The Crane Track: Whooping Cranes’ Migration … A tale of survival


Eugene (Gene) Steffen is a retired U.S. Air Force pilot. Post military, in the course of his job as aviation manager for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Steffen flew a plane tracking a family of whooping cranes during their annual migration. He provided this assistance to the National Geographic Society in the filming of a special entitled Flight of the Whooping Crane. Over his lifetime of flying, Steffen has flown over eleven thousand hours in the sky in ninety-eight different planes.

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Leki is a young whooping crane who has no idea that a spectacular journey is about to begin. He lives with his parents, Toluki and Karla, in the Northwest Territories of Canada. Leki has had many adventures there, like the day he ran across wild wolves! Still, his biggest adventure is yet to come as his parents prepare for their annual October migration.

Every year, the whooping cranes travel south to warmer climates for the winter. Toluki and Karla plan to take young Leki 2,400 miles, all the way from their home in Canada to a winter resting place on an island in the Gulf of Mexico. The path they take is called “the crane track,” and it is a journey filled with wild weather and hungry hunters.

Whooping cranes are graceful creatures with white feathers and up to an eight-foot wingspan. Once almost extinct, there are now 513 whooping cranes in the world, and many of them travel the same path as Leki and his parents. Nature is a carefully balanced, beautiful machine. It’s up to us to protect the path of the cranes’ migratory journey. So is little Leki up for the trip?


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