would follow an adult bird.

The flight began with three planes and thirteen birds. They flew across six states. They battled strong winds and rain. Two birds were lost during the trip. The group made several stops along the way so the birds could rest. They flew more than two-thousand kilometers. The flight lasted thirty-nine days. The group landed two weeks ago at the Saint Martins Marsh Aquatic Wildlife Preserve, near the west coast of Florida. Scientists say it was the longest flight of its kind in history.

The experiment was part of Operation Migration started by Bill Lishman in Nineteen-Ninety-Four. His goal is to teach safe migratory paths to endangered birds.

Researchers hope that the sandhill cranes will return to Wisconsin on their own in February or March. If they do, scientists say they will repeat the trip next year with whooping cranes.

This VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is Bill White.

Voice of America Special English