In a rare gesture by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a flock of rare whooping cranes has been given the go-ahead to complete its inaugural winter migration after a U.S. agency lifted restrictions on the pilots, who will guide them wearing bird costumes. The whooping cranes, part of North America’s tallest flying bird species, have been in pens since last month while the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) investigated whether the 1,285-mile flight violates regulations. The FAA said on Monday it would grant a “one-time exemption” to the pilots flying ultra light aircraft leading the whooping cranes, who were stalled in Alabama on their journey from Wisconsin to two Florida refuges. The cranes are bred and hatched at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland, then transferred to a refuge in Wisconsin. Conservationists in bird suits that conceal their human features rear the birds. They become conditioned to follow the suited handlers and a plane engine. On the migratory route, the cranes follow the small plane flown by a pilot in a bird costume. The flock flies from 25 to 50 miles a day. Once the route is flown the birds can make the return flight on their own. About 90 cranes have been established on the eastern route since 2001. They have started to reproduce in the wild in a slow expansion, with sexual maturity reached at six or seven years. The whooping crane in North America’s tallest bird, standing more than five feet high as adults, and wingspan can reach almost eight feet. They have white bodies with a red crown and are named for their whooping sound. The birds were nearly wiped out, falling to 15 in 1941.
Photo Credit: operationmigration.org