The Great Glide

What does an animal do when it doesn’t know its migratory path? Such was the problem for the whooping crane. Near extinction due to hunting and loss of habitat, North American whooping cranes were in danger.

Cranes are excellent navigators. They can follow well-defined paths that young cranes learn from their parents. But by 1941, there were only 15 whooping cranes left in the world. Conservation efforts have brought those numbers up to more than 400 individuals today.

Still, conservationists were faced with a challenge. How do you teach hand-reared chicks their migratory path?

A creative solution was hatched. Young birds were trained to follow ultralight aircraft that guided them along a safe route and showed the birds the “correct” stopovers to use.

These birds are so smart, they only need to be shown once. Having made the southbound trip with their guides, they were able to return on their own. Now, the cranes can pass on their knowledge to the next generation.

Whooping cranes needed a lesson on where to go when they migrated.

Migration Madness

Millions of animals migrate. They use a variety of ways to help them get where they’re going. Some rely on Earth’s magnetic field. Some rely on clues from the land.

Others use the sun, moon, and stars to help them make their way. Still others rely on physical landmarks or scents. Whatever tools animals use, their abilities to migrate help them survive.